Edmund Morris

Edmund Morris was born and educated in Kenya and went to college in South Africa. He worked as an advertising copywriter in London before immigrating to the United States in 1968. His biography The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt won the Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award in 1980. After spending several years as President Reagan’s authorized biographer, he published the national bestseller Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan in 1999. He has written extensively on travel and the arts for such publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Harper’s Magazine. Edmund Morris lives in New York and Washington with his wife and fellow biographer, Sylvia Jukes Morris.
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This book, the only biography ever authorized by a sitting President--yet written with complete interpretive freedom--is as revolutionary in method as it is formidable in scholarship. When Ronald Reagan moved into the White House in 1981, one of his first literary guests was Edmund Morris, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Theodore Roosevelt. Morris developed a fascination for the genial yet inscrutable President and, after Reagan's landslide reelection in 1984, put aside the second volume of his life of Roosevelt to become an observing eye and ear at the White House.
 
During thirteen years of obsessive archival research and interviews with Reagan and his family, friends, admirers and enemies (the book's enormous dramatis personae includes such varied characters as Mikhail Gorbachev, Michelangelo Antonioni, Elie Wiesel, Mario Savio, François Mitterrand, Grant Wood, and Zippy the Pinhead), Morris lived what amounted to a doppelgänger life, studying the young "Dutch," the middle-aged "Ronnie," and the septuagenarian Chief Executive with a closeness and dispassion, not to mention alternations of amusement, horror,and amazed respect, unmatched by any other presidential biographer.

This almost Boswellian closeness led to a unique literary method whereby, in the earlier chapters of Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, Morris's biographical mind becomes in effect another character in the narrative, recording long-ago events with the same eyewitness vividness (and absolute documentary fidelity) with which the author later describes the great dramas of Reagan's presidency, and the tragedy of a noble life now darkened by dementia.

"I quite understand," the author has remarked, "that readers will have to adjust, at first, to what amounts to a new biographical style. But the revelations of this style, which derive directly from Ronald Reagan's own way of looking at his life, are I think rewarding enough to convince them that one of the most interesting characters in recent American history looms here like a colossus."
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

Thirty years ago, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Although Theodore Rex fully recounts TR’s years in the White House (1901–1909), The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt begins with a brilliant Prologue describing the President at the apex of his international prestige. That was on New Year’s Day, 1907, when TR, who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize, threw open the doors of the White House to the American people and shook 8,150 hands, more than any man before him. Morris re-creates the reception with such authentic detail that the reader gets almost as vivid an impression of TR as those who attended. One visitor remarked afterward, “You go to the White House, you shake hands with Roosevelt and hear him talk—and then you go home to wring the personality out of your clothes.”

The rest of this book tells the story of TR’s irresistible rise to power. (He himself compared his trajectory to that of a rocket.) It is, in effect, the biography of seven men—a naturalist, a writer, a lover, a hunter, a ranchman, a soldier, and a politician—who merged at age forty-two to become the youngest President in our history. Rarely has any public figure exercised such a charismatic hold on the popular imagination. Edith Wharton likened TR’s vitality to radium. H. G. Wells said that he was  “a very symbol of the creative will in man.” Walter Lippmann characterized him simply as our only “lovable” chief executive.

During the years 1858–1901, Theodore Roosevelt, the son of a wealthy Yankee father and a plantation-bred southern belle, transformed himself from a frail, asthmatic boy into a full-blooded man. Fresh out of Harvard, he simultaneously published a distinguished work of naval history and became the fist-swinging leader of a Republican insurgency in the New York State Assembly. He had a youthful romance as lyrical—and tragic—as any in Victorian fiction. He chased thieves across the Badlands of North Dakota with a copy of Anna Karenina in one hand and a Winchester rifle in the other. Married to his childhood sweetheart in 1886, he became the country squire of Sagamore Hill on Long Island, a flamboyant civil service reformer in Washington, D.C., and a night-stalking police commissioner in New York City. As assistant secretary of the navy under President McKinley, he almost single-handedly brought about the Spanish-American War. After leading “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders” in the famous charge up San Juan Hill, Cuba, he returned home a military hero, and was rewarded with the governorship of New York. In what he called his “spare hours” he fathered six children and wrote fourteen books. By 1901, the man Senator Mark Hanna called “that damned cowboy” was vice president of the United States. Seven months later, an assassin’s bullet gave TR the national leadership he had always craved.

His is a story so prodigal in its variety, so surprising in its turns of fate, that previous biographers have treated it as a series of haphazard episodes. This book, the only full study of TR’s pre-presidential years, shows that he was an inevitable chief executive, and recognized as such in his early teens. His apparently random adventures were precipitated and linked by various aspects of his character, not least an overwhelming will. “It was as if he were subconsciously aware that he was a man of many selves,” the author writes, “and set about developing each one in turn, knowing that one day he would be President of all the people.”
"Recently we have seen a great back-to-the-land movement, with many young professional people returning to small scale farming; thus it is great fun to read about someone who did exactly the same thing in 1864. In that year, Mr. Edmund Morris gave up his business and city life for a farm of ten acres, made a go of mixed farming and then wrote a book about it. Mr. Morris proves Abraham Lincoln's prediction: 'The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.' Kudos to the publisher for resurrecting this fascinating treasure."; - Sally Fallon Morell, President, The Weston A. Price Foundation

Reviews

"This book may be old but it's one of the best I have read with regards to starting a small farm. Definitely a book any small farmer who does things the right way can appreciate."

