A Review of Edmund Morris’s Colonel Roosevelt

[Boston Globe]

In yesterday’s Boston Globe, I published a review of Edmund Morris’s Colonel Roosevelt, the third and final volume in his TR trilogy. The book’s been widely and positively reviewed, but it still seems to me that most people are failing to appreciate how fascinating and unique and just plain weird Morris is. I give one example in my review that dates back to the writing of Morris’s first book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. But there are many, many more, and I’ve got no idea why anyone was surprised — least of all the Reagans, who put Morris up to it — when Dutch turned out to be an unorthodox book. (It’s an underrated book, too.)

Another example of Morris’s eccentricity came a few weeks back, when he went on Face the Nation to promote Colonel Roosevelt. After Bob Schieffer asked Morris (for a second time) what TR would make of today’s political scene, Morris replied: “You keep asking these presentist questions, Bob. As the immortal Marisa Tomei said in My Cousin Vinny, ‘That’s a bullshit question!'” Morris gave a more precise and politic version of this answer to a Wall Street Journal reporter: “No. Absolutely not. And I don’t speculate on what he would do now if he were alive because that’s just dreamland.” And yet, just two years ago, Morris wrote a wonderful Op Ed for the New York Times in which he crafted a faux-interview with TR out of 2008 questions and historical quotations. Here’s a sample:

Q. Do you blame the House Democratic majority?
A. A goodly number of senators, even of my own party, have shown about as much backbone as so many angleworms.
Q. I hope that doesn’t include the pair running for the presidency! What do you think of Senator John McCain? He often cites you as a role model.
A. He is evidently a man who takes color from his surroundings.
Q. Weren’t you just as unpredictable in your time?
A. (laughing) They say that nothing is as independent as a hog on ice. If he doesn’t want to stand up, he can lie down.

This was surely a send up of the kind of questions Morris has had to deal with during his latest promotional cycle. But it was also further proof that he is someone who has been completely and utterly romanced by the past.

About Craig Fehrman

Craig Fehrman is a Ph.D. student in Yale’s English department and a freelance writer. He's working on a book about presidents and their books [more] . . .
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