I must admit to not liking what are generally styled coffee table books. For one thing, I don’t like coffee tables. We almost never drink coffee near or on or around our coffee table and I have run into it far too many times.
Coffee table books are the oversized, heavily illustrated books that supposedly adorn our coffee tables for guests to peruse. The abundance of pictures is suppose to enable to the scanning guest to flip through the book with some interest without getting bogged down in too much text. The books contain texts, often by good historians and writers, and the level is usual for more popular audiences.
I don’t really like those kinds of books, but I have quite a few. They never fit well on the shelves and are usually placed together with other books of similar sizes and different subject matter.
Several years back, I received, without expectation, a copy of A Free and Hardy Life: Theodore Roosevelt’s Sojourn in the American West by Clay S. Jenkinson. It is published by the University of Oklahoma Press, one of my favorite publishers.
I have shuffled the book from place to place without ever looking into until tonight. It is a delight. If anyone writes a book about Theodore Roosevelt, and the book is not exciting, that person needs his writing hand broken or his keyboard smashed. And if anyone writes a book about Theodore Roosevelt’s years out west, and it is not an enjoyable book, they can’t write and should not be read, plain and simple. As it happens, this book is filled with pictures and short accounts of TR’s many and fascinating exploits in the Dakotas. It is exciting and enjoyable. Much of the writing is from TR’s autobiography, which I confess sadly to not owning.
Here is just a nice snippet from the introduction:
TR really did punch out a drunken gunslinger in a saloon in Wibaux, Montana, then known as Mingusville. He really did track down the three boat thieves, one of them a potentially dangerous man, arrest them in the middle of nowhere, and march them to justice in Dickinson, Dakota Territory. He really did get bucked off of unbroken horses, one of which threw him so hard that he broke the point of his shoulder. He really did spend more than a month on a badlands cattle roundup, where he really did help stop a stampede.
Compared to my rather dull life, and summer too much being spent in the school office shuffling papers, TR truly lived a free and hardy life. I hope there is some young man somewhere in the west who even now is being prepared for future leadership who is punching out drunken gunslingers, tracking down thieves, riding bucking broncs, and stopping stampedes. We need strong men to lead us again.