Monday, January 19, 2009

Lion in the White House or The Boys from Dolores

Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt

Author: Aida D Donald

New York State Assemblyman, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice President and, at forty-two, the youngest President ever—in his own words, Theodore Roosevelt “rose like a rocket.” He was also a cowboy, a soldier, a historian, an intrepid explorer, and an unsurpassed environmentalist. In Lion in the White House, historian Aida Donald masterfully chronicles the life of this first modern president.

TR’s accomplishments in office were immense. As President, Roosevelt redesigned the office of Chief Executive and the workings of the Republican Party to meet the challenges of the new industrial economy. Believing that the emerging aristocracy of wealth represented a genuine threat to democracy, TR broke trusts to curb the rapacity of big business. He built the Panama Canal and engaged the country in world affairs, putting a temporary end to American isolationism. And he won the Nobel Peace Prize—the only sitting president ever so honored.

Throughout his public career, TR fought valiantly to steer the GOP back to its noblest ideals as embodied by Abraham Lincoln. Alas, his hopes for his party were quashed by the GOP’s strong rightward turn in the years after he left office. But his vision for America lives on.

In lapidary prose, this concise biography recounts the courageous life of one of the greatest leaders our nation has ever known.

Publishers Weekly

In this brisk biography, Donald, former editor-in-chief of Harvard University Press, ascribes Teddy Roosevelt's popularity to his combination of charisma and substance; he was an "electrical, magnetic" speaker, according to one contemporary newspaper account, and he hit themes that resonated with ordinary folks, such as honesty in government and opportunity for all. In the White House, Roosevelt established a model of "positive, active governance" and insisted that the president was more powerful than any business tycoon. Donald pays particular attention to Roosevelt's pioneering conservancy efforts, and she suggests that one of his most important acts was to appoint Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. to the Supreme Court. Donald also touches on the personal: his grief when his first wife died, and his passionate love for his second wife, with whom he set a new standard for presidential domestic life, entertaining with a gusto unmatched until the Kennedys. The book is refreshingly slim, but sometimes-as in the brief discussion of Roosevelt's appointments of African-Americans to government jobs-one wishes for more. Indeed, there's not much here that readers won't find in other studies of Roosevelt, but Donald's swift prose makes this a satisfying read. Photos. History Book Club main selection.(Nov.)

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William D. Pederson - Library Journal

Donald (former editor in chief, Harvard Univ. Press) here provides an accessible biography of Theodore Roosevelt (TR), who is receiving renewed attention during the centennial of his presidency (1901-09). America's last Renaissance president, TR led multiple lives: he was a rancher, soldier, historian, explorer, conservationist, hunter, and politician. Most scholars rank him at the top of the near-great presidents. Donald, who only briefly notes his faults, ranks him even higher. She not only shows how he propelled the United States from provincial status into a world power but also sheds light on how much he identified with his chief political hero, Abraham Lincoln. TR, who was given a ring by Lincoln's former private secretary to wear during his inauguration, often tried to define Lincoln as a progressive, a concept his Republican Party rejected. Ironically, it was TR's distant nephew Franklin who patterned his political life on TR to such a degree that Lincoln eventually morphed into a New Deal Democrat. Donald's account, although covering familiar territory, will appeal to a broad array of readers, both those already admiring the man and those new to him.

Kirkus Reviews

A compact biography of the genuine cowboy president. Donald undertakes a daunting task: compressing the crowded life of Theodore Roosevelt into fewer than 300 pages, where any year-indeed, almost any episode (see Candice Millard's thrilling The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, 2005)-merits book-length treatment. Donald offers glimpses of Roosevelt in his many guises: the sickly youth, the Harvard swell, the cowboy rancher, the frontier deputy sheriff, the amateur scientist, the historian and author, the avid hunter and explorer, the conservationist, the Rough Rider, the devoted family man. She pays a bit more attention to his deeds in public office, from his early days as an Albany legislator, to his term as civil-service commissioner under Presidents Harrison and Cleveland, to his stint as police commissioner of New York City. She turns a larger spotlight on Roosevelt the assistant secretary of the navy, the New York governor, the McKinley vice president and, of course, the inventor of the modern presidency. Donald duly notes Roosevelt's magnificent public deeds-storming San Juan Hill, busting the trusts, launching the Great White Fleet, building the Panama Canal, waging the valiant Bull Moose campaign-and takes care also to mark his failures-his mishandling of the Brownsville, Texas, army affair and his failure to challenge the 1902 Chinese Exclusion Act. Indeed, no important aspect of the life goes unexplored, but the galloping pace leaves little time for the color this subject demands. Donald fares much better with her sensitive and informed discussion of Roosevelt's political philosophy. She ably demonstrates how his life shaped his public policy, how he actedwisely and moderately on a reformist agenda and how Lincoln's example informed his presidency, the high watermark of Republican progressivism. His increasingly "radical" positions-actually nothing more than an extension of his abiding belief in the efficacy of active government-finally alienated him from the Party he so briefly defined. Although readers seeking rich detail, a portrait in full, will continue to consult Edmund Morris's exquisite two-volume biography, Donald's work serves as a fair introduction to Roosevelt's life and a fine appreciation of his politics.

