There have been many books on Theodore Roosevelt, but there are none that solely focus on the last years of his life. Racked by rheumatism, a ticking embolism, pathogens in his blood, a bad leg from an accident, and a bullet in his chest from an assassination attempt, in the last two years of his life from April 1917 to January 6, 1919, he went from the great disappointment of being denied his own regiment in World War I, leading a suicide mission of Rough Riders against the Germans, to the devastating news that his son Quentin had been shot down and killed over France. Suffering from grief and guilt, marginalized by world events, the great glow that had been his life was now but a dimming lantern. But TR’s final years were productive ones as he churned out several “instant” books that promoted U.S. entry into the Great War, and he was making plans for another run at the Presidency in 1920 at the time of his death. Indeed, his political influence was so great that his opposition to the policies of Woodrow Wilson helped the Republican Party take back the Congress in 1918. However, as William Hazelgrove points out in this book, it was Roosevelt’s quest for the “vigorous life” that, ironically, may have led to his early demise at the age of sixty. “The Old Lion is dead,” TR’s son Archie cabled his brother on January 6, 1919, and so, too, ended a historic era in American life and politics.
The Last Charge of the Rough Rider (Amazon US) (Amazon UK)
I’ve read more than 60 books on the Roosevelts, with more than half of them focusing on my favorite President, Theodore Roosevelt. In both fiction and non-fiction works on the 26th President, much is made of his early life, the death of his wife and mother on the same day and his retreat into the Badlands of South Dakota. Many say that he would not have been President if he had not been a cowboy for a few years. Others concentrate on Theodore’s time as a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War as the making of a president. The Last Charge of the Rough Rider seemingly concentrates on the last years of TR’s life, something that has been little explored.
I’m not a fan of how the book was laid out. When I read a biography, I prefer an orderly, chronological study. However, what the reader gets in this book is one that jumps around from 1917-8 back to seminal moments of Roosevelt’s life. And it’s written in a way that reads like speculative fiction, describing what people were wearing and how they were feeling. It didn’t feel like a non-fiction book.
Also, much time is spent focusing on other people, like Woodrow Wilson, and Roosevelt’s youngest son, Quentin, that seem to lose the focus of the book. I understand trying to provide context, but way too much time was spent on other people. Speaking of which, sometimes a name was mentioned and there was no introduction. For those not familiar with Roosevelt and the people in his orbit, this could be confusing.
Roosevelt’s health following his 1914 expedition in South America was horrible at best. The one good thing the book describes is his final years of medical struggles and just how bad they were. It’s not surprising that he died when he was only 60 years old.
I realize I’m in the minority when it comes to this book, but I didn’t appreciate this book the way others have. It crossed the line between fiction and non-fiction too many times for me to appreciate the new information provided about Roosevelt’s final days.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and Lyons Press/Rowan Littlefield in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
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