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The Naturalist

The Naturalist by Darrin Lunde

In his new book, The Naturalist, Museum Specialist at the Smithsonian Darrin Lunde tells the story of Theodore Roosevelt and his quest to explore and excavate from nature many prized findings.  While you won’t find much about his political here, Darrin does a great job at framing the story of how young Theodore though sickly, was fascinated by nature, its animals and the habitats in which they live.  This is a more specialized book in the sense that a takes a slice of Theodore’s life and hones in on it with great precision. 

Early on young Theodore was captured by the travels his family took him on, especially in the Adirondack country.  Lunde writes, “Theodore was in heaven.  Later, he would refer to his Adirondack days as his introduction to and first inspiration for preserving wilderness (40).”  Canoeing, hiking, and camping in the beautiful country was a first entry point into the wilderness of the Adirondacks for Theoodre Jr.  “Covering the entire month of August, Roosevelt’s accounts of his trip included references to no fewer than thirty species, ranging from hamster mouse to wolves,…(41),” writes Lunde.  Later on in the next chapter Darrin recounts the way Theodore was lured into the practice of taxidermy by one John Bell, Aubudon’s field assistant out west. 

By 1877 Roosevelt had a developed a keen enough sense of the study of birds (ornithology) that he wrote The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, N.Y. Strewn together more like a pamphlet, the head of the U.S. Biological Survey Clinton Merriam had high praise for the amateur work stating, “By far the best of these recent lists which I have seen is that of The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, N.Y., by Theodorde Roosevelt and H.D. Minor.  Though not redundant with information and mentioning 97 species, it bears prima facie evidence of reliability (69-70).”  By 1878 his father dies and this was a blow not only to his life but also to his pursuit of naturalism, for his father warned him that Theodore “must not dream of taking it up as a dilettante (73).” 

Roosevelt’s passion for the outdoors led him even at the time of his assuming the role of Vice President to head out to Colorado for some game hunting.  Lunde writes, “Just weeks after he was sworn in,…he headed off for the wilds of northwestern Colorado,…with the temperatures dipping to a dangerous eighteen degrees below zero.  Theodore was there to hunt mountain lions…(159).”  Roosevelt decided that hunting mountain lions was of paramount importance since they caused a terrible time for elks, which needed protecting.  Dismayed at the lack of writing and quality about the different kinds of mountain lions, Theodore kept meticulous notes on these animals, as he did many other species.

This is a fascinating book, jumping around to get at the naturalist bent in Roosevelt’s life.

Thanks to Crown Books and Blogging for Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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