Book Notes: "The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses" by Theodore Roosevelt

The Strenuous Life: Essays and AddressesThe Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses by Theodore Roosevelt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Roosevelt's speeches read like a great apologia for the Protestant work ethic. I could not help but think that we have failed to capitalise on his progressive zeal. At times, I found Roosevelt's words to be rousing, at others, antiquated in their institutionalised view of women and "others", yet inclusive and accepting of diversity. Nationalism underpins much of Roosevelt's rhetoric, not empty, but nevertheless of his time. There is much wisdom in his ideal of the strenuous life, and much warning of the over-strenuous. I am cautious about the applicability of his lessons to present times, not so much because of his words but because of the way history has played out in spite of them. The ideas of manliness resonate from time to time, but I could not help but feel a distinct "foreignness" in the underpinning idealism. Although Roosevelt has been built into an icon, his words convey a measured tenacity and ability to rise to the occasion in the face of adversity. Herein, for me at least, lies the greatest lesson. If we strip away the legend, and look to the man (as Roosevelt may well have agreed), we can see an ordinary human being who became extraordinary through great effort and an ability to be great despite living with many of the ailments suffered by fellow mortals. If I were to sum up the man? No-nonsense, progressive pragmatism. I suppose what perplexes me is the historical baggage. Much like reading and admiring Hemingway's work, one must constantly forgive the context. Upon finishing the works, the "Whose motorcycle is this?" scene from Pulp Fiction comes to mind.

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