The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

by Douglas Brinkley (2009: Harper Perennial)


For a comprehensive view of Theodore Roosevelt’s contributions to American conservation, OH staff recommends reading The Wilderness Warrior.  Historian Douglas Brinkley chronicles Roosevelt’s life and presidency, including the years in which an “uber-precocious” child eagerly catalogued the flora and fauna he observed on family trips.

A sickly child suffering from asthma, Teddy gained strength by embracing what he later termed “the strenuous life.”  Raised in a progressive, philanthropic family, he was encouraged to explore the natural world; his indulgent parents allowed him to create a museum of field-trip treasures that sometimes included live specimens in their New York City home.  Becoming President in 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt used his broad presidential power to set aside land that demonstrated historic or scientific value.  Birds held a special fascination for him and his first executive order as President created the Pelican Island bird reserve off the Atlantic coast of Florida.

While Roosevelt was not the first chief executive to protect America’s scenic wonders – Ulysses S. Grant designated Yellowstone as a national park in 1872 – Dr. Brinkley demonstrates that no other President has done as much to protect habitat.  Between 1901 and 1909, as “a gift to America,” President Roosevelt created 150 national forests, 55 wildlife refuges, and 24 national monuments.  “In seven years and sixty-nine days, Roosevelt saved more than 234 million acres of American wilderness.  History still hasn’t caught up with the long-term magnitude of his achievements.”

Douglas Brinkley is Professor of History at Rice University.  A graduate of Perrysburg High School in northwest Ohio, he holds a BA from the Ohio State University and a PhD from Georgetown University.  His research for The Wilderness Warrior included visiting the parks and refuges created by President Roosevelt.


Photo caption – In February 1903, Roosevelt interrupted a cabinet meeting with the jubilant news he had just seen a chestnut-sided warbler on the White House lawn.  Photo courtesy Pat Williamsen.