Winner of the inaugural Theodore Roosevelt Association Book Prize
A captivating account of how Theodore Roosevelt’s lifelong passion for the natural world set the stage for America’s wildlife conservation movement and determined his legacy as a founding father of today’s museum naturalism.
No U.S. president is more popularly associated with nature and wildlife than is Theodore Roosevelt—prodigious hunter, tireless adventurer, and ardent conservationist. We think of him as a larger-than-life original, yet in The Naturalist, Darrin Lunde has firmly situated Roosevelt’s indomitable curiosity about the natural world in the tradition of museum naturalism.
As a child, Roosevelt actively modeled himself on the men (including John James Audubon and Spencer F. Baird) who pioneered this key branch of biology by developing a taxonomy of the natural world—basing their work on the experiential study of nature. The impact that these scientists and their trailblazing methods had on Roosevelt shaped not only his audacious personality but his entire career, informing his work as a statesman and ultimately affecting generations of Americans’ relationship to this country’s wilderness.
Drawing on Roosevelt’s diaries and travel journals as well as Lunde’s own role as a leading figure in museum naturalism today, The Naturalist reads Roosevelt through the lens of his love for nature. From his teenage collections of birds and small mammals to his time at Harvard and political rise, Roosevelt’s fascination with wildlife and exploration culminated in his triumphant expedition to Africa, a trip which he himself considered to be the apex of his varied life.
With narrative verve, Lunde brings his singular experience to bear on our twenty-sixth president’s life and constructs a perceptively researched and insightful history that tracks Roosevelt’s maturation from exuberant boyhood hunter to vital champion of serious scientific inquiry.
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DARRIN LUNDE is a Supervisory Museum Specialist in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Previously, he worked at the American Museum of Natural History, where he led field expeditions throughout the world. Lunde has named more than a dozen new species of mammals and provided valuable scientific insights on hundreds of others. He lives in Maryland.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE SEAL ON BROADWAY
Along the cobblestone streets of New York City, a small and somewhat pink-faced boy wandered down Broadway, dwarfed by the towering wall of storefronts at his side. Still sporting a full head of baby curls, the child seemed barely old enough to be out in the city alone, and he looked frail, as if he might have been sick.
Horse-drawn carriages rattled by, dropping off elegant women in hoop-skirted dresses and big hats. Gathering their billowing raiments up with their fingers, they floated in and out of stores showcasing velvet gloves, mink stoles, and fancy sweets. This was “Ladies’ Mile”—that stretch of Broadway between Union and Madison Squares where New York’s fancy boutiques competed for space and well-heeled customers.
Jostled by the swarms of fashionable shoppers, the boy continued along Broadway, glancing through the storefront windows, until he passed a familiar grocery, where something caught his eye. Amid the usual cartons of fruits and vegetables was an object strangely out of place, splayed out on a slab of wood. It was the dull mass of a seal, dead less than a day. Placed on display to attract paying customers, its corpulent body drew the child’s attention.
Sliding his hand along the seal’s glossy-smooth pelt and peering deeply into its clouding eyes, he was overwhelmed with interest. Its eyes were so big, and they were fringed with delicate eyelashes like his own. Curious onlookers stood back, only a brave few leaning in for a closer look, but the little boy remained transfixed. It was probably a harbor seal, still fairly common in New York Harbor. So transfixed was the boy by this exotic creature that he raced home for a notebook and ruler, returning moments later to measure the carcass and jot down a few notes on its color and appearance. The eight-year-old boy then wrote a detailed natural history of seals based entirely on that one dead animal.
Theodore Roosevelt’s life changed forever in that encounter, for it marked, as he later noted, “the first day” of his career as a naturalist. Recalling the event in his autobiography decades later, Roosevelt wrote that the seal filled him with “every possible feeling of romance and adventure.” It was so unlike anything he had ever seen before. Touching that seal, he would have felt the stiffness of its long, graceful whiskers, and, gently lifting up its lips, he would have seen the gleaming white teeth. The ears were just tiny holes, barely noticeable in its dense fur. Squeezing the front flippers, he would have felt that they were just like greatly enlarged hands, the individual finger bones completely encased in the flesh of the flipper with tiny claws extending from the tip. Feeling the seal’s body with his own hands, he could appreciate all the similarities to his own basic anatomy, but he wanted to get closer—to take the animal home, perhaps to dissect or stuff it. He had read about how naturalists kept animal specimens to study them, and now he had a chance to practice naturalism himself.
