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Emerging from Teddy's shadow

His Father's Son: The Life of General Ted Roosevelt, Jr. - Tim Brady

The children of American presidents often face challenges unlike those of most other people, as their parents' occupation of such a demanding position in the national spotlight often poses a unique set of strains upon them. Yet as difficult as it can be, perhaps the greatest challenges were faced by Theodore Roosevelt's offspring. An adventurer and advocate of "the strenuous life," Roosevelt cast a large shadow over his six children, who were frequently challenged to measure up to his vigorous example. Perhaps the greatest pressure in this respect was felt by TR's eldest son and namesake, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who came of age while his father occupied the White House. Throughout his life the younger Roosevelt strove to emulate his father, embracing football while in college (despite a diminutive frame), serving in combat during the First and Second World Wars, and pursuing a political career that, for all its promise, in the end did not turn out as well as many thought it might.

 

In many ways, Theodore Roosevelt Jr.'s life was every bit as adventurous and as interesting as his father's. Tim Brady tries to capture some of that drama in his biography of Roosevelt, and he often succeeds in this goal. The picture of the younger Roosevelt that emerges from his book is of a young man who was frequently judged by the standard set by his famous father -- perhaps most often by himself -- and in most respects measured up to it. Though Ted failed to emulate his father's political success, as Brady demonstrates he was a far more successful businessman and proved every bit the warrior, reaching the rank of brigadier general before his death in 1944.

Yet while Brady provides a nicely readable account of Roosevelt's life, it suffers from a number of flaws. The greatest of them is the unevenness of the coverage of Ted's life, which favors his time in the military over his political service. Though undoubtedly this decision bolsters the dramatic aspects of Ted's life, it also distorts the coverage and obscures his achievements in the positions in which he served. And while Brady makes some intriguing points about the Roosevelt family dynamic, he never really explores the degree to which their father's example drove his sons into taking risks that cut short their lives. It makes for a book that is something of a missed opportunity, one that makes a case for examining Theodore Roosevelt Jr.'s life in its own right but falls short of providing that examination itself.