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Book Review: Theodore Roosevelt’s History of the United States by Daniel Ruddy

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Putting words in my mouth is one thing.  Taking something I’ve said and turning it into something else is another.  With deft editing and the availability of miles of film, editors put together a clever and humorous introduction of David Letterman by Ed Sullivan himself.  It was the debut of Letterman’s show in the Ed Sullivan Theater. Fast forward in this clip to the 47 second point.

Daniel Ruddy puts readers on notice in the lengthy title of just what he has done: Theodore Roosevelt’s History of the United States: His Own Words, Selected and Arranged by Daniel Ruddy.  The author explains in the introduction that he “made every effort to avoid any distortion and give the best possible representation of Roosevelt’s beliefs, as I saw those beliefs.” [Emphasis his.]  Caveat emptor.

A “scholarly, timid, and shifty doctrinaire,” “very distinctively evil” and a “great corruptionist” are comments that I find hard to believe would be spoken publicly today by a former President about his foes.  But that’s what TR had to say — and readers may be surprised to learn about whom he was speaking. In what may be the golden age of political correctness, can you imagine a genteel Southern man like Jimmy Carter speaking about Ronald Reagan with such a choice of words? 

Almost one hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt certainly felt no inhibitions on speaking his mind.  In the introduction to Theodore Roosevelt‘s History of the United States, Ruddy says, “Roosevelt, as an observer of history, was a hanging judge who did not hesitate to deliver unambiguous verdicts on the leaders and events of our nation’s past.”  Roosevelt’s commentaries on the likes of George Washington (“not a genius“), Thomas Paine (“filthy little atheist”),  Alexander Hamilton (“brilliant statesman”), and Gouverneur Morris (“champion of treason”), among others, are in Part II, the “Revolutionary Era.”  Also included are events such as the French Revolution and the War of 1812.  TR also writes about the U.S. Constitution and the Northwest Ordinance.

In the opening chapter, “History as Literature,” Roosevelt describes himself as a historian and an avid reader.  “I am forever reading. It is history, in great part, history with action to it, that most attracts me.”  He talks about patriotism and why he has such a deep interest in history. TR also submits his opinions on many presidential decisions, including some of his own.

Ruddy’s book is divided into eras and includes the Jacksonian, Civil War, and Gilded Age. A section on the Twentieth Century concludes the almost 400-page volume.  Fortunately for Ruddy, Roosevelt wrote over a dozen books providing a wealth of material.  Along with speeches and letters he was able to assemble a book made up entirely of Roosevelt’s own words.  Even with such a voluminous amount of information with which to work, such a project seems daunting — especially when the editor attempts to avoid distortion of opinions and point of view.

Theodore Roosevelt’s History of the United States: His Own Words, Selected and Arranged by Daniel Ruddy is filled with interesting stories and quotes, some of which are very familiar.  One of my favorites is the one that begins, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, …”  Another is TR’s thoughts on war: “Peace is a goddess only when she comes with sword girt on thigh.”

In the foreword, Edmund Morris, Roosevelt historian, lauds a job well done.  This writer agrees, Ruddy has done an admirable job and put together a book that is engaging enough to read cover to cover and at the same time, one that is easy to pick up and read a chapter or two at random.

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