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Theodore Roosevelt in the Field

Never has there been a president less content to sit still behind a desk than Theodore Roosevelt. When we picture him, he's on horseback or standing at a cliff’s edge or dressed for safari. And Roosevelt was more than just an adventurer—he was also a naturalist and campaigner for conservation. His love of the outdoor world began at an early age and was driven by a need not to simply observe nature but to be actively involved in the outdoors—to be in the field. As Michael R. Canfield reveals in Theodore Roosevelt in the Field, throughout his life Roosevelt consistently took to the field as a naturalist, hunter, writer, soldier, and conservationist, and it is in the field where his passion for science and nature, his belief in the manly, “strenuous life,” and his drive for empire all came together.
Drawing extensively on Roosevelt’s field notebooks, diaries, and letters, Canfield takes readers into the field on adventures alongside him.  From Roosevelt’s early childhood observations of ants to his notes on ornithology as a teenager, Canfield shows how Roosevelt’s quest for knowledge coincided with his interest in the outdoors. We later travel to the Badlands, after the deaths of Roosevelt’s wife and mother, to understand his embrace of the rugged freedom of the ranch lifestyle and the Western wilderness. Finally, Canfield takes us to Africa and South America as we consider Roosevelt’s travels and writings after his presidency. Throughout, we see how the seemingly contradictory aspects of Roosevelt’s biography as a hunter and a naturalist are actually complementary traits of a man eager to directly understand and experience the environment around him.   
As our connection to the natural world seems to be more tenuous, Theodore Roosevelt in the Field offers the chance to reinvigorate our enjoyment of nature alongside one of history’s most bold and restlessly curious figures.

472 pages | 108 color plates, 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Biography and Letters

Biological Sciences: Natural History

History: American History, General History


“While other authors have explored Theodore Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands or his love of nature, Canfield is the first to highlight a distinct pattern in Roosevelt’s life. Roosevelt did not just experience the outdoors in an ad hoc manner, flitting to and from dilettantish forays in the American West, Africa, or the Amazon. Instead, Roosevelt engaged with the outdoors with his entire being, simultaneously as a natural scientist, intellectual, and writer. For every formative moment Roosevelt spent in politics, Canfield rightly points out that there existed an equally formative moment spent ‘in the field.’”

Edward P. Kohn, author of Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt

“Finally, a biography that convincingly captures the seemingly disparate and sometimes contradictory dimensions of Theodore Roosevelt’s lifelong engagement with the natural world.  Theodore Roosevelt in the Field does a wonderful job of showing how this larger-than-life leader’s abiding passion to experience nature directly found expression as a naturalist, big game hunter, specimen collector, conservationist, writer, explorer, and outdoor adventurer.”

Mark V. Barrow, Jr., author of Nature’s Ghosts: Confronting Extinction from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Ecology

“Canfield is the perfect writer for this subject, and what a subject it is. This is Theodore Roosevelt at his most electric and alive—the great naturalist in the field, which was far more his natural habitat even than the battlefield or the political arena. With his masterful writing and carefully researched details, Canfield reveals Roosevelt not just as we remember him, but as he truly was: vibrant, brilliant, and endlessly fascinating.”

Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey

“This amazingly interesting book documents an amazingly interesting man. Not only a statesman and soldier, the ‘cowboy of the Dakotas,’ and a larger-than-life politician, Theodore Roosevelt was also an endlessly energetic explorer, naturalist, and conservationist. Roosevelt’s wildlife adventures and field trips take the foreground here, including major expeditions in Amazonia and Africa, and the foundation of the American National Park system. Canfield gives us a real treat in bringing these encounters with the natural world together in a single account that helps to explain Roosevelt’s passion for the wilderness and deep understanding of the wide variety of American landscapes and wildlife. Vividly written and historically accurate, this is an ideal book for anyone interested in natural history.”

Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin: A Biography

“Canfield argues that Roosevelt’s obsession with the natural world was genuine, serious and scholarly.”

Literary Review

“Canfield, a Harvard academic and editor of Field Notes on Science and Nature, mines Theodore Roosevelt’s writings to provide a well-written and engaging perspective on the 26th U.S. president. Canfield’s focus is on Roosevelt’s hunting and collecting expeditions, but he also provides important details of Roosevelt’s personal life, contextualizing his passion for hunting and exploring.”

Publishers Weekly

“In Theodore Roosevelt in the Field, Canfield draws on TR’s notebooks, diaries, and letters to explore his semi-domesticated subject’s exploits in the out-of-doors. . . . As Canfield and others have noted, Roosevelt’s genius lay in his integration of so many disparate traits into a unique, unified personality. And if he had been more thoroughly domesticated, he would not have been Roosevelt.”

Wall Street Journal

“In Theodore Roosevelt in the Field Michael R. Canfield, a biologist who teaches at Harvard University, examines the tensions between hunters and naturalists. Roosevelt moved in both worlds, but not always easily. Conservationist John Muir once asked him: ‘When are you going to get beyond the boyishness of killing things?’ Yet the question remains, Canfield writes: ‘Would Roosevelt have been able to effect such a massive amount of conservation — winning the support of so many diverse constituencies — had he not been a hunter, regardless of whether or not his hunting was always optimal?’’’

Boston Globe

 “A revelation for readers who might have considered Roosevelt’s jaunts as largely diversionary or therapeutic, this nuanced work emphasizes an adventurer’s scientific contributions and his enduring and energizing interplay with nature.”

Library Journal

“This work promises to be a different type of biography of Theodore Roosevelt, highlighting the love of nature he maintained his entire life. Canfield portrays Roosevelt as an accomplished scientist working in the field, more at home in the natural habitats he explored than on the battlefield or in the political arena. . . . Many fine illustrations from Roosevelt’s diaries and notebooks make this work rewarding for historians and general readers. Recommended.”


Table of Contents


1 Development of an Identity

01 First Love
02 The Craft of the Naturalist
03 A Thousand Thoughts Awakened
04 Finding a Home

2 Persona Into Practice

05 Tramping West
06 The Wilderness Writer
07 Into Murderous Thickets
08 In Tooth and Claw
09 The Field President

3 Return to the Field

10 African Syzygy
11 To the Amazon
12 The Democracy of the Field


Appendix One
Selected Field Notes and Writings of Theodore Roosevelt

Appendix Two
Selected Theodore Roosevelt Bibliography


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