Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in bookish,
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Book Review: TR's Last War by David Pietrusza

After leaving the Presidency in 1909, Theodore Roosevelt was gone but never forgotten in the world of Presidential politics. Even after his failed bid for re-election as President in 1912, first as a Republican, and, after failing to secure his former party's nomination, as a third-party Progressive or "Bull Moose" party candidate, being politically irrelevant was not in Roosevelt's DNA. Though his name was never on a ballot for president after that, the years between the election of Woodrow Wilson as President and Roosevelt's death in 1919 were some of the most eventful of his life. In his usual delightfully inimitable manner of making history even more interesting, outstanding author David Pietrusza once again allows the reader a front row seat to fascinating times in his excellent new book TR's Last War: Theodore Roosevelt, the Great War and a Journey of Triumph and Tragedy.



The last stanza of Roosevelt's life was as energized, as exhilarating and as fast-paced as any in the life of the man from Oyster Bay. A Great War had began in Europe and across the Atlantic, Americans were divided on what to make of this epic conflict. Those with ties to the British and other allied nations called for America to come their aid, especially as German U-boats began sinking passenger liners and merchant ships with resulting American casualties. Others preached pacifism, isolationism, and in the case of the vast German-American and Irish-American populations (or the "hyphenated-Americans" as Roosevelt called them), hostility to the Allied powers. Allied nations lobbied Americans for support, while Germany concocted ways to keep the United States otherwise occupied. The US prospered economically as wartime increased demand for American goods and money. While there was no strong consensus or over-riding opinion, everyone had something to say about the war. Roosevelt, the former "Rough-rider" who loved to be addressed not as a former president, but by his old military rank of Colonel, railed against the Wilson administration for its lack of military preparedness and for its timid and feeble responses to the problems of the day with its "weasel words."

Pietrusza tells the story of Roosevelt's battle for military preparedness, as well as his efforts to unseat Wilson as president in the 1916 election, despite the residual resentment over his splitting of the Republican party four years earlier which led to Wilson's election. The author capably describes his subject's unsuccessful efforts to lasso the 1916 Republican presidential nomination for himself, while keeping progressives in the fold.

Following Wilson's re-election and the nation's entry into the war as a combatant on the side of the allies, Pietrusza describes the old warrior Roosevelt's efforts to get himself "over there" as a military commander, and his encouragement of his four sons to serve in the contest, with the accompanying anxiety, tension and lamentable results. He also details Roosevelt's plans to retake the White House in 1920.

One of Pietrusza's many strengths as a writer is his ability to convey to the reader a clear picture of his subject's personality, making us feel as if we have an understanding of who the complex and multifaceted Roosevelt really was, as if we know TR intimately. His description of Roosevelt's last days and the detail of his suffering and incapacity is exceptionally set out. Saving the best for last, the author concludes with a unique yet well-considered theory about Roosevelt's last days, one which Pietrusza acknowledges to be nothing more than speculation, submitted for the reader to consider and do with what he or she will. It is delicious food for thought and is a fitting dessert to a delectable historical biography.

In light of David Pietrusza's past successes as an author writing about presidential history, one wonders what he will do next and how he can possibly top (or even equal) his previous work. That is something to wonder about in the context of his next book. In TR's Last War, he once again lives up to his literary gold standard of making the history of past presidents come to life in a manner that engages and delights his readers.
Tags: author: p, genre: non-fiction, review, subject: biography, subject: history
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