Bookmarks Issue: 

Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

A-The Wilderness WarriorAward-winning historian Douglas Brinkley has written about Jimmy Carter, Dean Acheson, Hunter S. Thompson, John Kerry, Rosa Parks, and James Forrestal, among many other historical, cultural, and political figures. Recently reviewed: The Great Deluge, about Hurricane Katrina ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2006).

The Topic: Theodore Roosevelt’s deeply held views on conservation in America sprang from a childhood of privilege. Free to pursue his own interests, the asthmatic, nearsighted Teddy grew to love the outdoors. Later, influenced by John James Audubon and Charles Darwin, Roosevelt tackled conservation issues with the same spirit and determination that led him to become America’s 26th president. In the process, he established—not without much controversy and debate—national forests, bird preserves, game preserves, national parks, and national monuments. In The Wilderness Warrior, Brinkley explores Roosevelt’s lasting legacy to conservation and the contradictions in Roosevelt’s views on hunting, preservation, and growth in postfrontier America.
Harper. 960 pages. $34.99. ISBN: 9780060565282

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"This compelling and impressively well-researched book provides new information about the preservation of cliff dwellers’ and other archaeological sites as well as the saving of the Petrified Forest, sequoias, redwoods, and selected Native American ancestral lands. It is by far the best and most detailed story of the Roosevelt administration’s fight for conservation." Kathleen Dalton

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Brinkley, a professional historian who ranks as one of the most prolific academics writing books for general readerships, has performed superb research at archives across the nation to fill the book with compelling details." Steve Weinberg

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[F]or the patient reader Mr. Brinkley’s fervent enthusiasm for his material eventually prevails over the book’s sprawling data and slow pace. … [Brinkley] delves into the philosophical contradictions inherent in a man whose Darwinian thinking led him both to revere and kill the same creatures." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Encyclopedic inclusiveness and repetition occasionally mar narrative movement. … What this book makes abundantly clear is that [Roosevelt’s] inspiration, vision and courage were as rare 100 years ago as they are today and that without them our country would be uglier, and poorer." Jonathan Rosen

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Douglas Brinkley brings into relief the biography, cultural influences and political record of the most effective conservationist in history. … Even though this is an enormous book, interesting and thorough, it seems to me the publisher must have insisted Brinkley trim a couple of hundred of pages, and that he did so by simply snipping off the last 10 very busy years of Roosevelt’s life." Bob Blaisdell

New Yorker 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Roosevelt’s intense love for nature was, Brinkley makes clear, a conqueror’s love—triumphal Darwinism—and included a ‘blood lust’ in hunting the wildlife he championed. … Brinkley fully inhabits Roosevelt’s mind, a condition that has its disadvantages—the book, with blow-by-blow accounts of college hiking trips and squabbles between naturalists, does not entirely earn its nine hundred pages, making it harder to see the forests (and the story of how T. R. rescued them) for the trees."

Dallas Morning News 1 of 5 Stars
"[Brinkley’s] prose varies from impenetrable encyclopedic listings to rambunctious, self-indulgent colloquialism, replete with interjections, vulgar epithets and excessive exclamation points. … In sum, this new biography is sophomoric and unprofessional, too badly composed to affect Roosevelt scholarship or please TR enthusiasts." Clay Reynolds

Critical Summary

Drawing on unpublished research on Theodore Roosevelt and the rise of conservationism in America—no small task, considering the many biographies on Roosevelt published over the last decade—Brinkley offers a weighty tome that, while shedding new insight into the former president’s environmentalism, tends to overwhelm with detail and, according to some critics, underwhelm with substance. Over two decades and more than two dozen books, Brinkley has mastered the art of balancing scholarship and research with readability. In Wilderness Warrior, though, the author’s affinity for his subject and the vastness of the literature on Roosevelt get in the way of a message that might have been made clearer with some prudent cutting.