The Letterjoy Blog

Book Review: "The Strenuous Life" By Ryan Swanson

"Theodore Roosevelt and sports" sounds, at first glance, like a pretty narrow and confining topic for a book. It isn't.

The story of Theodore Roosevelt's involvement in and influence on American sporting life could fill several volumes. In "The Strenuous Life," author Ryan Swanson does a yeoman's job of condensing it into a single book, tying the many related threads together, and injecting some humor to boot.

This book is all over the place in the best way, because Theodore Roosevelt was an all-over-the-place kind of guy. Recall that in the period between 1894 and 1901 he was police commissioner of New York City, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, leader of the Rough Riders in Cuba, Governor of New York, Vice President, and President.

Among the major subjects covered in this book are:

  • Roosevelt's role in the creation of the NCAA and modern college football
  • Roosevelt's peculiar exercise philosophy (namesake of the book), and how it shaped him as a man and a leader
  • Roosevelt's "tennis cabinet," his informal advisors/exercise buddies.
  • How Theodore Roosevelt saved the Army-Navy football game
  • The surprising advice given to Roosevelt by his Harvard PE teacher (also Harvard's first black instructor)
  • Major league baseball's herculean but unsuccessful effort to get Theodore Roosevelt to attend a game (Like Wonka, they gave him a golden ticket)
  • The St. Louis olympics and the origin of youth sports

In attempting to cover such a broad array of topics, Swanson is sometimes forced to go off on tangents. Some of these (he'll be the first to admit, and does) are self-indulgent, and longer than necessary. Yet, the book is short enough, and the diversions are interesting enough that they don't detract too much from what is otherwise an excellent book.

Theodore Roosevelt is one of the most written-about men in history. It's hard to cover his life's story in a new way, but Swanson manages it, and it makes for a captivating read that any fan of Theodore Roosevelt or sports history will love.

Review Conclusion: This book is well worth a read.