To our readers, I apologize for my prolonged absence. I’ve been dutifully reading my presidential biographies, but the gap between my readings and my reviews grew so large as to be overwhelming. In an attempt to start anew, I’ll be writing about the 20th-century presidents as I complete their biographies.
Last week, I finished Edmund Morris’s trilogy about Theodore Roosevelt. It should come as no surprise that I highly recommend all three volumes. But an interesting experiment is to read David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback in conjunction with Morris’s first volume, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. It’s interesting because the two authors offer different perspectives on Roosevelt’s asthma. Why did he have his asthma attacks when he did?
Morris doesn’t seem to attribute much significance to the timing of the attacks, but McCullough explores their psychosomatic side. He notes that, during Roosevelt’s childhood, the attacks occurred “on weekends, usually Saturday night or what was actually early Sunday morning.” On these days, life was stiff and wooden. “Among such properly devout families as the Roosevelts,” McCullough writes, “it was a day of rigidly prescribed dress and behavior, of formal family gatherings, of little or no play, of church, Bible readings, family prayers, evening hymn singing in the parlor.” In other words, “it was permissible to look at things as the day went on, but not to do much.” Roosevelt hated that.
A friend asked me whether it would be a waste to read both books; I answered in the negative. McCullough explains how Roosevelt’s family, especially his sisters Bamie and Corrine, influenced him, something on which Morris puts less focus. Interested readers would benefit from both volumes, particularly if they read them in rapid succession.
Let me apologize again for the briefness of my post, but I’m currently on James Grant’s informative biography of House speaker Thomas Reed (a “bonus chapter,” as I call it, before turning to William Howard Taft). I hope to be more consistent in my dispatches!