Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Initial Thoughts on the Wilderness Warrior

Seems Janet Maslin got the jump on everyone with her review in the New York Times. She seems to consider it a dry but ultimately rewarding read, focusing almost exclusively on TR's wilderness legacy. Some time ago, I read The River of Doubt, which chronicles one of his last journeys on a tributary of the Amazon, later to be known as Rio Teodoro. It showed to what lengths TR would go for adventure, even when he was well past the age for such adventures. But, TR was always known as an advocate of The Strenuous Life. I was eventually able to find a book on Candido Rondon, Stringing Together a Nation, who was the actual leader of the ill-fated expedition, as it seemed that TR spent most of the time lying prostrate in a canoe.

Roosevelt was a big proponent of the Antiquities Act and used it to great effect from 1906 to the end of his term in 1908. Here is a brief history on the National Park Service filled with vintage photographs.


  1. I have given away at least two or three copies of River of Doubt. Something about that book blends the best of history/biography and yet still reads like a boy's adventure story.

    It's interesting that TR is so closely identified with the Park Service since he really had very little to do with it -- other than a few publicized visits with Burroughs et al. But as you note, he did use other tools to establish wildlife reserves etc.

    Should be fun to discuss this book with you Gintaras, since didn't you work for the Park Service?

    Hopefully my book arrives today because I'm ready now for it. Hope others plan to join us.

  2. Here's a bit more in depth review (I don't take Maslin very seriously -- am I the only one?):


    "In his less than two term tenure as President, Theodore Roosevelt's legacy is 234 million acres of national parks, forest reserves, game parks, reclamation sites and bird sanctuaries. To visualize the magnitude of his achievement, this amounts to 50 percent of the size of the Louisiana Purchase."

  3. The article mentions that TR interpreted the Antiquities Act quite liberally, noting Devil's Tower in Wyoming among other natural National Monuments that he proclaimed. Maslin quoted Brinkley as saying,

    “It’s hard to escape the feeling that Roosevelt enjoyed creating national forests and national monuments in part because it was rubbing his opponents’ faces in his wilderness philosophy of living,”

    Probably a certain amount of truth in that, but I think he was singularly obsessed with preserving as much national forest land as he could for posterity.

    Unfortunately, I didn't get as much out of River of Doubt as you did. I was frustrated with the book for the most part, as I didn't feel that the author really got to the heart of the journey.

  4. For me it read like an adventure story. I thoroughly enjoyed it. A good read, rather than maybe good history (or good natural history for that matter). Still, I highly recommend it to my friends who don't read history since it is (for me) such a good read.

    I'm very curious about Roosevelt's motivations when it comes to all the conservation work he did. This will save me an immense amount of time if Brinkley gets it right, and it's not just another hagiography of TR sort of taken out of context.

    As far as forests go, I think Roosevelt aligned with Pinchot and those scientific management types (the conservationists vs the preservationists). Right now I'm reading some Grinnell, who will be the "great man" of the upcoming Burns series. These guys tended to be of the Ducks/Elk Unlimited types -- conservation for continued (elite) hunting.

    I'm ready to start reading.

  5. Speaking of the final act, Edmund Morris is supposed to come out with a third and final volume of Roosevelt at some point. I very much enjoyed the first volume, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, but Theodore Rex didn't quite match up. I don't think he can afford to wait too many more years.

  6. "For me it read like an adventure story."

    That it did, which doesn't make it surprising that Candice Millard writes for National Geographic. One could almost see the movie rights being negotiated for the story. Of course, TR wrote it as pretty much an adventure story himself in "Through the Brazilian Wilderness," but I expected something more to come out of this "historical account." I also didn't appreciate her attempts to psychoanalyze Kermit's shortcomings by playing the "forlorn love interest" angle. I think it was just plain inexperience, as was amply shown by what this "expedition team" turned up with at the foot of the river, with Rondon immediately setting to lightening the load.

  7. I think that's a fair critique. And actually, I had the same response after reading it -- I wanted to know more and read Roosevelt himself and Rondon. Haven't done that yet, though.

    Still waiting on my book. Starting to get impatient, but didn't want to pay full price to ship it when I ordered it. Hopefully it will limp in today.

  8. Rondon came across as the most interesting person in Millard's narrative. I was perusing the 'Net for references and came across that book. He spent some 40 years in the Amazon jungles, and while he brought modernity with him in the form of telegraph wires, he also was quite empathetic to the native people, because of his own Indian blood. But, Millard didn't go into his background that much, which I thought was a shame.

  9. Watched the promo for Burns' national parks show last night. Beautiful photography as expected. Lots of great men, also as expected (they have a special section called "heroes" to introduce the series).

