In the 19th century, the American elite found itself caught between two worlds. To the east, across the Atlantic, was civilisation. To the west, over the Appalachians, was the rugged wilderness. How could the Yankee establishment be simultaneously sophisticated and agrarian? How could they hold their heads up high in the courts of Europe while remaining authentically American? They looked for an idol. They found Theodore Roosevelt.
Michael R Canfield’s new biography trawls through Roosevelt’s field notebooks, diaries and letters to explore a surprisingly contentious aspect of his image: Roosevelt as naturalist. It’s controversial on two fronts. First, because some contemporaries thought it was made up – that it was a self-conscious attempt to graft faux-primitive characteristics