The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, 1858-1919 is a biography of Theodore Roosevelt that concentrates strictly on his conservationist side. Other domestic policy and foreign policy occasionally come into play, but only when it’s connected to conservation policy. It is a long book, repetitive on occasion, but very readable and engaging.
“We regard Attic temples and Roman triumphal arches and Gothic cathedrals as of priceless value,” Roosevelt decreed, full of wilderness warrior fury. “But we are, as a whole, still in that low state of civilization where we do not understand that it is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds, and mammals—not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements.”
From childhood to adult, Brinkley covers what made Roosevelt a conservationist and sets the stage for what he was to do as a public servant and politician; you really get an idea of what made Roosevelt the unique personality he was. He then explains in detail not only what Roosevelt did but how and why; you couldn’t get a much better explanation of his conservation policy. Brinkley ties in the personalities from all walks of life who helped shape and execute his policies as well. Unfortunately, the book seems to end abruptly; Brinkley writes about Roosevelts plans post-Presidency but doesn’t go into them in the same detail that he did everything else. Don’t think, however, that this book is a hagiography. Brinkley takes care to point out the contrast between Roosevelt’s conservationism and some, but not all, of his hunting and between his conservationist policy and reclamation policy. Granted, this would have made an already long book even longer, perhaps a second volume would have been in order. The book is well researched and documented, with good maps, annexes, and end notes; the maps, however, would have served better in-line with the relevant text. They very well may have been in the print edition, but I was reading the Kindle version and the maps came after the final chapter.
“As forces of globalization run amok, Roosevelt’s stout resoluteness to protect our environment is a strong reminder of our national wilderness heritage, as well as an increasingly urgent call to arms.”
Published in 2009, The Wilderness Warrior is somewhat prescient given the environmental policies of the current administration. Many times as I was reading I found myself asking what Roosevelt would think of President Trump. In the area of environmental policy, there’s no doubt that Roosevelt would find our current policies and administration wanting.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Wilderness Warrior and learned quite a bit from it. If you’re interested in nature and wildlife conservation and the origins of the forest service, our national parks and monuments, and our wildlife refuges, this book is a great place to start. If you’re at all interested in what made our 26th President tick, this is a good book to read.