Born on October 27, 1858, to Theodore Roosevelt Sr. and Martha Bulloch Roosevelt (known as “Mittie”), Theodore was one in a long line of Roosevelts to have lived in Manhattan, the descendant of some of New York’s early Dutch settlers. The family had always been well-off, but Theodore’s paternal grandfather, Cornelius Roosevelt, amassed an incredible fortune through real estate speculation. From his redbrick mansion on the southwest corner of Broadway at 14th Street, Cornelius settled each of his five sons in nearby homes. Theodore Sr. was given a four-story brownstone just a short walk uptown, on East 20th Street. It was here that Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was born and raised with his older sister, Anna (nicknamed “Bamie”), younger brother, Elliott (“Ellie”), and their baby sister, Corinne (“Conie”).
Tall, bearded, and with fierce blue eyes beneath heavy brows, Theodore Roosevelt Sr. looked grim, but to those who knew him well, Mr. Roosevelt was benevolence personified. Although he was a partner in the Wall Street investment banking firm Roosevelt & Son, he preferred to think of himself as a philanthropist, and he took great pleasure in championing charitable causes. He especially adored children, even spending Sunday evenings serving meals to destitute newsboys and street urchins.
To his own family Roosevelt Sr. represented strength and courage, tenderness and great unselfishness. He was so admired by his children that they went to great lengths to compete for his attention. Theodore Jr. later recalled that his father was “the best man I ever knew” but added that he was also “the only man of whom I was ever really afraid.” What Theodore feared most was his father’s stern disapproval—for Theodore, nothing was more important than earning the respect of his father.
Perhaps more than anything, Mr. Roosevelt was shaped by his views as a “muscular Christian.” A popular movement with British and American Protestants of the Victorian era, muscular Christianity taught that Jesus was not only morally strong but also physically sturdy. Masculinity—as shown in the will to fight for a cause—was seen as integral to Christian morality. Muscular Christianity was the answer to a growing concern among men that the world was becoming overly feminized, a reaction to the increasing number of sedentary occupations in the industrializing world and women’s growing role in the church. The movement stressed physical activity and spending time outdoors, urging cold-water swims and vigorous mountain climbs.
In sharp contrast to the muscular Christians and her robust, rugged husband, Martha Roosevelt was meek and genteel, a southerner who had grown up in a Georgia plantation house. While Mr. Roosevelt worked tirelessly, Mrs. Roosevelt was physically frail and often complained of fatigue. She was obsessively hygienic and had a penchant for immaculate white dresses, which she wore year-round. One acquaintance described her as “the purest woman he ever saw. No matter how dirty, hot, and ruffled everyone else looked, Mrs. Roosevelt seemed so cool and clean. No dirt ever stopped near her.” To her children, she was distant, like a delicate china doll—beautiful to look at but fragile and cold.
Young Theodore Jr. inherited his mother’s frailty. No amount of money could spare him the almost constant stomachaches, headaches, coughs, fevers, and nausea he suffered. But Theodore’s most chronic and persistent struggle was with asthma. He was plagued by the horror of battling for a shallow gasp of air, only to have anxiety trigger still more severe struggles for breath. Theodore’s asthma attacks lasted from a few hours to several days of nonstop wheezing, and it was never entirely certain that he would survive to adulthood.
At the time, asthma was a poorly understood condition, which doctors mistakenly attributed to a narrow chest. There were no effective treatments, so the sufferers and their families were often left to devise their own desperate cures. Roosevelt Sr.—so distraught by his son’s ill-health—once summoned a horse and rig from a neighboring stable so that he could take young Theodore on a vigorous nighttime ride, attempting to force air into the small boy’s lungs.
Fearful of letting the sickly boy out of their sight, his family rarely allowed him far from their watchful eyes, and (except for a very brief period) he never attended school. Although trapped inside all day, fearing his next asthma attack, Theodore sought solace in his father’s library—a dark, windowless room on the first floor of their town house. Lined with bookcases of “gloomy respectability” and cluttered with coarse horsehair chairs that scratched his bare legs, the library was, nonetheless, a sanctuary for the young boy. Sitting on his favorite velvet stool or standing with one leg propped against a wall and his neck bent sharply downward, he lost himself in books.
