The best Teddy Roosevelt books (Theodore Roosevelt)

9 authors have picked their favorite books about Teddy Roosevelt and why they recommend each book.

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The River of Doubt

By Candice Millard,

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

I thought I knew about the life of Theodore Roosevelt, but River of Doubt proved me wrong and I was hooked by the second page. After his term as President, Roosevelt undertakes a grueling mission to explore an uncharted tributary of the Amazon with his son and a couple of others. Roosevelt's grit and determination prove no match for the river and rainforest. Several times they are on the brink of death or are lost.

Besides learning about science and nature I was interested in how different people respond to stress. I might have given up and never been heard from again, but Roosevelt and his son show incredible perseverance, and the reader wonders if that will be enough to save their lives.


Who am I?

I've always been fascinated by the toughest survivors, the ones where I say to myself, “I could have never got through that.” Then I’m curious about how they endured: what mindsets and techniques did they use to fight on? When I became a writer I focused on this niche, with my first book Ten Hours Until Dawn which was followed by several other true survival and rescue tales. I became obsessed with researching where the survivors made the correct decisions and how they got trapped by bad ones. When my book The Finest Hours became a Disney movie I was deluged with people sharing their own survival stories. 


I wrote...

A Storm Too Soon: A Remarkable True Survival Story in 80-Foot Seas

By Michael J. Tougias,

Book cover of A Storm Too Soon: A Remarkable True Survival Story in 80-Foot Seas

What is my book about?

A Storm Too Soon, one of seven survival books by the author, is a fast-paced true story that took place on the ocean during one of the most explosive storms ever recorded. Seventy-foot waves batter a tattered life raft 250 miles out to sea in one of the world’s most dangerous places, the Gulf Stream. Hanging onto the raft are three men, a Canadian, a Brit, and their captain, JP DeLutz, a dual citizen of America and France. The waves repeatedly toss the men out of their tiny vessel, and JP, with 9 broken ribs, is hypothermic and on the verge of death. The captain, however, is a tough-minded character and now he’s got to rely on those same inner resources to outlast the storm.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

By Edmund Morris,

Book cover of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

No one has ever attacked life with fervor like Theodore Roosevelt, and that caused him to descend into increasing darkness every year after his presidency. Morris spent the better part of his adult life researching and writing about his subject, and he found the core of TR and painted the ultimate work picture of him with a marvelous flair for description.

Who am I?

Over the last eight years, I’ve conducted as many onstage interviews with leading presidential historians as anyone else in the country. To prepare for them, I read presidential biographies thoroughly and constantly. The fact that my work has been strongly endorsed by people in presidential history circles with the stature of Ken Burns, David McCullough, James Baker, Jon Meacham, and Douglas Brinkley should be a strong indication that my opinion about this subject matters.


I wrote...

Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers from the Experts about Our Presidents

By Talmage Boston,

Book cover of Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers from the Experts about Our Presidents

What is my book about?

Cross-Examining History contains the edited transcripts of my onstage interviews with leading presidential historians (on the order of David McCullough, Jon Meacham, Douglas Brinkley, David Maraniss, Evan Thomas, and H.W. Brands) and surviving presidential insiders (Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Lynda Johnson Robb, Andy Card, and others).

My questions attempted to get into the most engaging parts of the hearts and minds of our most significant presidents - - as to their entire lives as well as their years as national leaders. The answers of my interview partners expand our awareness of these presidents far beyond the conclusions reached in prior presidential biographies, and position readers to draw deeper conclusions about the performance of our past commanders-in-chief.

Theodore Roosevelt

By Kathleen Dalton,

Book cover of Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life

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.


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 Wilderness Warrior

By Douglas Brinkley,

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

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.


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.

Theodore Rex

By Edmund Morris,

Book cover of Theodore Rex

Theodore Roosevelt is another presidential figure that has received a great deal of scholarly attention. I ultimately selected Theodore Rex for two reasons. First, it’s one of the few books that focuses solely on the presidency, meaning it offers an unrivaled, in-depth examination of his years in office. Second, it’s such a page-turner. I started reading a specific section to better understand one cabinet interaction and I found myself still reading many pages and many hours later without even realizing it. Morris fully captures TR’s oversized personality in an extraordinarily colorful way.


Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by power and how people use it. From the time I was tiny, I’ve loved reading about how people left their fingerprint on history, and boy, do presidents leave their mark. Given these interests, it’s unsurprising that I’ve been my career this far examining how early presidents crafted the executive branch. The president’s oversized role in American life is also at the heart of my podcast work (I cohost The Past, The Promise, The Presidency with the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. Each season we explore a different element of the presidency and its relationship to history). In my future scholarship, I plan to continue this exploration long after George Washington left office. Stay tuned for more, and in the meantime enjoy these great reads!


I wrote...

The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution

By Lindsay M. Chervinsky,

Book cover of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution

What is my book about?

