‘Theodore Roosevelt: Naturalist in the Arena’

REVIEW: Ridge Writers on Books

Ed. Char Miller and Clay S. Jenkinson, U. Nebraska Press, trade paperback, 31 B&W photos, indexed, 264 pages, 2020, $24.95



Born privileged and very rich, the young Theodore Roosevelt had a passion for wildlife and seriously considered becoming a professional naturalist. But circumstances carried him in other directions.

In short order, he became a police commissioner, New York governor, U.S. vice president, U.S. president and, in between, rancher, explorer, big game hunter, and widely read writer who authored more than 40 books, hundreds of articles and as many as 150,000 letters. His speeches fill volumes, and thanks to one of them, a wad of notes stuck in his pocket thwarted an assassin’s bullet at a campaign event in 1912.

Slated for release on March 1, 2020, “Theodore Roosevelt: Naturalist in the Arena” compiles thought-provoking essays from biographical, environmental, literary and political sources to focus on Roosevelt’s complex life as leading light of the Progressive Era and “America’s first green president.”

Contributions include discussions of his often unappreciated work as a scientist, observer and curator, combined with reflections on the men who influenced him. Barb Rosenstock’s “Friendship under Five Inches of Snow: Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir in Yosemite” covers the three days he spent in the Sierra Nevada with Muir.

Whilethe two sat by a campfire, Muir reportedly asked Roosevelt, “When are you going to get beyond the boyishness of killing things? Are you not getting far enough along to leave that off?” The President supposedly looked around, pondered and answered, “Muir, I guess you are right.”

While in office, Roosevelt crusaded and collaborated with others to preserve the American bison, regulate the previously unchecked exploitation of our natural resources, and set aside vast acreage as national parks, national monuments, national reclamation projects and national forests. Notably, he designated the Grand Canyon as a National Park in 1908. Of it, he said, “What you can do is to keep it for your children, for your children’s children and for all who come after you.”

As President Lyndon B. Johnson described this legacy, “He fought the trusts, he fought the selfish interests, he fought those who plundered this land. The nation changed because of what he said and because he put his words into action.”

“Theodore Roosevelt: Naturalist in the Arena” effectively cements the case.

This monthly column is written by members of Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Thursday evening of each month at Presbyterian Church and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ new book “Scenes From Lives of Service: High Desert Veterans WWI Through Desert Storm” is available at the Historic USO Building, Maturango Museum and Red Rock Books.

Story First Published: 2020-02-21