I just finished "The River of Doubt," a history of Theodore Roosevelt's exploration of the unknown River of Doubt (since renamed Roosevelt River). A really great history!

After reading McCullough's Mornings on Horseback, I now have an interesting sense of Roosevelt. I've read his biography up until he was 27 or so and started to come onto the national stage, and then a biography of him after he failed to be re-elected in 1912.

Judged by everything but his Presidency in the middle, he's a magnetic character. Incredibly likable, he has traits I sincerely admire, most notably what McCullough calls "a life lived intensely." If he was going to do it, he was going to do it all the way. I am also impressed by his love of science and nature, which would seem to be better suited to an earlier President like Jefferson.

And for a former President to cast himself into the unknown waters of the Amazon in a dangerous and taxing venture … well, imagine if Bill Clinton said he was going to be one of the first colonists on an American moon base and devote himself to exploration and scientific research. That's about the best parallel I can think of for Roosevelt's exploration of the river.

Of course, these two books leave a gaping hole: the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War, fomenting revolution in Panama, and all of his Presidency, which–as far as I can tell so far–was a weird blend of progressive politics, conservation, all combined with military adventurism. I'm fascinated by Roosevelt, but I think reading about his Presidency will be a big step toward completing my picture of him.