    The promo opened with one of the best story tellers I've ever heard -- an African American park ranger whose first job was delivering mail in Yellowstone by snowmobile. WHAT a story teller. I can hardly wait for the series just to hear about this man's experiences in Yellowstone, and I have spent years in the park. Coming this fall to a t.v. near you.

  10. Am decidedly on the lookout. In the meantime, spotted this legal news item today:

    "Case: People of the State of California v. USDA
    Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
    Summary: In 2006 a four-state coalition successfully challenged the U.S. Forest Service's attempted repeal of the "Roadless Rule" for national forests. The Roadless Rule protects 58 million acres of forest land nationwide from road building and commercial logging, including 4.4 million acres in California. In October 2006, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District invalidated the repeal under the National Environmental Quality Act and the Endangered Species Act, and reinstated the Roadless Rule for the lower 48 states. In subsequent litigation brought by the State of Wyoming, a District Court in Wyoming invalidated the Roadless Rule, creating a conflict with the Northern District injunction, and creating uncertainty with respect to whether the Roadless Rule continues to apply nationwide. On August 5, 2009, the Ninth Circuit strongly affirmed the Northern District court's decision, including the grant of nationwide injunctive relief, reinstating the Roadless Rule. As a result, the Roadless Rule will continue to protect these forest lands."

    (avrds, you're not in Wyoming are you?)

  11. NY, Wyoming is Cheney country and where all the republicans live. I live north of there, in Montana, where a few stalwart democrats and lefties can still get by with peace license plates and _support our troops -- bring them home_ bumper stickers. I still visit Wyoming on a regular basis, but it is not for the faint of heart.

    Thanks for the update on the forests. Bush tried everything he could to cut them all down before he was run out of town. Nice to know he failed.

  12. Gintaras, has your book arrived yet?

    Have you heard from Robert? I hope he's okay, and simply boycotting us until September. Be nice to start earlier if it's just the two or three of us.

  13. Another NY Times review for this Sunday's book section. Tried to paste it in here and it wouldn't go. Maybe it's my keyboard, although it was fine.

    I just bought the book today for kindle, since the price just came down. I didn't know if it would (from 18.25 to 9.99). It's selling well.

    Are you officially starting discussion in September?

    Gintaras, nice job of posting various historic items in these pages. I haven't been getting in here every day, but it's rewarding when I do. Also appreciate Avrds' and other contributors' comments.


  14. Tried to paste the URL, that is.


    Oh, there it goes.

  15. Still planning on September, Marti. I'm waiting for my copy to arrive by snail mail. Should come at the end of next week.

    You can always post reviews like the one you noted through "New Post," adding photos and links. You may have to sign in through Google to have the posting options appear on your screen.

    I hope Robert will join in. He was planning to. I guess he has other things going right now that occupy his attention. Haven't heard anything from him.

    Hopefully others will join in as well. Don't necessarily have to have the book to make contributions, although I would like to keep the focus on TR's "wilderness legacy." A lot of material available on line.

  16. Marti, thanks for the link. (I can't paste anything either until after I've signed in) Hope you can join in on the conversation of the book.

    From what I've read so far, I agree with the review. It's an interesting approach to take -- talking about TR as a child through the letters he wrote to his mother about natural history for example.

    That opening section is a mess of writing, but I'm hopeful about the overall book. Plus, even though we can find lots of faults with Roosevelt, you have to love someone who asks if he can legally set aside an island to preserve pelicans and, when told he can if he declares it, he responds "Very well then. I so declare it."

  17. And who would have guessed that TR was also a supporter of animal rights?

  18. My copy of The Wilderness Warrior arrived today. Looks impressive.

  19. Hooray!

    I'll wait to say more until you've had a chance to dig in (and dig sometimes you will have to do).

  20. Douglas Brinkley was the guest on The Daily Show last night. Jon Stewart joked about the heft of the book.

    Would someone tell me how many pages are in the book before the acknowledgements, notes, etc. begin? Since mine is on kindle, I don't know. The websites only give the total number of pages, including notes, index, etc. I was going to take a look next time I'm in Borders, but I don't know when that will be. Thanks.

  21. Marti, it's 817 pages.

    One of the popular historians we read a lot here -- McCullough maybe? -- was interviewed about his work habits etc. and said that the secret to readable history is that 2/3 of the work is hidden. Brinkley hasn't learned that lesson.

    It's great for me since this is an area of interest for me and I can follow all the footnotes. It will be interesting to hear what you and Gintaras (and Robert, I hope) think.

    By the way, is he the son of David Brinkley?

