Lion in the White House A Life of Theodore Roosevelt





Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt

The author of the book ‘Lion in the Whitehouse’ is Aida D. Donald. She is a famous writer and editor with several works under her belt. These include books on American Presidents John F. Kennedy and Truman. She has also contributed to many scholarly articles and is the former editor in chief on the Harvard University Press. The biography on Roosevelt gives a look at the president that led the Rough Riders cavalry during the Spanish-American war. He was also one of the most popular US presidents in his eight-year tenure between 1901 and 1908. He won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts towards ending the Russo-Japanese war. The book is a general analysis of his public political career as well as his personal life. Roosevelt was a forward thinker, a man that many still admire to date. ‘Lion in the Whitehouse’ is a tribute to the heroic president, father, husband, and lover of nature.

The main reason as to why the author decided to write the book is to shed more light on the life of Roosevelt. There are different accounts each focused on different areas of his life. The book brings all these aspects together. One of the primary sources for the book is Roosevelt’s autobiography. Donald takes excerpts of the autobiography at the beginning of each chapter to give a glimpse into his life and his experiences. From the autobiography, we get to know what kind of person he was and the author then expounds on this using other sources to remove bias. The book enables the reader to understand Roosevelt’s life as he grew up, his motivations and the reasons for his decisions in life, both as president and in his personal life. Roosevelt is known to be one of the most open-minded presidents of all time at a time when America was quite conservative and not yet ready to embrace change.

The purpose of the book is to inform. The reader finds out more about the youngest president of the country and all of his achievements. For a person who wishes to get an understanding of Roosevelt and his accomplishments, this book is perfect for them. It details his life from his sickly childhood to his days as president. For example, the first chapter begins with the start of his career as a zoologist. He was also a weak boy as he says, “I was a sickly, delicate boy, suffered much from asthma, and frequently had to be taken away on trips to find a place where I could breathe.’(Donald 3) His life at home was quite sheltered, and he got to learn about politics from an early age. His parents and uncle were a significant influence in his life. His family believed in charity and helping the less fortunate although they grew in a life of privilege. His father also established the National Museum of Art. All these different experiences in early life shed light into his type of leadership when he became president.

One of the main arguments in the book is that Roosevelt was quite the forward thinker and a natural leader who expected as much from himself as he expected from others. The first instance of this is being voted as an assemblyman at only twenty-three years old. (Donald 40). As police commissioner, he fought greed and corruption. He also made sure that appointments did not take color, race, and religion into consideration. For him, all people were equal. The author explains, “Just as importantly, Roosevelt made appointments regardless of color, creed, religion, or politics. When challenged about appointing blacks, he openly defended his policy. The blacks were qualified. As a Republican whose ideal was Abraham Lincoln, Roosevelt would always be color-blind and guided by the tenet of equality.” (Donald 72) He looked up to Abraham Lincoln as his role model, and Lincoln was credited with the fight for equality by fighting against slavery and racial discrimination.

Another argument that the author makes is that Roosevelt was a brave and fearless leader. He led the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American war. “Roosevelt jumped from his horse and led the soldiers on foot. At another, he killed a Spaniard with his bare hands…….this day would be the indelible symbol of his courageous leadership.” Roosevelt stepped up to lead his men by example during the war. It is clear that he would lead the country equally fearlessly. He was granted a Medal of Honor for his bravery during the war. He was also a charismatic leader, winning the governorship of New York under the Republican vote while the city was known to be firmly Democratic (Donald 109) he advocated for better working conditions for workers and also protected the rights of women. “He was generally welcoming to the rising woman’s movement for broader rights and consulted with women leaders in the new social movements.” (Donald 121)

The biography is quite sympathetic to the subject, President Roosevelt. The author portrays him to be a likable and relatable person from his childhood. One example of this was her description of his anguish when his father died (Donald 28). Like any other child, perhaps, even more, he had loved his father. Despite their privileged upbringing, his father took part in numerous charitable activities, and this casts the whole Roosevelt family in an endearing light. His marriage to his first wife Alice also showed him to be a loving and kind man, but unfortunately, she died too soon in childbirth. Tragic life experiences such as this show sympathy to Roosevelt and elicits similar feelings in the reader. While he was still young, he was angry at a corrupt justice of the Supreme Court for engaging in swindles in the railroads (Donald 42). One of President Roosevelt’s significant achievements was breaking the monopoly in the railroads, and it was inspired by his abhorrence for corruption from his earliest days.

I agree with the arguments of the author. Roosevelt’s early life prepared him for the role of President at only forty-three years old, the youngest president of all time. His charisma, hard work, leadership and belief in equality as shown by the author enabled him to achieve a lot in his presidency. He first assumed office as a result of the death of President McKinley who had been shot by an anarchist. The President’s death meant that the vice president would take his position. He aspired to be like Lincoln in his letter, “I must not only be as resolute as Abraham Lincoln in seeking to achieve decent ends, but as patient, as uncomplaining and as even-tempered in dealing, not only with knaves, but with the well-meaning foolish people, educated and uneducated.” (Donald 136). He desired to make changes in the Supreme Court, and the racist South. One of his tenets was equality for all men, and he lived up to this.

The book has some strengths as well as weaknesses. Its main advantage is drawn from the fact that it incorporates Roosevelt’s autobiography at the beginning of each chapter. This makes it credible by showing the reader what Roosevelt himself thought and said. The author’s work is to interpret and expound further on the events associated with a particular excerpt. Its weakness is that it is rarely critical of Roosevelt as a person. It comes across as being more of a tribute and praise to the President rather than a critical analysis of his leadership. The whole narrative is skewed in his favor. However, to be fair to the author, it is merely intended to be an informative piece, and it is based on her own opinion. Roosevelt was generally a likable man, an able leader, and an outstanding President.

President Theodore Roosevelt is widely acclaimed and remembered for many achievements during his presidency. Some of these include the Nobel Peace Prize, strengthening the navy, construction of the Panama Canal, conservation of the environment, removing monopoly in the railroads, and dealing with the coal strike of 1902. He was also instrumental in bringing about equality in terms of racial discrimination and women’s rights. The biography ‘Lion in the Whitehouse’ aptly captures his spirit. The author writes an excellent report on Roosevelt’s life and experiences. The book helps the reader to follow his growth right from his childhood right to all his outstanding achievements as president. While some may remark that it paints an unrealistically positive image, Roosevelt remains human like any other person affected by tragedy and death. His privileged upbringing may have given him an advantage, but he had innate capabilities to become a great leader. The biography is a fitting account of his life and reading it leaves the audience informed about other aspects in life that may not be highlighted as much. Just like the author, the readers end up with a positive bias towards the ‘Lion in the White House.’

Works Cited

Donald, Aida. Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt. Basic Books, 2008.