The US Constitution never established a presidential cabinet―the delegates to the Constitutional Convention explicitly rejected the idea. So how did George Washington create one of the most powerful bodies in the federal government?

On November 26, 1791, George Washington convened his department secretaries for the first cabinet meeting. Faced with diplomatic crises, domestic insurrections, and constitutional challenges―and finding congressional help lacking―Washington decided he needed a group of advisors he could turn to. He modeled his new cabinet on the councils of war he had led as commander of the Continental Army. Lindsay M. Chervinsky reveals the far-reaching consequences of Washington’s choice.

The Jungle

By Upton Sinclair,

Book cover of The Jungle

Theodore Roosevelt read this book in manuscript and didn’t much like it, but fully understood, as a good reader and adept politician, that it would cause trouble. The President thought Sinclair a ‘hysteric,’ and despised his socialism, still knowing the book would be a widely heralded bestseller about the meat packing industry in Chicago, and the melodramatic trials of the Lithuanian immigrants who worked there. We love the book because it makes compelling reading to this day. The furor of the public response to the sanitary conditions in the packing plants brought about the momentum that Roosevelt needed to get the Food and Drug Administration established. Sinclair joked, “I aimed for America’s heart, and hit its stomach.” Contemporary readers might be surprised to see a president shaping federal policy because of what some muckraker had written.


Who are we?

We live in the countryside of southwest Michigan in a farmhouse dating back to the 1830s on land once owned by James Fenimore Cooper. The land itself has stories to tell that intrigue us as readers and writers ourselves. Katherine’s passion for the writings of Jane Addams and Edith Wharton led her to Theodore Roosevelt, a kindred male voice in American literature at the turn of the twentieth century. Tom’s passion for environmental writers and activism led him to the books and essays of the 26th President, who believed that good writing sometimes leads to good laws! As professors and writing partners, we are delighted every time we can introduce readers to the literary Theodore Roosevelt.


We wrote...

Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life

By Thomas Bailey & Katherine Joslin,

Book cover of Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life

What is our book about?

We tell the story of Theodore Roosevelt as a writer and a reader, literary activities he pursued relentlessly from the time he could read and hold a pencil until the day before he died, when he wrote his last review for The New York Times. During his not very long but intensely lived life, he read untold thousands of books, wrote 47 of them, thousands and thousands of letters, scores of speeches, articles, and reviews. Some say he read a book and dozens of newspapers and magazines a day even while he was in the White House. We review and assess this life in language, painting a complex and somewhat demythologizing portrait of a fascinating, heralded, and often written about American man of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt

By Mark Will-Weber,

Book cover of Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking

Will-Weber extensively researched the drinking habits of every U.S. president from George Washington to Barack Obama to compose this outstanding volume. Mint Juleps is brimming with fascinating facts. Did you know that the Carters, who were Southern Baptists, were much heavier drinkers than the Reagans? (Ronald Reagan, who effectively imposed the twenty-one-year drinking age on all fifty states, was the son of an alcoholic and wary of alcohol abuse). I think that I enjoyed the profile of George Washington the most, who not only plotted American independence over a pint or two but distilled his own applejack brandy as well.


Who am I?

One of my fondest childhood memories is the holiday parties that my parents threw. Lying in bed I could hear roars of laughter crash the silence and gently ebb as the grownups shared stories and made merry. Later in life, I came to realize how different that kind of drinking is from the frat-boy binging of college and the anxious bracers at singles’ bars. As an adult, I became a Catholic theologian, got married, and had a family of my own. My wife Alexandra and I have relished an evening cocktail together in order to unwind and catch up on each other’s day (Alexandra has homeschooled all six of our children, which is itself a compelling reason to drink daily).


I wrote...

Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour

By Michael P. Foley,

Book cover of Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner's Guide to a Holy Happy Hour

What is my book about?

Drinking with the Saints pairs beer, wine, and cocktail suggestions with the feast days of the Church year: you look up a date, read a brief sketch of the saint whose feast is being celebrated that day, and make a drink in his or her honor. The book contains over 350 cocktail recipes (38 of them original), and it even includes drinks for Lent. Besides all the tasty beverage ideas, Drinking with the Saints encourages a culture of Christian merriment and festivity. Christianity and alcohol have had a long and illustrious history together, from Chartreuse (made by Carthusian monks) to Trappist beer to Franciscan missionaries literally planting the seeds of the California wine industry.


Mornings on Horseback

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

It’s inspiring to read how a sickly boy became the larger-than-life figure who dominated turn of the century America. Although born into a famous and wealthy family, the young Theodore’s future seemed hopeless because of his repeated bouts with an illness that almost killed him. But through his own will, and with the inspiration and support of his remarkable family, he managed to overcome his ailment and grow into robust and productive manhood. McCullough’s discovery of a rich cache of family letters allowed him to create a fine-grained and moving narrative about how this exceptional man came to be.


Who am I?

