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The wilderness warrior: theodore roosevelt and the crusade for

Description: The wilderness warrior: theodore roosevelt and the crusade for
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The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

On September 6, 1901, the day President William McKinley was mortally wounded in a Buffalo, New York, train station, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was in Vermont. He was there to study the state’s game laws, which were by far the most progressive in the nation. Roosevelt wanted the newly minted western states to “adopt Vermont’s admirable standards of resource management,” writes Douglas Brinkley in The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.

Who would have thought that there was anything new to say about the life of Theodore Roosevelt? Brinkley finds it. Drawing from a reservoir of neverbefore-published materials to consider the achievements of the “naturalist President,” he traces the role that nature played in Roosevelt’s brilliant and, at times, controversial career. The book is thoroughly researched, a pleasure to read, and big (over 900 pages), a requisite if you consider Roosevelt’s environmental legacy – a legacy likely never to be equaled. The Wilderness Warrior illuminates both Roosevelt’s life as a naturalist-writer, big-game hunter, and land preservationist and the parallel birth of the American conservation movement – the founding of the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the American Museum of Natural History, the Boone and Crockett Club, the Izaak Walton League, and the New York Zoological Society.

Roosevelt was so devoted to the study of nature, Brinkley writes, that for seven and a half years he kept a list of birds he saw on the White House grounds. The President regularly corresponded and traveled with preeminent naturalists with whom he shared wildlife observations and argued arcane points of taxonomy. Drawing on letters and journal entries, Brinkley exquisitely profiles John Burroughs, John Muir, C. Hart Merriam, George Bird Grinnell, Gifford Pinchot, and Frederick Remington (to mention a few) in the context of Roosevelt’s story, detailing their respective influences on the President’s public policies. And T.R.’s childhood heroes – Darwin, Audubon, George Perkins Marsh, and his Uncle Rob, founder of the Izaak Walton League – leave their spoor throughout the book.

A patriotic booster of everything American, Roosevelt believed like an Iroquois elder that landscape and wildlife were the birthright of the unborn. On June 6, 1906, he signed into law “The Antiquities Act,” which allowed the President to designate historical landmarks as national monuments. Without having to consult Congress, Roosevelt had at his disposal a law that enabled him to preserve “national treasures.” He went directly to the press for support, writes Brinkley, “... the sheer electricity that Roosevelt produces in his public appearances, the way he sucked the air out of any room ... (He) didn’t lull reporters’ sense of right and wrong; he challenged them to write the right thing by flattery and by making good copy.”

By the time Roosevelt left office, he had created 51 bird reservations and four national game preserves, which collectively began the National Wildlife Refuge System; he declared 150 national forests, six national parks, and 18 national monuments. After co-founding the Boone and Crockett Club and the New York Zoological Society, Roosevelt pushed to create the Bronx Zoo, which became a breeding site for endangered species. Zoobred bison were reintroduced to South Dakota and Oklahoma on his watch. All told, T.R. set aside 234 million acres of wild America.

My only rub with Brinkley’s book, and it’s small potatoes when compared to the author’s brilliant analysis of Roosevelt’s outdoor life, is the mislabeled pictures of birds and a few misstated natural history tidbits – a water shrew is an Insectivore not a rodent. But in the course of original and thoughtful writing on a well worn subject, that’s not bad.

Ted Levin

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