The best books on the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt

Clay Risen Author Of The Crowded Hour: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and the Dawn of the American Century
By Clay Risen

Who am I?

Clay Risen has been a reporter and senior editor at The New York Times for 11 years. He is the author of three widely respected books on American history, most recently The Crowded Hour: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and the Dawn of the American Century, which was a Times Notable Book for 2019 and a finalist for the Gilder-Lehrman Prize for Military History.


I wrote...

The Crowded Hour: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and the Dawn of the American Century

By Clay Risen,

Book cover of The Crowded Hour: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and the Dawn of the American Century

What is my book about?

Theodore Roosevelt commanded the Rough Riders, a volunteer regiment, during the Spanish-American War, an adventure that catapulted him to national fame and paved his way to the White House. It also made the Rough Riders themselves famous, and their collective experience, and the war itself, forever changed the course of American history as the country moved from the isolationism of the 19th century to the global dominance of the 20th.

The books I picked & why

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Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt

By David McCullough,

Book cover of Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt

Why this book?

So much of the story of Theodore Roosevelt – the story told about him, and the story he told the world – is rooted in his experience as a sickly child of an all-powerful yet kind aristocratic father. McCullough dives into all of this, piecing myth apart from reality while using Roosevelt’s early years in upper-crust New York to paint a picture of America as it moved from the Civil War era to the Gilded Age.

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt

By David McCullough,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mornings on Horseback as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The National Book Award–winning biography that tells the story of how young Teddy Roosevelt transformed himself from a sickly boy into the vigorous man who would become a war hero and ultimately president of the United States, told by master historian David McCullough.

Mornings on Horseback is the brilliant biography of the young Theodore Roosevelt. Hailed as “a masterpiece” (John A. Gable, Newsday), it is the winner of the Los Angeles Times 1981 Book Prize for Biography and the National Book Award for Biography. Written by David McCullough, the author of Truman, this is the story of a remarkable little…


The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

By Edmund Morris,

Book cover of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

Why this book?

A landmark of political biography, Morris’s trilogy is epic in scope and length. Among its many strengths is Morris’s ability to match wits with Roosevelt, clearly and compellingly explaining his forays into everything from ranching to antitrust policy to international diplomacy. There is a touch of hagiography here, though not wholly unwarranted.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

By Edmund Morris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE AND THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD • Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

“A towering biography . . . a brilliant chronicle.”—Time

This classic biography is the story of seven men—a naturalist, a writer, a lover, a hunter, a ranchman, a soldier, and a politician—who merged at age forty-two to become the youngest President in history.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt begins at the apex of his international prestige. That was on New Year’s Day, 1907, when TR, who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize,…


Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life

By Kathleen Dalton,

Book cover of Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life

Why this book?

This is easily the best single-volume account of Roosevelt’s life. Dalton writes with an understated verve and an attention to detail that will pull along even biography-averse readers. While Morris’s trilogy is still the definitive account, Dalton’s is more persuasive, as she is more willing to cast a skeptical eye on Roosevelt’s excesses and shortcomings.

Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life

By Kathleen Dalton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Theodore Roosevelt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

He inherited a sense of entitlement (and obligation) from his family, yet eventually came to see his own class as suspect. He was famously militaristic, yet brokered peace between Russia and Japan. He started out an archconservative, yet came to champion progressive causes. These contradictions are not evidence of vacillating weakness: instead, they were the product of a restless mind bend on a continuous quest for self-improvement.

In Theodore Roosevelt, historian Kathleen Dalton reveals a man with a personal and intellectual depth rarely seen in our public figures. She shows how Roosevelt’s struggle to overcome his frailties as a child…


The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

By Candice Millard,

Book cover of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

Why this book?

Millard’s book is a thrilling account of Roosevelt last big adventure, an attempt to chart Brazil’s Rio da Dúvida, or “River of Doubt,” later renamed Roosevelt River. Millard is a gifted narrator, who uses the story of a former president risking his life in the jungle to explore the motivations that drove this very complicated man through his entire life.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

By Candice Millard,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The River of Doubt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1912, shortly after losing his bid to spend a third term as American President to Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt with his son Kermit, a Brazilian guide and a band of camaradas set off deep into the Amazon jungle and a very uncertain fate. Although Roosevelt did eventually return from THE RIVER OF DOUBT, he and his companions faced treacherous cataracts as well as the dangerous indigenous population of the Amazon. He became severely ill on the journey, nearly dying in the jungle from a blood infection and malaria. A mere five years later Roosevelt did die of related issues.…


The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

By Douglas Brinkley,

Book cover of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

Why this book?

Here, Brinkley manages to write both a conventional biography of Roosevelt and a study of his impact on America’s natural heritage. In doing so he casts light on stories and evidence that most other biographers have overlooked. And it doesn’t help that Brinkley’s angle shows Roosevelt at his most exciting, climbing the Alps, trekking through the West, and exploring the Amazon.

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

By Douglas Brinkley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wilderness Warrior as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From New York Times bestselling historian Douglas Brinkley comes a sweeping historical narrative and eye-opening look at the pioneering environmental policies of President Theodore Roosevelt, avid bird-watcher, naturalist, and the founding father of America’s conservation movement.

In this groundbreaking epic biography, Douglas Brinkley draws on never-before-published materials to examine the life and achievements of our “naturalist president.” By setting aside more than 230 million acres of wild America for posterity between 1901 and 1909, Theodore Roosevelt made conservation a universal endeavor. This crusade for the American wilderness was perhaps the greatest U.S. presidential initiative between the Civil War and World…


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