Robert's Reviews > The Rough Riders

The Rough Riders by Theodore Roosevelt
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Sep 02, 2010

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bookshelves: history-us
Read from September 02 to October 06, 2010

Giving a vivid account of the author's participation in the Spanish-American war, this book so captivated the imagination of the American people that it got Teddy the Vice-Presidential nomination and set him on the path to Mount Rushmore. He tells this story well. Had a great gift for narrative - had a wonderful ability to create a sense of time and place. The reader feels as if he is with Teddy, experiencing these events himself - the descriptions are so vivid, the account so detailed, so "just as it happened", step by step, that the reader feels as if he is with Roosevelt, is there on the ship transports, is charging up Kettle Hill - he becomes himself a Rough Rider. On the other hand, even reading this book for the first time as a youth, I was appalled by TR's over-the-top self-promotion - by his shameless glorification of his own heroics, by his celebration of war, of the "inner barbarian". It resulted in a life-long antipathy in me for TR. Now, reading the book again, I am more cognizant, more tolerant, of the role fantasy plays in all of our lives. Can even admire TR's commitment to his role as "the heroic soldier", admire his strenuous effort to live up to that ideal, to be that character. He really did risk his life charging up that hill. However what is not admirable about him, what is in fact unforgiveable, is that this desire for glory lead him to do whatever he could to create a war fever, to use all his propaganda talents to bring on that war, and then to selfishly use his political and social connections to win himself a military commissioning, and, despite his total lack of experience, to secure his own regiment, and to feel no shame about any of this - no shame about real men dying so he could play the hero. TR regarded war as a sport, a dangerous sport, but a fun adventure for "real men", a way to prove their "manhood. Only World War I and the death of his son cured him of this delusion. Unfortunately, this book and TR's continuing popularity show the persistent power of this delusion.
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