Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Historical novelist Shaara explores the enormously consequential life of Theodore Roosevelt through the man's own point of view. Solid biographies of Roosevelt already exist, of course, but fiction is the only vehicle for suggesting what his thoughts might have been. This novel races through his career, seemingly trying not to miss a single adventure, battle, or victory, even if only in passing. TR writes the well-received The Naval War of 1812 and later becomes assistant secretary of the Navy. No, wait—he’s governor of New York, fighting corruption. But that was yesterday, and today he’s leading his men up San Juan Hill. Next to him, a fellow Rough Rider says “There’s not a Spanish bullet made that can kill me” just before being shot in the mouth. In a flash, it would seem, Roosevelt is the Republican candidate for vice president. Pages later, President McKinley is shot and lingers near death. Suddenly TR realizes, “Good Godfrey. I'll be the president of the United States.” Contemporary writer and biographer Hermann Hagedorn interviews him from time to time and asks questions about his battles and accomplishments that might not otherwise fit in with the storyline. Oh yes, I did help settle the coal strike…but don’t ask me about that damn Medal of Honor. And the Panama Canal triumph must be squeezed in somehow. The author deeply admires his subject, as many people do. But Shaara’s tone occasionally drifts toward hagiography. Deep in the Brazilian jungle, near the river still called Rio Roosevelt, TR and his son Kermit suffer “open sores and boils” as they accompany a scientific expedition, and the locals love him for it: “Roosevelt’s illness and agony could not sway their beliefs that here, before them, stood a king.” One novel cannot completely deal with all that Roosevelt packed into the six decades of life he predicts for himself. “I know you, Teddy,” says his wife, Edith. “You have mountains to climb, and no one can stop you.” Indeed, nothing stops him but his heart. A glowing tribute to a Rushmore-worthy president. The Old Lion himself would have called it “dee-lightful!” Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly
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Shaara (The Eagle’s Claw) delivers a ponderous narrative of Theodore Roosevelt. In December 1918, a 60-year-old Roosevelt is near the end of his life, and with his decline exacerbated by news that his son Quentin perished in WWI, he agrees to a final set of interviews with his biographer, Hermann Hagedorn. Shaara then flashes back to 1868 New York City, as the nine-year-old “Teedie” struggles with asthma. His father implores him to toughen up, and he goes on to become an accomplished boxer, Harvard graduate magna cum laude, author of an acclaimed book on the War of 1812, New York City police commissioner, Spanish-American war hero, and politician. He deals with personal tragedies along the way, most notably the deaths on the same day in 1884 of his mother and his first wife, the former by a severe case of typhoid fever and the latter of complications after delivering their child, causing Roosevelt to feel as if his life has become a “cruel nightmare.” Shaara occasionally returns to the bedside dialogues with Hagedorn, but these scenes often feel as strained as his stricken subject, whose responses to the biographer’s questions are prefaced by stock reactions like “ill-disguised annoyance” and “a long, painful breath.” Despite the richness of the source material, this is a bit of a slog. (May)