Friday, May 5, 2017

Forging a President, by William Hazelgrove

Teddy Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, has an aura about him--the Rough Rider who spoke softly but carried a big stick.  That persona was not shaped by his elite New York society upbringing, nor by his time at Harvard or his early years in the New York state legislature.  As William Hazelgrove tells the story, Roosevelt's years in the West shaped him into the man history remembers as president.  Forging a President: How the Wild West Created Teddy Roosevelt traces Roosevelt's life in the 1880s, from his first buffalo hunt to the end of his ranching career.

Drawing on Roosevelt's own writing as a well as a wide variety of biographical sources, Hazelgrove crafts a readable narrative that celebrates Roosevelt and his rough and tumble time in the West.  While on a buffalo hunt, the young Roosevelt decides he wants to be a rancher.  Pulling out his checkbook, he forks over a sizable chunk of his recently inherited wealth and enlists a couple of cowboys to get a herd started for him.

When Roosevelt's mother and wife pass away on the same night, Roosevelt moves more permanently to the West.  Over the course of three years, he builds his reputation, facing down drunk cowboys, capturing outlaws, standing up to Indians, holding his own on cattle drives, and organizing cowboys.  The asthmatic young man whose doctor told him he should lead a sedentary lifestyle was transformed into a broad shouldered cowboy, a man's man and a leader of men. 

Hazelgrove, clearly a Roosevelt admirer, made me a fan as well.  He builds the narrative, paints the picture, fills in the historical setting, and makes the case for the influence of Roosevelt's years in the West on his later years.  A child of privilege and wealth, Roosevelt did not simply rest on his position, but made a way for himself.  In a way it's tragic, as a response to the deaths of his wife and mother.  But ultimately, he--and the United States--are better off as a result.  Forging a President is an enjoyable read about a remarkable man.

Thanks to the author for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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