Essential Books on Theodore Roosevelt
There are countless books on Theodore Roosevelt, and it comes with good reason, aside from serving as America’s twenty-sixth President (1901-1909) after the assassination of President William McKinley, he brought new excitement and power to the office, vigorously leading Congress and the American public toward progressive reforms and a strong foreign policy.
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat,” he wrote in The Strenuous Life.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most consequential figures to the heights of societal contribution, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 best books on Theodore Roosevelt.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
This classic biography is the story of seven men – a naturalist, a writer, a lover, a hunter, a ranchman, a soldier, and a politician – who merged at age forty-two to become the youngest President in history.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt begins at the apex of his international prestige. That was on New Year’s Day, 1907, when Roosevelt, who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize, threw open the doors of the White House to the American people and shook 8,150 hands. One visitor remarked afterward, “You go to the White House, you shake hands with Roosevelt and hear him talk – and then you go home to wring the personality out of your clothes.”
The rest of this book tells the story of Roosevelt’s irresistible rise to power. During the years 1858-1901, he transformed himself from a frail, asthmatic boy into a full-blooded man. Fresh out of Harvard, he simultaneously published a distinguished work of naval history and became the fist-swinging leader of a Republican insurgency in the New York State Assembly. He chased thieves across the Badlands of North Dakota with a copy of Anna Karenina in one hand and a Winchester rifle in the other.
Married to his childhood sweetheart in 1886, he became the country squire of Sagamore Hill on Long Island, a flamboyant civil service reformer in Washington, D.C., and a night-stalking police commissioner in New York City. As assistant secretary of the navy, he almost single-handedly brought about the Spanish-American War. After leading “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders” in the famous charge up San Juan Hill, Cuba, he returned home a military hero, and was rewarded with the governorship of New York.
In what he called his “spare hours” he fathered six children and wrote fourteen books. By 1901, the man Senator Mark Hanna called “that damned cowboy” was vice president. Seven months later, an assassin’s bullet gave Roosevelt the national leadership he had always craved.
The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The story is told through the intense friendship of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft – a close relationship that strengthens both men before it ruptures in 1912, when they engage in a brutal fight for the presidential nomination that divides their wives, their children, and their closest friends, while crippling the progressive wing of the Republican Party, causing Democrat Woodrow Wilson to be elected, and changing the country’s history.
The Bully Pulpit is also the story of the muckraking press, which arouses the spirit of reform that helps Roosevelt push the government to shed its laissez-faire attitude toward robber barons, corrupt politicians, and corporate exploiters of our natural resources. The muckrakers are portrayed through the greatest group of journalists ever assembled at one magazine – Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln Steffens, and William Allen White – teamed under the mercurial genius of publisher S. S. McClure.
Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough
Written by David McCullough, the author of Truman, this is the story of a remarkable little boy, seriously handicapped by recurrent and almost fatal asthma attacks, and his struggle to manhood: an amazing metamorphosis seen in the context of the very uncommon household in which he was raised.
The father is the first Theodore Roosevelt, a figure of unbounded energy, enormously attractive and selfless, a god in the eyes of his small, frail namesake. The mother, Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt, is a Southerner and a celebrated beauty, but also considerably more, which the book makes clear as never before. There are sisters Anna and Corinne, brother Elliott (who becomes the father of Eleanor Roosevelt), and the lovely, tragic Alice Lee, TR’s first love. All are brought to life to make “a beautifully told story, filled with fresh detail” (The New York Times Book Review).
Theodore Roosevelt: A Life by Nathan Miller
Nathan Miller’s critically acclaimed biography of Theodore Roosevelt was the first complete one-volume life of the Rough Rider to be published in more than thirty years. From his sickly childhood to charging up San Juan Hill to waving his fist under J.P. Morgan’s rubicund nose, Theodore Roosevelt offers the intimate history of a man who continues to cast a magic spell over the American imagination.
As the twenty-sixth president of the United States, Roosevelt embodied the overwhelming confidence of the nation as it entered the American Century. With fierce joy, he brandished a “Big Stick” abroad and promised a “Square Deal” at home. He was the nation’s first environmental president, challenged the trusts, and, as the first American leader to play an important role in world affairs, began construction of a long-dreamed canal across Panama and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for almost singlehandedly bringing about a peaceful end to the Russo-Japanese War.
Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris
Theodore Rex is the story – never fully told before – of Theodore Roosevelt’s two world-changing terms as President of the United States. A hundred years before the catastrophe of September 11, 2001, Roosevelt succeeded to power in the aftermath of an act of terrorism. Youngest of all our chief executives, he rallied a stricken nation with his superhuman energy, charm, and political skills. He proceeded to combat the problems of race and labor relations and trust control while making the Panama Canal possible and winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
But his most historic achievement remains his creation of a national conservation policy, and his monument millions of acres of protected parks and forests. The book ends with Roosevelt leaving office, still only fifty years old, his future reputation secure as one of our greatest presidents.
The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
The River of Doubt – it is a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world. Indians armed with poison-tipped arrows haunt its shadows; piranhas glide through its waters; boulder-strewn rapids turn the river into a roiling cauldron.
After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many at the time refused to believe it. In the process, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever.
Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.
When Trumpets Call by Patricia O’Toole
Drawn from a wealth of new materials, this gem among books on Theodore Roosevelt is an analysis of the final ten years of the President’s life and describes how he went on safari after leaving the White House, unsuccessfully strived for another presidential term, worked to support Liberty bonds when the U.S. entered World War I, and lost his son on Bastille Day.
The Naturalist by Darrin Lunde
Perhaps no American president is more associated with nature and wildlife than Theodore Roosevelt, a prodigious hunter and adventurer, and an ardent conservationist. We think of Roosevelt as an original, yet in The Naturalist, Darrin Lunde shows how from his earliest days he actively modeled himself in the proud tradition of museum naturalists – the men who pioneered a key branch of American biology through their desire to collect animal specimens and develop a taxonomy of the natural world.
The influence these men would have on Roosevelt would shape not just his personality but his career, informing his work as a politician and statesman and ultimately affecting generations of Americans’ relationships to this country’s wilderness.
Theodore Roosevelt by Henry F. Pringle
Pringle’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography not only chronicles the incidents that shaped Roosevelt’s career but also offers insight into the character and mind of this colorful American president.
The Courage and Character of Theodore Roosevelt by George Grant
Before his fiftieth birthday, Teddy Roosevelt had served as a state legislator in New York, undersecretary of the navy, police commissioner of New York City, governor of New York, and two terms as vice president and then president of the United States. He also had run a cattle ranch in the Dakota Territories, had worked as a journalist and editor, conducted scientific expeditions to four continents, raised five children, and enjoyed a fulfilling marriage with his wife. No wonder he continues to capture our imaginations as he did the loyalty and respect of his own time.
In The Courage and Character of Theodore Roosevelt, George Grant explores the life and character of one of the most remarkable men of the twentieth century. In doing so, he defines the qualities that made Roosevelt such an extraordinary leader, the exploits that made him so famous, and the spiritual values and faith that he affirmed with such vigor as he walked the world stage with an impact generated by few men in his time.
T.R.: The Last Romantic by H. W. Brands
Lauded as “a rip-roaring life” (Wall Street Journal), TR is a magisterial biography of Theodore Roosevelt by bestselling author H. W. Brands. In his time, there was no more popular national figure than Roosevelt. It was not just the energy he brought to every political office he held or his unshakable moral convictions that made him so popular, or even his status as a bonafide war hero. Most important, Theodore Roosevelt was loved by the people because this scion of a privileged New York family loved America and Americans.
And yet, according to Brands, if we look at the private Roosevelt without blinders, we see a man whose great public strengths hid enormous personal deficiencies; he was uncompromising, self-involved, and a highly imperfect brother, husband, and father.
Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Of all our great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt is the only one whose greatness increased out of office. What other president has written forty books, hunted lions, founded a third political party, survived an assassin’s bullet, and explored an unknown river longer than the Rhine?
Packed with more adventure, variety, drama, humor, and tragedy than a big novel, yet documented down to the smallest fact, this favorite among books on Theodore Roosevelt recounts the last decade of perhaps the most amazing life in American history.
The Boys of ’98 by Dale L. Walker
Spur Award-winning author Dale Walker tells the colorful story of America’s most memorable fighting force, the volunteer cavalry known as the Rough Riders. From its members, and their slapdash training in Texas and Florida, to its battles at Las Gusimas and San Juan Hill under the command of Theodore Roosevelt, who kept riding, some say, into the White House.
