Mornings On Horseback

Books: Mornings On Horseback by David McCullough

Book Info: Published by Simon & Schuster; 370 pages; paperback; borrowed from the library

Goodreads Summary:  Mornings on Horseback is about the world of the young Theodore Roosevelt. It is the story of a remarkable little boy, seriously handicapped by recurrent and nearly fatal attacks of asthma, and his struggle to manhood: an amazing metamorphosis seen in the context of the very uncommon household (and rarefied social world) in which he was raised.

His father is the first Theodore Roosevelt, “Greatheart,” a figure of unbounded energy, enormously attractive and selfless, a god in the eyes of his small, frail namesake. His mother, Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt, is a Southerner and celebrated beauty, but also considerably more, which the book makes clear as never before. There are sisters Anna and Corinne, brother Elliott (who becomes the father of Eleanor Roosevelt), and the lovely, tragic Alice Lee, Teddy Roosevelt’s first love. And while such disparate figures as Abraham Lincoln, Mrs. John Jacob Astor, and Senator Roscoe Conkling play a part, it is this diverse and intensely human assemblage of Roosevelts, all brought to vivid life, which gives the book its remarkable power.

The book spans seventeen years � from 1869 when little “Teedie” is ten, to 1886 when, as a hardened “real life cowboy,” he returns from the West to pick up the pieces of a shattered life and begin anew, a grown man, whole in body and spirit. The story does for Teddy Roosevelt what Sunrise at Campobello did for FDR � reveals the inner man through his battle against dreadful odds.

Like David McCullough’s The Great Bridge, also set in New York, this is at once an enthralling story, with all the elements of a great novel, and a penetrating character study. It is brilliant social history and a work of important scholarship, which does away with several old myths and breaks entirely new ground. For the first time, for example, Roosevelt’s asthma is examined closely, drawing on information gleaned from private Roosevelt family papers and in light of present-day knowledge of the disease and its psychosomatic aspects.

At heart it is a book about life intensely lived…about family love and family loyalty…about courtship and childbirth and death, fathers and sons…about winter on the Nile in the grand manner and Harvard College…about gutter politics in washrooms and the tumultuous Republican Convention of 1884…about grizzly bears, grief and courage, and “blessed” mornings on horseback at Oyster Bay or beneath the limitless skies of the Badlands. “Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough,” Roosevelt once wrote. It is the key to his life and to much that is so memorable in this magnificent book.

In my quest to read more American history, I decided to pick up this book.  I’m not sure what to think about it, though.

It was nice to learn more about Teddy Roosevelt, but a lot of it went over my head.  It felt like McCullough was throwing every possible person and place in Roosevelt’s life onto the page.  It really felt like it was more about the people and places in his life than his actual life.  It was very detailed, which is surprising for something that’s only 370 pages.  I felt like it jumped around a lot, and it seemed very random and rambling.

That being said, it was very readable and I did learn more about Roosevelt.  Like he had asthma, but he tried not to let it slow him down.  And he wanted to study natural history, but the biology program at Harvard didn’t do anything for him, and so his desire to do something with natural history and science faded.

I give it a 3 out of 5.  I liked it, and I certainly learned from it, but I don’t think I’ll be reading it again.

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