New interesting book: Dirección de Mercadotecnia

The Boys from Dolores: Fidel Castro's Classmates from Revolution to Exile

Author: Patrick Symmes

From the author of Chasing Che, the remarkable tale of a group of boys at the heart of Cuba's political and social history. The Boys from Dolores illuminates the elite island society from which Fidel Castro and his brother Raul emerged.
The Colegio de Dolores was a Jesuit boarding school in Santiago, Cuba's rich and ancient second city, where Fidel and Raul were educated in the 1930s and '40s. Patrick Symmes begins his story here, tracking down dozens of Fidel's schoolmates glimpsed in a single period photograph. And it is through their stories--their time at the Colegio; the catastrophic effects of the revolution on their lives; their fates since--that Symmes opens a door onto a Cuba, and a time in Castro’s life, that have been deliberately obscured from us. Here too is the elusive Raúl Castro, a cipher destined to rule Cuba in Fidel’s place.
We see Castro in his formative youth, an adolescent ruling the classrooms of the Colegio and running in the streets of Santiago. Symmes traces the years in which the revolution was conceived, won, and lost, describing the changes it wrought in Santiago and in the lives of Fidel’s own classmates: we follow them through the maelstrom of the 1960s, as most fight to leave Cuba and a few stay behind. And here, in Santiago today, Symmes finds Castro’s most lasting achievement, the creating and sustaining of a myth-soaked revolutionary idealism amid the harshest realities of daily life.
Wholly original in its approach, The Boys from Dolores is a powerfully evocative, eye-opening portrait of Cuba--and of the Castro brothers--in the twentieth century.

The New York Times - William Grimes

Patrick Symmes, the author of Chasing Che, returns to Cuba in fine style with The Boys From Dolores. Sneaking up on his subject sideways, he uses the Colegio de Dolores and its graduates as the starting point for creating an atmospheric, richly evocative history of modern Cuba: the Cuba that produced Fidel; the Cuba that might have been, had the Dolorinos and their ideals prevailed; and the sorry, compromised Cuba of today, charismatic even in decay…Mr. Symmes digs like a reporter and writes like a novelist. As he makes his rounds, chasing down leads, pestering recalcitrant Cuban bureaucrats, grabbing his opportunities when they come, keeping his eyes and ears open all the time, he accumulates a fat dossier of vivid impressions. These feed into extended dramatic scenes and lightning-quick vignettes…

The New York Times Book Review - Guy Martin

…[a] masterly account of Cuba's pathology…Symmes has luxuriously researched this book over a period of years, commuting to Havana and Miami to track down the people with the goods. He's also a rarity among journalists, humorous and wise enough to report the historiographical obstacles he faced. As a result, he brings us a ground truth, apolitical in the best sense, and a great depth of vision.

The Washington Post - Wendy Gimbel

"Symmes is a staccato historian, a storyteller on speed. One minute he's dancing at Santiago's Carnaval, and suddenly he's flying on a rickety plane to an interview in Puerto Rico. Now he's climbing four flights of crumbling stairs in Havana, and, at the Dolorinos' reunion, he's doing an exuberant cha cha cha. But Symmes is also a superb journalist. His interviews with the Dolorinos form a priceless archive of the Cuban diaspora and argue for the importance of the storyteller's art."

Boyd Childress - Library Journal

Castro's tale has been told from all angles, but journalist Symmes (Chasing Che) attacks from a new direction. The author writes of Castro's schoolmates from Dolores, the private Jesuit academy in Santiago de Cuba on the island's eastern end, and he visits several of them. Many are in exile, and a handful remain in Cuba. Among the Dolores students were Castro's brothers Raul and Ramon and a future star in North American television, Desi Arnaz. But it is Cuban intellectuals like Lundy Aguilar to whom Symmes turns for insights into Cuba before and after Castro's revolution. The result is a remarkable account of the country and its people. The lengthy chapter on the Bay of Pigs and its aftermath is evocative and powerful, easily the equal of any contemporary writings on Cuba. The book certainly dispels the myth of a romantic revolution with egalitarian goals. As Symmes puts it, "Within the Revolution, everything. Outside the Revolution, nothing." Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ3/15/07.]

Kirkus Reviews

A searching story of Cuba's revolutionary generation, now almost gone. There was a time when Fidel Castro was a guileless schoolboy, one who in 1940 wrote to Franklin Roosevelt and asked for a handout: "[I]f you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them." It is worth considering that Castro soon complained, "The Americans are assholes. I asked for ten dollars and they didn't send me a cent," the birth of a lifelong grudge. With his classmates at Colegio de Dolores, an elite Jesuit school, Castro learned revolutionary discipline if not revolutionary politics; indeed, said one of those classmates many years later, "To think and work. That's what they taught. Some learned it, others didn't. The pre-revolutionary society owed a lot to the Jesuits." The famed, ill-fated attack on the Moncada Barracks took place just a few blocks from the school; when Castro and his brother Raul fled the scene, it was down familiar alleys. One by one, their classmates left, even as other intellectual admirers streamed in to join the revolution; a Cuban who stayed for a time after the revolution, Guillermo Cabrera Infante was shocked when a visiting Turkish writer who had spent years in prison warned him that his turn was coming, that dictatorship was looming, as the heartbroken exiles knew. It's a strange dictatorship at that: Symmes (Chasing Che, 2000) observes that in Castro's Cuba everyone can read, but almost no one is allowed to. And when Fidel dies, as most of his classmates already have? Then Raul-whose classmates nicknamed him La Pulgita, the little flea-will take charge. Notes theauthor: "If he has any instinct for survival, he will announce the day after Fidel's funeral that nothing is going to change, and then start changing everything."Essential for Cuba watchers.

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