America has had some amazing men as Presidents, many of whom were great readers. Thomas Jefferson owned an enormous book collection and kept meticulous lists of books he owned and sold. John F. Kennedy was said to have been reading something almost all of the time. And our current president has been noted for his voracious reading as well. But perhaps no other president has had such strong reading habits, or had so much to say on the subject of reading, as our 26th President Theodore Roosevelt.
When it comes to the image of a "manly man", there is perhaps no better specimen than Teddy Roosevelt. After overcoming a sickly childhood which often kept him at home, he would go on to become well known as a strong, energetic man who was always involved in something exciting. He spent some years as a cowboy in North Dakota. He served as the NYC Police Commissioner and Assistant Secretary of the Navy. And in the Spanish American War, he created the famous "Rough Riders" regiment and led the immortal charge of San Juan Hill.
But beyond all of this, he was also man of books. He was a prolific writer in his own right, having written 18 books in his lifetime on various subjects of history, wildlife, and ranching. His love of nature and the outdoors led him to become embroiled in the "Nature Fakers" literary controversy. He was also famous for the number of books he read in his life. He would read several books a day, in various languages. Even in his younger years as a cowboy, he famously kept himself awake for forty hours straight to guard a group of thieves by reading the works of Leo Tolstoy. His Autobiography is filled with many remarks on books and reading:
“[We] all need more than anything else to know human nature, to know the needs of the human soul; and they will find this nature and these needs set forth as nowhere else by the great imaginative writers, whether of prose or of poetry.”
“Now and then I am asked as to ‘what books a statesman should read,’ and my answer is, poetry and novels – including short stories under the head of novels.”
“Personally, the books by which I have profited infinitely more than by any others have been those in which profit was a by-product of the pleasure; that is, I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked reading them, and the profit came in as part of the enjoyment.”
Like everything else in his life, Roosevelt took reading to the extreme. And while his specific reading habits are not attainable for the majority of us, they can offer us much inspiration. To me, it so wonderful to look back into history and encounter this great person who was just as captivated by books as I am, who shared the same thoughts on reading, and who recognized the importance of reading in the peoples' lives. It is like finding a kindred spirit from the past. What do you think of Theodore Roosevelt's reading habits? Could you sustain them? Who is a famous reader from history that you admire?