Reading Edmund Morris on Teddy Roosevelt is like listening to Yo-Yo Ma play Bach: You know from the first note you’re in inspired hands. In Colonel Roosevelt—the final installment in a trilogy that began with The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex—Morris registers the Bull Moose’s last decade in handsome, sweeping prose that avoids the valedictory chord struck by biographers who, nearing the end of their prodigious labors, resort to swooning across the chapters, unwilling to let go of their muse.
Morris’s Roosevelt bows out in a starburst of prolificacy, stockpiling one final heap of worldly escapades for the winter of his life. He fells an ark’s worth of African beasts for the Smithsonian, delivers tendentious speeches in Egypt and England, hobnobs with kings, navigates two libel suits, founds a radical political party and runs for a third term as President, takes an assassin’s bullet in the chest, loses an election and a favorite son, snags the second-biggest devilfish on record, and catches a flesh-eating bacterium while sailing the Amazon—writing about everything along the way. These incidents, cinematically rendered, provide a fitting coda to a trilogy that enshrines Roosevelt as an American original, an intrepid character the likes of whom we won’t see again.
This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.