Book Review: When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House

If you’re looking for a really good book on Theodore Roosevelt, you should read Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris, because it’s a far better rendering than Patricia O’Toole’s effort. However, if you’re trying to keep up with what President Bush is reading, you should check out When Trumpets Call (which is why I read it).

When Trumpets Call starts out with a painfully boring section describing the safari that TR and his son Kermit went on following Taft’s election. The safari narrative is punctuated far too liberally (literally and figuratively speaking) by the author’s editorializing about the horrors of hunting, including one instance where O’Toole actually referenced the animals paying the ultimate price. Gag me with a spoon. Leaving aside the relative moral and, for that matter, aesthetic merits of fashioning ones desk accessories from wild animal carcasses, the safari section almost made me give up on this book and turn it back in to the library.

Despite O’Toole’s awkward attempts to turn clever phrases, and her often cloying prose, eventually I got to more enjoyable and informative sections of the book. The chapters dealing with TR’s run for a third term at the head of the Progressive (Bull Moose) party raised some intriguing points especially given conversations Josh and I have had wishing for a viable third party in our own time.

One aspect of third party politics TR emphasized was the need to run a full ticket. Noting that most voters choose to vote a straight ticket, TR thought it was necessary to put people up for every office, not just President. This is an idea Josh and I have discussed as we think one reason that groups like the Constitution Party are not really viable is that you can’t just run a guy for President if you don’t take the time to build from the grassroots. Although the Progressives were ultimately unsuccessful, the third party attempt does show how a strong effort by a third party can influence the political platforms of the major parties, and indirectly advance its views.

The book ends with a very interesting section on World War I, TR’s often prescient thoughts about the war, and the exploits of the Roosevelt sons in battle. This section draws heavily from the boys’ letters and memoirs, which lends a different voice to the chapters to good effect.

After finishing this book, I found myself hoping that W doesn’t intend to follow TR’s post-Presidential footsteps, but I also have been wondering what he did take away from the book. Wouldn’t it be interesting if he tried to start a third party? Or take a safari, or discover a hitherto uncharted river in the Amazon? Time will tell.

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