  22. I'm sure Brinkley's appearance on "The Daily Show" has been YouTube'd by now...it was funny when Stewart accused Brinkley of being a tree-killer for writing such a big book. Brinkley said this was the first in what he hopes to write, a history of Amer. environmental movement.

    From the size of the book (which would make it hard to carry/read in the train going to & from work) and from Brinkley's description of TR's manic states (fueled by drinking a gallon of coffee a day!), I honestly doubt I could make it through without exhaustion so I'll express my admiration and wish all you ambitious folks well.

    (avrds, sorry if I mistook your loc., glad you're not in Cheney country. I have relatives who retired & moved from Atlanta to Boise where their son teaches mid-school and their daughter works taking care of horses at some fancy ranch. Care to remark on Idaho?)

  23. I have a very wealthy, very liberal acquaintance from Southern California who built some sort of retreat in Montana, but who now is looking for some other place to spend his summers.

    His take is that Idaho and Wyoming are where the California and Texas republicans go and so he's not interested in either place. The following article suggests that's how groups like the Aryan Nation find their way to Idaho -- because a few vacation there or move there because it's "one of the whitest places in the nation."

    Idaho also has a very large Mormon community -- it's sort of Salt Lake City north -- and some extremely wealthy part-time residents. Really beautiful country but it has never appealed to me except for very short visits for all of those reasons.

    Here's an interesting story about Idaho I read recently:


  24. I'm intrigued that Brinkley says he wants to write environmental history. I don't want to judge him until I've read more -- I'm about 100 pages in right now.

    And NY, if you change your mind, it would be great to have you read along. Certainly LOTS of information to discuss in this one.

  25. McCollough could be pretty wordy himself. His book on Truman ran 1120 pages. So, I guess he had a 3000-page tome in mind when he sat down to that one.

  26. I thought Brinkley's book on Carter's "Unfinished Presidency" was very good, and I also have his book on Katrina, which I think is entitled "The Great Deluge," but I haven't gotten around to reading it. I find it kind of odd that he would choose to edit Reagan's Diaries. Don't really see how it fits in with what appears to be his progressive streak.

  27. I think McCullough is the wrong historian. I can sort of see the person I'm thinking of giving that advice, but I can't quite put a name to the face. I'll have to think about it.

    What is Brinkley's specialty, do you know? Is he sort of a presidential historian?

  28. Soon as I posted that, the face and name came back to me.


  29. He seems to be all over the place looking at his extensive bibliography, he's edited Kerouac's journals, written a bio of Hunter Thompson, written a book on American foreign policy, one on Kerry during his political campaign, a bio of Rosa Parks and a couple books on WWII.

  30. Sort of an HW Brands lite, I guess. It must have something to do with the water in Texas.

    Here's a brief profile of Brinkley from Rice. Looks like his initial specialty was in diplomatic history:


  31. Looks like he's not related to the other Brinkley. Interesting that he became such a media personality anyway.

    Also co-authored three books with Stephen Ambrose: The Rise to Globalism (1998); Witness to History (1999); and The Mississippi: and the Making of A Nation (2002).

  32. Oh dear, avrds, how grim. It's often said that we San Franciscans live in a bubble--maybe it's said so often 'cause it's true. Am just happy that my African Amer. husband and I have continued to contribute to the Southern Poverty Law Center (reminder to self: increase contribution this year), a representative of which was on the news this eve. in connection with the return of armed militia groups like that described in the article (from the SF Chronicle, yet). I suppose I should not be surprised...

    I do thank you, really, I do...or will.

  33. New York, I saw that clip on msnbc, too. It is indeed grim. That's not to say we don't have pockets of that up here, too (remember the Freeman?) but it doesn't seem as bad. Plus I live in a very liberal pocket -- Obama won by 65 or so percent here.

    But I am deeply concerned that the tide is turning because of what Sarah Palin likes to call "the real America." At least major corporate sponsors are pulling out of support for Glenn Beck. That's a start.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center is a great organization to support.

  34. Read the prologue this morning. It was interesting to read that conservation efforts dated back to J.Q. Adams. I think Jefferson wanted to preserve a great deal of the Lousiana Purchase, but needless to say it didn't quite pan out that way.

  35. If you made it through the prologue it should be smoother sailing from here on out (I had a heck of a time reading that).

    That was an interesting point about Adams which I had never read -- particularly since it is so clearly in the line of conservation that Roosevelt would follow with Pinchot (protect the forests so you can cut them down). I liked, too, how Jackson railed against the elite federal land grab.

    In the history of conservation, historians usually point to two early musings of Thoreau and Catlin as the origins of the conservation movement.