After more than thirty years of teaching Russian literature and culture at Yale and Harvard, and publishing numerous academic articles and monographs, I switched to writing historical biographies for a general audience. The catalyst was my discovery of Frederick Bruce Thomas, the remarkable son of former slaves in Mississippi who became a multimillionaire impresario in tsarist Moscow and the “Sultan of Jazz” in Constantinople. This resulted in The Black Russian, a widely praised biography that is now well on track to being made into a TV series. I am always drawn to stories of people whose grit makes them rebel against the limits that life seems to impose and allows them to achieve something transcendent.


I wrote...

To Break Russia's Chains: Boris Savinkov and His Wars Against the Tsar and the Bolsheviks

By Vladimir Alexandrov,

Book cover of To Break Russia's Chains: Boris Savinkov and His Wars Against the Tsar and the Bolsheviks

What is my book about?

A biography of the Russian revolutionary who spent his life fighting to transform his homeland into a liberal and democratic republic, and about whom Winston Churchill said "few men tried more, gave more, dared more and suffered more for the Russian people.” A complex and fascinating individual, Boris Savinkov was a paradoxically moral terrorist, a scandalous novelist, a friend of epoch-defining artists and writers, a government minister, an organizer of private armies, and an advisor to senior statesmen. At the end of his life, he allowed himself to be captured by the Soviet secret police, but, as I argue in my book, he did so because he had a secret plan to strike one last blow against the tyrannical regime. Savinkov’s epic life challenges many popular myths about the Russian Revolution, and his goals remain a poignant reminder of how things in Russia could have been, and how, perhaps, they may still become someday. 

The House of Mirth

By Edith Wharton,

Book cover of The House of Mirth

What’s not to love? Edith Wharton, a member of Gilded Age upper-crust society, used her pen to skewer the mores and strict social conventions of her increasingly shallow and avaricious class. Her heartrending main character, Lily Bart, manages to fall afoul of the rigid rules that prescribed the behavior of a woman of her standing. A small misstep makes her a pariah—and dooms her to a tragic fate. Though set in the late nineteenth century, the novel’s characters are so richly drawn that the book feels as if it could have been written today.


Who am I?

A New York Times bestselling author, I love excavating the lives of eccentric, strong-willed women. There’s the thrill of the chase—holding handwritten letters and diaries and uncovering, bit by bit, the story of each woman—and the adventure of encountering the unexpected: Wandering through a rattlesnake-infested Montana cabin (Photographing Montana 1894-1928: The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron); being woken by a ghost while staying at a decaying Astor mansion in the Hudson Valley (Archie and Amélie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age); climbing 200 stone steps to reach the Royal Archives in Windsor Castle, while the recently-departed Queen Elizabeth was in the courtyard below (Victoria’s Island, in process). Such fun.


I wrote...

Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas

By Donna M. Lucey,

Book cover of Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas

What is my book about?

The backstories of four women painted by high-society portraitist John Singer Sargent—all of them privileged, beautiful, seemingly destined for a life of ease. Sargent knew the women, and his portraits hint at the mysterious ways their lives would unfold. All broke the rules in some way—carrying on illicit love affairs; experimenting with the occult; fleeing fortune to become a Bohemian artist, only to fall into penury and illness; and another, ostracized by prim Boston society, who finally gained victory—and revenge—by creating a magnificent art museum. These women lived on an operatic scale and their letters and diaries create a rich depiction of the Gilded Age; but their private tragedies, passions, and triumphs are timeless. 

American Hippopotamus

By Jon Mooallem,

Book cover of American Hippopotamus

This book doesn’t just read like a novel – it reads like a great novel: A battle between two compelling characters set against the absurd backdrop of an effort to establish a hippo population in America’s swampland. Mooallem’s understated wit showed me that sometimes the best way to understand history is by tracking the people we’ve never heard of, and the initiatives that never succeeded.


Who am I?

As a journalist, I’ve often been frustrated at the sense that I am preaching to the choir – those who take the time to read about a serious topic don’t need to, and those who need to, won’t. I’ve learned to spread awareness by packaging serious information inside a “Trojan Horse," one so fun to read that it reaches people who can actually benefit from the educational bits. These brilliant books, and many others, show that a spoonful of sugar can help us easily swallow information about social justice, endangered species, the U.S. military, and American history. I happily make these books Christmas gifts, knowing they are joys, not obligations.


I wrote...

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town

By Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling,

Book cover of A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town

What is my book about?

A tiny American town's plans for radical self-government overlooked one hairy detail: no one told the bears.

Once upon a time, a group of libertarians got together and hatched the Free Town Project, a plan to take over an American town and completely eliminate its government. In 2004, they set their sights on Grafton, NH, a barely populated settlement with one paved road. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear is the sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying tale of what happens when a government disappears into the woods. Complete with gunplay, adventure, and backstabbing politicians, this is the ultimate story of a quintessential American experiment -- to live free or die, perhaps from a bear.

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