Review of “To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt” by Doreen Rappaport

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This biography of Teddy Roosevelt uses many of his own words to tell his story. Teddy Roosevelt, a sickly child, worked hard to overcome his physical limitations, and to make a difference in public life. He was certainly brave, and dedicated to reform. He was fervidly committed to conservation of natural resources. His evangelical-like crusade against big business and reputation as a “trust-buster” has stuck with him to this day. Rappaport quotes Roosevelt as maintaining, “I acted for the well-being of all our people.” TR did not, however, act for the well-being of non-white people. Rappaport totally omits this aspect of TR in this hagiography for kids.

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In fact, TR bought into (and himself espoused) the eugenics theories of the time that inspired the rise of the Nazi Party a generation later. He saw life as a violent struggle between the strong and the weak, with whites being “the forward race” and blacks and other non-whites “intellectually inferior.”

While TR is known for inviting Booker T. Washington, a black man, to the White House, as PBS points out, “Roosevelt invited Washington not to improve the situation of blacks, but because they agreed that blacks should not strive for political and social equality.” Roosevelt’s Administration actually decreased the number of federal appointments to blacks, with Roosevelt promising Southerners that he would appoint local federal officials that would not disrupt the accord between north and south.

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Roosevelt advocated that whites should breed as much as possible – otherwise they risked “race suicide”.

His racist attitudes extended to all non-whites. Of Native Americans, he said in an 1886 speech:

“I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of 10 are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the 10th. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian.”

He defended the Government’s treatment of Indians by observing:

“This continent had to be won. We need not waste our time in dealing with any sentimentalist who believes that, on account of any abstract principle, it would have been right to leave this continent to the domain, the hunting ground of squalid savages. It had to be taken by the white race.”

The book extols TR for setting up many national parks, but makes no mention of the Natives who were displaced by them.

TR also endeavored to stem Japanese immigration, writing:

“To permit the Japanese to come in large numbers into this country would be to cause a race problem and invite and insure a race contest. It is necessary to keep them out.”

Unfortunately, the list could go on. But this book, like so many others, firmly sweeps American racism under the rug.

The illustrations by C.F. Payne, however, are marvelous.

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End notes include a list of important events in the life of Theodore Roosevelt, and a list of both books and websites for more information.

Evaluation: This is a good overview of the positive qualities of Theodore Roosevelt, with gorgeous illustrations.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Disney Hyperion Books, an imprint of the Disney Book Group, 2013

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