In these tomes, Theodore found adventure. One of his favorites was Scots medical missionary David Livingstone’s Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa. Although it was too large and heavy for a small boy such as Teddy to carry properly, he dragged the book around the house, begging people to read it to him. Livingstone had left his native Scotland to devote his life to evangelism in South Africa, but he was much better known for his explorations of the African continent than for his religious work. Missionary Travels documented those exploits and was illustrated with detailed engravings. Roosevelt may have been too young to understand the words, but the pictures in Livingstone’s book spoke clearly: a desperate man pinned to the earth by a snarling lion; men with spears and shields driving whole herds of zebras, elands, and antelope into giant pitfall traps dug into the earth; a dugout canoe being violently tipped by an enraged hippopotamus, the passengers flailing their arms and leaping to escape.
The man squirming under the lion’s paw was David Livingstone himself. He had been trying to help some villagers by shooting one of the lions raiding their cattle corrals. Firing both barrels of his muzzle-loading rifle, he only wounded the lion, which charged him as he hastily reloaded. The animal sprang onto Livingstone, bit into his shoulder, and pulled him down to the ground. “Growling horribly, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat,” Livingstone explained. “It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror, though I was quite conscious of all that was happening.”
Even more influential to young Teddy than Livingstone’s writings were the books of novelist and adventurer Captain Thomas Mayne Reid, whose yarns of hunting, animal lore, and natural history were enormously popular during Roosevelt’s youth. Described as adventure novels but also as juvenile scientific travelogues, Reid’s writing displayed no stylistic pretensions, and he made it very clear that his books were written for boys. His accurate descriptions of the natural world—everything from mammals and birds to plants—became the mise-en-scène of all Reid’s books.
Reid championed the genre of the hunter-naturalists—those intrepid men of the nineteenth century who were at once avid huntsmen and students of nature, and he counted himself among their ranks. “I have ridden wildly with the hunter and strolled quietly with the naturalist,” Reid explained. “I excel not in the chase, I excel not in a knowledge of natural history—but both I love.” To Reid, the adventure of the hunt and the quiet study of nature were intimately connected.
One of Reid’s books in particular must have been especially inspiring to young Roosevelt, presaging much of his naturalist career. The Boy Hunters details the lives of three brothers who are sent off by their father on an expedition to shoot a white buffalo for a great museum in Europe. Most important, Reid took the boys and their mission seriously, making very clear from the outset that they were capable of this feat. It’s likely that Roosevelt’s first impressions of naturalism were formed by countless hours spent with The Boy Hunters. Here were children free to roam outdoors in the fresh air all day. They traipsed through the woods with guns and knives; they were crack shots and fearlessly killed charging bears and menacing alligators. They collected gunnysacks full of specimens, preserving them in little natural-history museums of their own making.
Equally significantly for Roosevelt, Reid wrote about the father of these young hunters. Unable to join the hunt because of an old soldiering injury—one that left him with a wooden leg—the father sent his boys off on their buffalo-hunting expedition with a great sense of pride, boasting to his neighbors about his strong “boy men.”
How Theodore must have wanted to have such adventures; how he must have wanted his father to be proud of his bold and enterprising character. Trapped indoors on East 20th Street, Theodore could only read with rapture the novels of Thomas Mayne Reid and others, the sole antidote to his sickly life indoors. Adventure stories gave him an escape into a world full of exciting possibilities, but the excitement was always out of reach—until he stumbled upon that dead seal on Broadway.
Years later, Roosevelt admitted in his autobiography that the moment he discovered the creature, all the stories he had read sprang to life before him. Adventure suddenly seemed attainable, and, for the first time, Roosevelt thought maybe he could pursue the life of a hunter-naturalist, just like a character in a Thomas Mayne Reid book.
Inspired, Roosevelt returned daily to that storefront to check on the dead seal. He tried to persuade the shopkeeper to give him the whole animal, but since the carcass was already starting to decay, young Theodore had to settle for just the head, which, perhaps together with a few equally pleased flies, he proudly carried home.
Roosevelt wanted to clean the seal head to save its skull, and from his readings he would have been familiar with at least some of the methods used for cleaning skulls. One technique is bacterial maceration, which requires placing the bone in a vat of warm water for days and weeks at a time. Bacteria gradually build up, rotting the meat off and turning the water into a brown mushy soup. This method literally stinks, and it is a slow, disgusting process. If Roosevelt prepared his seal skull using this technique, his parents would have shown unbelievable tolerance, especially in light of his mother’s aversion to filth.