    This is a nice chronology (under "special presentation about mid-way down the page) with links etc:


  36. It is a bit slow going in the initial chapters. Brinkley seems to gape and wonder over young Theodore's personal museum and his early journals. The most interesting part is the celebration of Darwin and Huxley.

    I will be away for a week. Will start up The Wilderness Warrior thread next Sunday, August 23.

  37. I don't remember On the Origins of Species being such a page-turner as Brinkley described. Darwin was quite detailed in his studies. Now, Voyage of the Beagle is another story. That was truly a grand adventure and I'm sure would have lit TR's fire.

  38. Hang in there, Gintaras. It gets better. It may be that I have just acclimated to his clunky style, but it does seem to be easier to read as you get into the book. I'm about 200 pages in now.

    I think he has two problems with this book. I say this as a mere student,but he simply doesn't know enough about the background he wants to place TR into and/or the history of the science. One of the reviewers notes he throws the word Darwinian around as if it means scientist, an understanding of conservation, collector, etc. I have lots of question marks in the margins on this one.

    Plus, he's not a very good writer. Some of those early paragraphs are so packed with different information you wonder what he's talking about.

    That said, because this is a period/subject matter I'm interested in, I'm thrilled that we are reading it and going to be discussing it here.

  39. Origin is an interesting read, but my guess is from TR's perspective it would have been a revelation given the way it changes an entire world view. But I don't think Brinkley fully understands/appreciates that so you don't get that sense from him -- only that TR loved he book.

  40. I wonder how much TR could have gotten out of it 8. Later, Brinkley noted that it was in Europe when he was a teenager that Roosevelt made a real attempt to absorb "Origin," which I think even then would have been a pretty tall order.

    I can't say I'm very enamored with Brinkley's writing style either, plus there seems to be an awful lot of padding in the early going. He could have put his two chapters on TR's boyhood into one shorter chapter and refrained from using Darwin and Darwinian so many times. He seems to be trying so hard to impress us with the fact that TR was ahead of his time when it came to grasping natural selection, but nothing really that indicates it. It seems that TR was mostly interested in taxidermy, which I got a kick out of Brinkley noting its Greek origins. Makes you wonder if he was writing this chapter with teenage readers in mind.

    Anyway, there is interesting material nonetheless and I expect to get more out of it as I go along.

  41. Agreed. I just think he may have taken on a bigger subject area than he was prepared for. But it does seem to smooth out as he gets going.

    Really a lot to discuss, which will be fun.

  42. I was just reading a Timothy Egan review and saw this at the end:

    Timothy Egan’s latest book, “The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America,” will be published in October.

  43. Curious what Egan had to say about the book? Anyway, there is plenty to discuss. A lot I didn't know like Grant declaring Yosemite a national park. I knew it predated TR, but not 1872. I guess Jackson's photos had a lot to do with that, which Brinkley does mention. Jackson brought the West home, you might say, with those incredible panorama shots.

    I remember Brinkley's book on Carter "Unfinished Presidency" being a much smoother narrative. There is something very Ambrosian about the beginning of this book. Ambrose loved to gape and wonder at all the "firsts" on the Lewis and Clark expedition, as well as remind readers continuously of his own journey along the same route. I thought "Undaunted Courage" was pretty much a "Boy's Life" type narrative, and feel the same about "The Wilderness Warrior."

  44. And Brinkley and Ambrose co-authored some books, so that may have been on his mind.

    Interestingly, the history of the national parks goes back even further:

    "President Abraham Lincoln signed an 1864 bill granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the State of California. John Muir helped spark the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890."

    Because California was already a state, it was turned over to California to preserve. Yellowstone was in the territories, so it fell to the federal government to preserve it in 1872. It may otherwise may have been an entirely different state-based system.

    When you read early reports from the parks, they actually list Hot Springs as the first national park -- which sort of puts some of this into perspective as well:

    "To protect this unique national resource and preserve it for the use of the public, the Arkansas Territorial Legislature had requested in 1820 that the springs and adjoining mountains be set aside as a federal reservation (not to be confused with the Indian reservations being established around the same time). On April 20, 1832, President Andrew Jackson signed legislation to set aside "...four sections of land including said (hot) springs, reserved for the future disposal of the United States (which) shall not be entered, located, or appropriated, for any other purpose whatsoever." This makes Hot Springs National Park the oldest national park among current N. P. S. parks, predating Yellowstone National Park by forty years."

  45. Egan is reviewing an Eggers' in this week's NY Times (although he should review this one). I just noticed his short blurb at the end (I have a tendency to read everything -- it's a

    Sorry for the confusion.