"I rated this book with 5 stars because I enjoyed it a lot. Even though it describes farming processes about 150 years old, the information it offers is applicable to today's small truck farmer. I loved reading how he cleverly learned how to increase his crop quantity and quality. A lot of his ideas could be put to used by just about any vegetable and fruit grower. It was also amusing and educational to see the costs and earnings then and realize how much our dollar has depreciated."

..".excellent book. Amazed it was written almost 150 years ago. Farming principles in the book still apply to any small farm today."

"This book has been a great inspiration for me. It is a demonstration of a philosophy worked out a highly productive manner. I recommend this book to friends and think of it often as I work in my garden."

DESPITE THE FACT THAT IT WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1867 - or perhaps because of it - this book has something for everyone; for the small farmer, the home gardener, the city dweller who wonders whether there might not be a better life in the country -- and for anyone who has an idea, and needs just a spark of courage and inspiration to make it happen. This book may be about farming and homesteading, and indeed it is a delightfully readable autobiography of a farmer in the America of the 1860s, but it also about much, much more. The challenges that faced the author are timeless, as are his courage, commitment, and ingenuity. There are insights for anyone, farmer or not, in this book.

Contents

1. City Experiences Moderate Expectations
2. Practical Views Safety of Investments in Land
3. Resolved to Go Escape from Business Choosing a Location
4. Buying a Farm A Long Search Anxiety to Sell Forced to Quit
5. Making a Purchase First Impressions
6. Planting a Peach orchard How to preserve peach trees
7. Planting Raspberries and Strawberries Tricks of the Nursery
8. Blackberries A Remarkable Coincidence
9. The Garden Female Management Comforts and Profits
10. Cheated in a Cow A Good and a Bad One The Saint of the Barnyard
11. A Cloud of Weeds Great Sales of Plants
12. Pigs and Poultry Luck and Ill Luck
13. City and Country Life Contrasted
14. Two Acres in Truck Revolution in Agriculture
15. Birds and the Services they Render
16. Close of my First Year Its Loss and Gain
17. My Second Year Trenching the Garden Strawberry Profits
18. Raspberries The Lawtons
19. Liquid Manures An Illustration
20. My Third Year Liquid Manure Three Years' Results
21. A Barnyard Manufactory Land Enough Faith in Manure
22. Profits of Fruit-growing The Trade in Berries
23. Gentleman Farming Establishing a Home
24. Unsuccessful Men Rebellion not Ruinous to Northern Agriculture
25. Where to Locate - East or West

When the multitalented biographer Edmund Morris (who writes with equal virtuosity about Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Beethoven, and Thomas Edison) was a schoolboy in colonial Kenya, one of his teachers told him, “You have the most precious gift of all—originality.” That quality is abundantly evident in this selection of essays. They cover forty years in the life of a maverick intellectual who can be, at whim, astonishingly provocative, self-mockingly funny, and richly anecdotal. (The title essay, a tribute to Reagan in cognitive decline, is poignant in the extreme.)
 
Whether Morris is analyzing images of Barack Obama or the prose style of President Clinton, or exploring the riches of the New York Public Library Dance Collection, or interviewing the novelist Nadine Gordimer, or proposing a hilarious “Diet for the Musically Obese,” a continuous cross-fertilization is going on in his mind. It mixes the cultural pollens of Africa, Britain, and the United States, and  propogates hybrid flowers—some fragrant, some strange, some a shock to conventional sensibilities.
 
Repeatedly in This Living Hand, Morris celebrates the physicality of artistic labor, and laments the glass screen that today’s e-devices interpose between inspiration and execution. No presidential biographer has ever had so literary a “take” on his subjects: he discerns powers of poetic perception even in the obsessively scientific Edison. Nor do most writers on music have the verbal facility to articulate, as Morris does, what it is about certain sounds that soothe the savage breast. His essay on the pathology of Beethoven’s deafness breaks new ground in suggesting that tinnitus may explain some of the weird aural effects in that composer’s works. Masterly monographs on the art of biography, South Africa in the last days of apartheid, the romance of the piano, and the role of imagination in nonfiction are juxtaposed with enchanting, almost unclassifiable pieces such as “The Bumstitch: Lament for a Forgotten Fruit” (Morris suspects it may have grown in the Garden of Eden); “The Anticapitalist Conspiracy: A Warning” (an assault on The Chicago Manual of Style); “Nuages Gris: Colors in Music, Literature, and Art”; and the uproarious “Which Way Does Sir Dress?”, about ordering a suit from the most expensive tailor in London.
 
Uniquely illustrated with images that the author describes as indispensable to his creative process, This Living Hand is packed with biographical insights into such famous personalities as Daniel Defoe, Henry Adams, Mark Twain, Evelyn Waugh,  Truman Capote, Glenn Gould, Jasper Johns, W. G. Sebald, and Winnie the Pooh—not to mention a gallery of forgotten figures whom Morris lovingly restores to “life.” Among these are the pianist Ferruccio Busoni, the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, the novelist James Gould Cozzens, and sixteen so-called “Undistinguished Americans,” contributors to an anthology of anonymous memoirs published in 1902.
 
Reviewing that book for The New Yorker, Morris notes that even the most unlettered persons have, on occasion, “power to send forth surprise flashes, illuminating not only the dark around them but also more sophisticated shadows—for example, those cast by public figures who will not admit to private failings, or by philosophers too cerebral to state a plain truth.” The author of This Living Hand is not an ordinary person, but he too sends forth surprise flashes, never more dazzlingly than in his final essay, “The Ivo Pogorelich of Presidential Biography.”
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