cover image The Old Lion

The Old Lion

Jeff Shaara. St. Martin’s, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-1-250-27994-1

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)