The Lion’s Pride by Edward J. Renehan
Drawing upon a wealth of previously unavailable materials, including letters and unpublished memoirs, The Lion’s Pride takes us inside what is surely the most extraordinary family ever to occupy the White House. Theodore Roosevelt believed deeply that those who had been blessed with wealth, influence, and education were duty bound to lead, even – perhaps especially – if it meant risking their lives to preserve the ideals of democratic civilization. Teddy put his principles, and his life, to the test in the Spanish-American War, and raised his children to believe they could do no less.
When America finally entered the “European conflict” in 1917, all four of his sons eagerly enlisted and used their influence not to avoid the front lines but to get there as quickly as possible. Their heroism in France and the Middle East matched their father’s at San Juan Hill. All performed with
selfless – some said heedless – courage: Two of the boys, Archie and Ted, Jr., were seriously wounded, and Quentin, the youngest, was killed in a dogfight with seven German planes.
Thus, the war that Teddy had lobbied for so furiously brought home a grief that broke his heart. He was buried a few months after his youngest child. Filled with the voices of the entire Roosevelt family, The Lion’s Pride gives us the most intimate and moving portrait ever published of the fierce bond between Teddy Roosevelt and his remarkable children.
The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley
In this groundbreaking gem among books on Theodore Roosevelt, Douglas Brinkley draws on never-before-published materials to examine the life and achievements of our “naturalist president.” By setting aside more than 230 million acres of wild America for posterity between 1901 and 1909, Roosevelt made conservation a universal endeavor.
This crusade for the American wilderness was perhaps the greatest U.S. presidential initiative between the Civil War and World War I. Roosevelt’s most important legacies led to the creation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906. His executive orders saved such treasures as Devils Tower, the Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest.
Books by Theodore Roosevelt
Through the Brazilian Wilderness
In 1914, with the well-wishes of the Brazilian government, Theodore Roosevelt, ex-president of the United States; his son, Kermit; and Colonel Rondon travel to South America on a quest to course the River of Doubt. While in Brazil, Theodore is also tasked with a “zoogeographic reconnaissance” of the local wilderness for the archives of the Natural History Museum of New York.
The expedition, officially named Expedicão Scientific Roosevelt-Rondon, was not without incident; men were lost, a cannibalistic tribe tracked the group, and at one point Roosevelt contracted flesh-eating bacteria. In the end though, the Roosevelt-Rondon expedition was a success, and the River of Doubt was renamed the Rio Roosevelt in his honor.
Written by a city-born boy who grew up to be a true explorer and leader, Roosevelt’s Through the Brazilian Wilderness is a unique and important part of history, and it is indicative of the ex-president’s true wanderlust and bravery. Candid black-and-white photos from the expedition fill the pages, adding further dimensions to this remarkable journey.
The Rough Riders
The Rough Riders was the name bestowed on the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry. Roosevelt had resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to fight in the war, and his forceful personality and notoriety among the popular press of the period were probably the main driving factors resulting in the fame of this regiment. Here is the exciting story of the Rough Riders in one of the most-cherished books by Theodore Roosevelt.
The Strenuous Life
Roosevelt wrote 35 books and delivered numerous lectures on topics ranging from citizenship and success to duty and sportsmanship. His 1899 address to a Chicago audience, “The Strenuous Life,” articulates his belief in the transformative powers that individuals can achieve by overcoming hardship. Along with the other speeches and essays in this collection, Roosevelt’s work offers an inspiring vision of moral rectitude and stalwart leadership.
The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt
The life and times of President Theodore Roosevelt, in his own words.
The Wilderness Hunter
“For a number of years much of my life was spent either in the wilderness or on the borders of the settled country if, indeed, ‘settled’ is a term that can rightly be applied to the vast, scantily peopled regions where cattle-ranching is the only regular industry. During this time I hunted much, among the mountains and on the plains, both as a pastime and to procure hides, meat, and robes for use on the ranch; and it was my good luck to kill all the various kinds of large game that can properly be considered to belong to temperate North America,” Roosevelt writes.
Adding, “in hunting, the finding and killing of the game is after all but a part of the whole. The free, self-reliant, adventurous life, with its rugged and stalwart democracy; the wild surroundings, the grand beauty of the scenery, the chance to study the ways and habits of the woodland creatures all these unite to give to the career of the wilderness hunter its peculiar charm.”
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Theodore Roosevelt, be sure to check out our list of The 15 Best Books on President Abraham Lincoln!