In this deftly written, meticulously researched biography, St. Paul author Tim Brady has taken on a daunting task: chronicling the offspring of a legend.
Few Americans have captured the public’s imagination as did President Theodore Roosevelt. The colorful, energetic “Rough Rider” was the sun around which all others revolved — and, like the sun, he cast a giant shadow.
Few in his orbit escaped it, and that includes his firstborn son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., or “Ted” as he was usually known. Ted Roosevelt lived a life of service, duty and adherence to a code of manly ethics instilled in him by his father.
He succeeded in business, failed in politics — and, in death, justified his father’s highest hopes, winning the Medal of Honor as an Army general for courageous leadership on the Normandy beaches of D-Day before dying of a heart attack soon afterward at age 56.
Brady’s biography of him suffers to an extent because of the elder Roosevelt’s early domination of the tale — even the title suggests the degree to which the old Rough Rider set the tone of his son’s life. The first quarter of the book is mostly about the father — a necessary step in placing the younger Roosevelt in context, but one that makes him something of a bystander in his own story.
Ted Roosevelt doesn’t really come to life until he goes off to fight in World War I, upholding the Rooseveltian sense of duty — and thirst for glory. He fought honorably and well, rising to the rank of colonel and taking a bullet in the knee. Returning from the war, he helped found the American Legion and followed his father’s footsteps into New York state politics.
Tapped to run as the Republican candidate for governor in 1924, he lost to Al Smith, a defeat that effectively ended his political career and presidential ambitions at a young age. It also marked the end of the era of the Oyster Bay branch of the Roosevelt family — and signaled the ascension of the Hyde Park branch, led by his cousin Franklin.
Ted Roosevelt’s life went into something of an eclipse then, and so does the book. But subject and author rally magnificently at the onset of World War II, when Roosevelt re-entered the Army and served with distinction as a brigadier general known for being in the thick of the action.
A brave, accomplished soldier, beloved by his troops, Roosevelt was said to have logged more time on the front lines of battle than any other U.S. general in the war. He insisted on going ashore with the first wave of troops on D-Day, winning the nation’s highest military honor.
Gen. Ted Roosevelt is known to relatively few Americans today, more than 70 years after his death. He deserves to be more widely remembered. Few children of U.S. presidents have performed more service for their nation than this son of the Oyster Bay Roosevelts.
Brady’s account does full justice to an honorable man who, by some standards, outdid even his remarkable father.
John Reinan is a Star Tribune reporter. On Twitter: @StribGuy
His Father's Son
By: Tim Brady.
Publisher: NAL, 342 pages, $27.
Events: In conversation with author Jack El-Hai, 7 p.m. Jan. 5, Common Good Books, 38 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul; reading 7 p.m. Feb. 2, Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.