Most living today do not know the art of letter writing. Our lives are all phone calls and emails. We live in the instant and do not know the pleasures and benefits of taking time to form thoughts and writing in complete and coherent sentences let alone taking the time to construct paragraphs or a complete and persuasive argument. Another problem is that our communications today are perishable. There are fewer personal documents left for study and almost no drafts to give us insight into the process of composition. Sure, presidential libraries contain mountains of paper, but so much of it is from staff, is impersonal bureaucrat speak, and lacks the wit, sparkle, and insight of a practiced and skilled writer such as Theodore Roosevelt.
TR published forty books, wrote more than 100,000 letters, and his collected speeches fill twenty volumes. All this in a too short sixty year life (Oct 1858 - Jan 1919). I find this productivity staggering, especially when one considers how actively he lived his life. He traveled, he climbed the Matterhorn, he ranched, went to war, fulfilled many public offices including Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice-President, and President of the United States.
We all owe a note of thanks to Louis Auchincloss for editing this volume and providing us with 367 of his letters, every one of them one kind of gem or another. We get observations of TR the Naturalist, the diplomat, the Rough Rider, Governor, President, Ex-President, and the private man. Actually, we get more sides of him than those, but those are the biggest and most notable gems. Four of his greatest and most noted speeches are also included. They all deserve to be read today and should be read by all students of American History.
In my view, the greatest of them is his 1910 speech at the Sorbonne on "Citizenship in a Republic". "The Strenuous Life" is also a wonderful speech to read and contemplate. Both are calls to a responsible and fully lived life of duties and responsibilities to earn the rewards of freedom and wealth. He has no use for the empty life living off the sweat and blood of others. Magnificent sentiments that should inspire us today and will actually have the beneficial effect of making all, and I mean all, of our present leaders seem small in comparison let alone the indictment it makes on each one of us. If you do not want to hear a clear call to action, avoid these speeches. But you will avoid them to your own loss.
This book deserves to be read and read more than once. It is that wonderful kind of book you can dip into for a short read over and over again. Each time you will come away feeling energized and inspired to do more and to do better.
Hugely recommended. Thanks to the Library of America for producing this magnificent and beautifully done volume.
Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Ann Arbor, MI
You might also want to consider:
Theodore Roosevelt: The Rough Riders/An Autobiography (Library of America)