Edmund Morris, Henry Pringle, David McCullough, and many other historians and biographers have told the story of Teddy Roosevelt’s life in a passel of well-researched and widely read biographies. (Amazon offers 623 items in response to the query “Theodore Roosevelt biographies.”) Jerome Charyn adds a stirring fictional account of this most fascinating of American presidents in The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King. It’s a roller-coaster ride through TR’s life up until just before he was sworn in to become the first President Roosevelt.
You can’t make this stuff up
Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919) was one of those outrageous characters you wouldn’t believe if he hadn’t really lived. He rushed from one adventure to another throughout his life.
- As a young man, he owned a ranch in North Dakota and enlisted as a deputy sheriff, leading a gang of toughs to battle murderers and corrupt Pinkerton agents alike.
- Back in New York, TR upended the corrupt and powerful officials of the Republican establishment by charming his way into a seat in the state legislature. In Albany, he proved to be the bane of the bosses’ existence with demands for long-overdue reform.
- Named head of the Civil Service Commission by the president, he battled the corruption of the patronage system that persisted even in the face of laws to end it.
- Then, returned to New York City, he served as president of the police commission. There, he faced off with the powers-that-were, including no less than J. Pierpont Morgan and the same corrupt Pinkerton agents he’d known in the badlands. His sin? Insisting that the laws should actually be enforced.
- Finally, he mustered a regiment of his own to fight in the war in Cuba that he and his friends had engineered.
TR also spent eventful terms as Governor of New York and Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Frustrations aside, throughout it all, he was consistently dee-lighted. And it all transpired before he reached the age of forty-two. Eight tumultuous years as the first President Roosevelt and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate then lay in his future.
The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King: A Novel of Teddy Roosevelt and His Times by Jerome Charyn (2019) 300 pages ★★★★☆
And that’s not all: the first President Roosevelt was a family man
Yet, all the while these adventures unfolded, TR struggled with the problems of his large and sometimes difficult family. Barely coping with the death of his young first wife, Alice Lee (1861-84), after just four years of marriage. Attempting without success to tame the wildness of his oldest child, Alice (1884-1980), who proved ungovernable throughout her long life. Protecting and covering up the excesses of his beloved younger brother Elliott (1860-94), an alcoholic and flagrant serial adulterer who caused him great pain. And raising six rambunctious children in the White House in the full glare of national publicity.
About the author
Novelist and playwright Jerome Charyn (1937-) has written forty novels, fourteen works of nonfiction, and two plays as well as a slew of short stories. His first novel appeared in 1964. The books have won him many literary awards. He divides his time between Paris and New York City.
For more reading
I’ve reviewed two nonfiction books about Teddy Roosevelt as well as a mystery novel in which he appears as a major character:
- The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley (Teddy Roosevelt and the dark side of American foreign policy)
- Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary by Geoffrey Cowan (Teddy Roosevelt: progressive, champion of primary elections, and a racist)
- The Alienist by Caleb Carr (In a classic whydunit, The Alienist makes his debut)
For a superb book about the first of the Robber Barons, who came to prominence during TR’s life, see The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles (The first robber baron and the emergence of the corporation).
You might also be interested in Top 20 popular books for understanding American history, Great biographies I’ve reviewed: my 10 favorites, and 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up).
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.