Another method involves placing the skull in a chamber of flesh-eating insects. Any invertebrate inclined to eat flesh will do, including ants, woodlice, or even maggots—but flesh-eating beetles of the dermestid family are the most efficient. “Bugging” a skull yields superior results, because all those little mouthparts quickly pull flesh off without harming bone.
But Roosevelt most likely prepared his treasure by boiling it until the meat cooked off. Boiling is the fastest and most intuitive of all bone-cleaning methods, and there is an early reference to Roosevelt once asking a cook to boil a woodchuck carcass for him. The animal can’t just be plopped into a pot and boiled intact; first the carcass has to be gutted and skinned, and the major muscle masses have to be carefully removed. Even after boiling, a certain amount of scraping is required to remove the last stubborn bits of gristle adhering tenaciously to bone, and the boiled brain still has to be sloshed out the back of the skull—not an easy job for the squeamish.
Holding the finished skull in his hands, he would have seen for the first time how the seal’s teeth worked—lower molars interlocking neatly with the uppers. The suture lines—the places where the different bones of the skull fuse together—would have been obvious, and Roosevelt might have easily learned all the bones’ names: frontals, parietals, nasals, occipitals. He could estimate the size of the eyes by placing a ruler across their bony orbits. In the back of each eye socket he would have seen the tiny hole for the optic nerve to pass through to the brain. Inside the nose he would have seen the delicate, scroll-like bone that supports the membranes responsibl...
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Book Description Hardcover. Book Condition: New. The surprising story of intrepid naturalist Theodore Roosevelt and how his lifelong passion for the natural world set the stage for America's wildlife conservation movement.Perhaps no American president is more associated with nature and wildlife than Theodore Roosevelt, a prodigious hunter and adventurer and an ardent conservationist. We think of Roosevelt as an original, yet inThe Naturalist, Darrin Lunde shows how from his earliest days Roosevelt actively modeled himself in the proud tradition of museum naturalists—the men who pioneered a key branch of American biology through their desire to collect animal specimens and develop a taxonomy of the natural world. The influence these men would have on Roosevelt would shape not just his personality but his career, informing his work as a politician and statesman and ultimately affecting generations of Americans' relationship to this country's wilderness. Pulling from Roosevelt's diaries and expedition journals, Lunde constructs a brilliantly researched, singularly insightful history that reveals the roots of Roosevelt’s enduring naturalist legacy through the group little-known men whose work and lives defined his own. Bookseller Inventory # 5345168
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Book Description Random House USA Inc, United States, 2016. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Winner of the inaugural Theodore Roosevelt Association Book Prize A captivating account of how Theodore Roosevelt s lifelong passion for the natural world set the stage for America s wildlife conservation movement and determined his legacy as a founding father of today s museum naturalism. No U.S. president is more popularly associated with nature and wildlife than is Theodore Roosevelt--prodigious hunter, tireless adventurer, and ardent conservationist. We think of him as a larger-than-life original, yet in The Naturalist, Darrin Lunde has firmly situated Roosevelt s indomitable curiosity about the natural world in the tradition of museum naturalism. As a child, Roosevelt actively modeled himself on the men (including John James Audubon and Spencer F. Baird) who pioneered this key branch of biology by developing a taxonomy of the natural world--basing their work on the experiential study of nature. The impact that these scientists and their trailblazing methods had on Roosevelt shaped not only his audacious personality but his entire career, informing his work as a statesman and ultimately affecting generations of Americans relationship to this country s wilderness. Drawing on Roosevelt s diaries and travel journals as well as Lunde s own role as a leading figure in museum naturalism today, The Naturalist reads Roosevelt through the lens of his love for nature. From his teenage collections of birds and small mammals to his time at Harvard and political rise, Roosevelt s fascination with wildlife and exploration culminated in his triumphant expedition to Africa, a trip which he himself considered to be the apex of his varied life. With narrative verve, Lunde brings his singular experience to bear on our twenty-sixth president s life and constructs a perceptively researched and insightful history that tracks Roosevelt s maturation from exuberant boyhood hunter to vital champion of serious scientific inquiry. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780307464309