Review: Teddy Roosevelt In California

I grabbed Teddy Roosevelt in California from the LAPL on a whim – shout out to their marketing. I’m a fan of history in general and California history and Roosevelt in particular so it was an easy sell.

The more history I read, the more I appreciate how different historians approach and present their work.  Chris Epting is a pretty hands-off presenter.  He has gathered a remarkable set of primary sources from Roosevelt’s trip through California.  He displays several full speech texts, many images, letters, and other direct expressions from the main actors. They are all organized thematically and chronologically for context, but otherwise Epting provides little analysis.

The reader’s reaction to the bare-bones approach will dominate their reaction to the book.  I have mixed reactions to the work.  I like the direct access to the primary sources.  Many times I was surprised by Roosevelt’s agility and intelligence throughout.  He always is present in the experience and communicates his reactions directly and articulately.  He goes well beyond making his policy points (mostly about irrigation of the West – an interesting point in light of current Colorado River issues).  He famously criticized hanging man-made objects from Redwoods in Yosemite and they were quickly removed.  By stepping back, Epting lets me hear Roosevelt in his full-throated roar.

There are certainly moments when I would have preferred deeper analysis.  I would love to know if his words about supporting Native American (he says “Indian” of course) rights in Arizona resulted in concrete changes from either locals or the federal governments.  I can certainly go find out, but I would also be curious what Epting thinks.

Overall, an interesting snappy read.


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