Lately, I’ve really been in a fiction-reading rut. What can I say? Escapism is one of the many reasons I read. However, when I saw Mornings on Horseback was the Semicolon Book Club selection for March , I determined to read it. I don’t have a great track record for finishing long, complicated books. (I’m still smarting over the fact that I still haven’t finished Les Miserables.) What’s more, I don’t typically read biography or autobiography. I don’t know why. I just don’t.
I think David McCullough might just have changed all that. Mornings on Horseback is an extremely accessible book, even for those of us who haven’t had a history course in (ahem) a number of years. Of course, the subtitle of the book also have something to do with it. Mornings on Horseback is subtitled The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life, and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt. This book ends before Roosevelt becomes president, so the focus of the bulk of the story (for that’s what it is–an amazing story) is not on politics. Actually, I have a confession to make: I skipped the chapter detailing Roosevelt’s tenure in the New York legislature. Nevermind the fact that at one point in my life I taught American history; too many of the names in the chapter were either unfamiliar altogether or only annoyingly, faintly familiar to me. However, in my defense, I had already persevered through the chapter on the senior Theodore Roosevelt’s political career, and even enjoyed it. This book doesn’t require a great depth of political understanding, just time, and by the end of the story when TR’s political career took off, I was running out of that precious commodity.
What I really enjoyed about this book and what kept me reading this one as hungrily as I would read a suspense novel is the Roosevelt family. They were, to borrow a term from the subtitle, extraordinary:
It was, plainly, a family of paradoxes: privileged and cushioned beyond most people’s imagining, yet little like the stereotype of the vapid, insular rich; uneducated in any usual, formal fashion but also uninhibited by education–ardent readers, insatiable askers of questions; chronically troubled, cursed it would often seem, by one illness or mysterious disorder after another, yet refusing to subject others to their troubles or give in to despair. (37)
I just couldn’t help liking them.
I also enjoyed reading about the transformation of Theodore Roosevelt from a sickly, somewhat socially awkward young man into a robust outdoorsman. I like the fact that he didn’t allow his sickliness to hold him back. This, of course, was largely due to his father’s early coaching on the matter. I love that he had a very alive mind and that he was able to accomplish so much. I was astounded to read the account of his reading the whole of Anna Karenina while out in the wilds of the Dakota Badlands, apprehending thieves and escorting them back to the nearest town to have justice served. He did all that reading “in odd moments.” 🙂 (This makes me wonder why I can’t accomplish more!)
The most surprising thing that I read is that Theodore Roosevelt’s mother, Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt, was likely Margaret Mitchell’s inspiration for Scarlett O’Hara. Wow! This is one of those books that I frequently read excerpts from the Steady Eddie; that alone is almost always indicative that I am enjoying what I’m reading.
I don’t believe I’ll think twice now about picking up another of David McCullough’s biographies. This one is that good.
I’m linking this post up to Semicolon’s post about this book. Click on over to find out what others have to say about it!