The Strenuous Life
Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of the American Athlete
“It seemed as if Theodore Roosevelt’s biographers had closed the book on his life story. But Ryan Swanson has uncovered an untold chapter” (Johnny Smith, coauthor of Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X).
Crippling asthma, a frail build, and grossly myopic eyesight: these were the ailments that plagued Teddy Roosevelt as a child. In adulthood, he was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition and was told never to exert himself again. Roosevelt’s body was his weakness, the one hill he could never fully conquer—and as a result he developed what would become a lifelong obsession with athletics that he carried with him into his presidency.
As President of the United States, Roosevelt boxed, practiced Ju-Jitsu, played tennis nearly every day, and frequently invited athletes and teams to the White House. It was during his administration that America saw baseball’s first ever World Series; interscholastic sports began; and schools began to place an emphasis on physical education. In addition, the NCAA formed, and the United States hosted the Olympic Games for the first time.
From a prize-winning historian, this book shows how Roosevelt fought desperately (and sometimes successfully) to shape American athletics in accordance with his imperialistic view of the world. It reveals that, in one way or another, we can trace our fanaticism for fitness and sports directly back to the twenty-sixth president and his relentless pursuit of “The Strenuous Life.”
“Essential reading for anyone who cares about the history of sports in America.” —Michael Kazin, author of War against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914–1918