Book review: 'Heir to the Empire City'

Book looks at how growing up in New York City shaped President Theodore Roosevelt.
By Dennie Hall, For The Oklahoman Published: February 2, 2014
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“Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edward P. Kohn (Basic Books, 256 pages, in stores)

Discussing the platforms that raised Theodore Roosevelt to greatness has led to a couple of basic questions: Was the future U.S. president strengthened and positioned during his sojourn on Western lands, raising cattle and enjoying the rustic life, as he sought comfort and solitude after the untimely death of his young first wife? Or was it the complexity of life in this country's largest city that opened his eyes to the urgency to reform society?

Author Edward P. Kohn writes that it was Roosevelt's upbringing and insight gained in New York City that made Teddy the progressive politician who waded through city and state government and landed in the White House. A Republican who had a heart for the poverty-stricken masses in the cities as well as for the rural poor, TR — as he is often called — fought to end governmental corruption as well.

These obsessions during his presidency, 1901-09, got their birth with TR's observations about the handful of excessively wealthy people on one hand and the multitudes afflicted with grinding poverty on the other. Today's almost historic inequality is reminiscent of TR's day.

His upbringing in the lap of luxury could have blinded him to the underside of New York, but he observed his hometown as two cities. One had streets filled with mansions and the other was filthy and filled with desperate people.

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