You Must Read- The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

In this current election cycle where the right wing in America—synonymous with the mainstream Republican party since it has purged moderates completely—has decided to ignore the science behind climate change, demonize science in general, and regard environmental protection as some sort of hippie movement it is good to be reminded about the historic antecedents to today’s politicians.

As you read Douglas Brinkley’s The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America just think for a moment that the person who was so enamored with the natural world was also a Republican.  Sure, Roosevelt was a hunter but he comes from a long and celebrated line of naturalists who chose to venture into the outdoors gun in hand.  It was his exposure to nature, through hunting and trekking as well as the obsessive collection of specimens throughout his life, that drove him to be a tireless defender and protector of the environment.

Roosevelt sought out nature through experience and education.  Looking back on his education, both formal and self-directed, and it is striking how broad based the influences were.  This was not someone who pigeonholed himself into a school of thought and pursued only the tomes that reinforced that world view.  Surely, in today’s Republican party Theodore Roosevelt would be considered an appeaser or traitor to the “true American values.”

At times Brinkley’s writing can become tedious and over detailed.  Anyone who has read his excellent The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast knows that it can take some effort to get through a passage or two, but you are rewarded with a complete understanding of the event in question.  At least it does not devolve into the kind of biography that seeks to document a famous person’s life down to the timing and frequency of bowel movements.

This is the president who signed into law the Antiquities Act of 1906.  Without this law the Grand Canyon and Devils Tower may not have been preserved for future generations.  The legislation has been a key tool used by Presidents to preserve land without the politically contentious process of creating a national park.  The designation of a national monument is considered to be a first step in the process of becoming a national park.  Recently, using powers granted under this act, President Obama declared three national monuments—Fort Ord, Chimney Rock, and the Cesar E. Chavez National Monuments.

Theodore Roosevelt is a president who considered among his friends John Burroughs, Gifford Pinchot, George Bird Grinnell, and John S. Muir—the patron saint of the modern environmental movement.  With friends like these…

One part of his presidency that often gets overlooked is the passing of the Meat Inspection Act of 1096 and the Pure Food and Drug Act.  Read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, try to avoid the overt Communist sympathy, and tell me that something did not need to be done about the practices of meat packers at the turn of the century.  I guess this is the kind of regulation that Mitt Romney thinks is ruining the business climate in the United States.

I think that the ultimate lesson from this book is that if you want people to truly appreciate the majesty of nature and, by extension, have them desire to preserve nature the only advisable course is to get them out into nature.


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