Book Review: The Naturalist

Book Review: The Naturalist by Darrin Lunde

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the United States of America, was big on nature.  Specifically, he had a strong interest in natural history, and wanted to become/be known as a naturalist.  This new biography focuses on that part of Roosevelt’s life, from his boyhood collection of stuffed birds to his African expedition for the Smithsonian Institute.

The Naturalist Theodore Roosevelt

The author is himself a museum naturalist, so the narrative is perhaps a bit biased in favor of those who go out to collect specimens for natural history museums.  Roosevelt considered himself a “hunter-naturalist”, someone who went out, observed nature carefully, then killed animals for scientific study.  Sickly as a boy, with bad asthma, Teddy had to re-invent himself several times in his youth.  He worked hard to build up his body and mind, engaging in outdoor activities and especially learning about animals in nature.  His family was involved with the founding of the New York Museum of Natural History, which gave him a head start.

Interestingly, Roosevelt’s choice to go to Harvard seems to have doomed his ambition to become a full-time naturalist–according to this book, the college’s natural history program was dominated by laboratory work, not the field expeditions Teddy favored, and he met his first wife and realized that a naturalist’s pay wasn’t going to keep them in the style they were used to.

Instead, Roosevelt studied law and got into politics, with the results I mentioned in the first paragraph.  While he certainly made some headway as President, including creating America’s first wildlife reserves and other environmentally friendly actions, Teddy chafed at not being able to hunt properly and the last months of his term were largely taken up with preparations for his African expedition.

There were many bits of knowledge in this book that I either had not known before or had long forgotten.  Theodore Roosevelt’s poor vision meant that he was a bad shot, and often had to use far more bullets to bring down specimens than was ideal (and sometimes this meant he wound up killing more animals than he wanted!)

I found the literary feud between Roosevelt (and other scientifically-oriented naturalists) and the “sentimental” nature writers as exemplified by the Reverend William J. Long interesting.  Dr. Long heavily anthropomorphized the animal behavior in his “non-fiction” stories, and often depicted events that were so unlikely that naturalists accused him of just making things up.  (Side note:  I looked up Dr. Long’s work and among other things he penned an entirely serious book on the subject of animal telepathy-not just non-verbal communication, telepathy.)  In response, Dr. Long said that President Roosevelt could only touch the hearts of animals…with bullets.

The book stops with the aftermath of the successful African expedition-the less happy Amazon expedition does not get mentioned at all.  As is common with these specialized biographies, any parts of Roosevelt’s life that did not have a bearing on natural history get short shrift, and the serious student should also read a more general biography to get a balanced picture.

A heavy emphasis is placed on how Roosevelt’s practical experience with hunting influenced his ideas on conservation.  He could see with his own eyes how over-hunting was wiping out game animal populations, even within the span of a few years.

There’s a center section with black & white photos, and a few more scattered through the book.  There are extensive end notes, a bibliography and index.  Bright senior high students should be able to handle the material and language.

I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to those interested in Theodore Roosevelt, natural history and the role of hunters in nature conservation.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book through Blogging for Books for the purposes of this review.  No other compensation was requested or offered.

Book Review: All Things Murder

Book Review: All Things Murder by Jeanne Quigley

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise I would review it.  The copy reviewed was an advance uncorrected proof, and there may be changes in the final product.

All Things Murder

Veronica Walsh has spent thirty-two years starring in the soap opera Days and Nights.  Now that’s over and the only job offers she’s getting are old people medication commercials.   Now might be the time to take an extended vacation in her quaint hometown in the Adirondacks.  Barton is the kind of place where they still have small businesses, many catering to the tourist trade.

But there’s a threat on the horizon–a developer is about to put up a new mall, with all the big chain stores.   Until Anna Langdon, owner of the “All Things” store and landlord to many of the other businesses, comes up with her own plan to scotch the deal.  When Anna turns up dead the next morning, the developer would seem like an obvious suspect, but Anna’s heartless business tactics and fairly ruthless personal life turn up several other possibilities.

Veronica comes into the picture because she was next door at the time the murder was committed, Anna was going to meet with Veronica about a mysterious business proposition, and Veronica’s mother owns a business that rented its space from Anna.   Plus, having gotten so used to the drama of soap operas, Veronica can’t help snooping around.

It helps that she’s enormously popular with the villagers, as a hometown girl made good.  She’s also ably assisted by history professor Mark Burke and not so ably by her old co-star Alex Shelby.

As the first cozy mystery in a projected series, this book needs to introduce a sizable cast of quirky characters, as well as providing a mystery plot.  I got confused several times as some of the minor characters tended to blend together, and I had to reread to figure out who they were supposed to be.  The most notable character was Alex, since he wore his narcissism on his sleeve, and his reason for being in the area was suspicious enough to rouse my attention.

The mystery is not so much solved, as that Veronica has the solution dropped in her lap; though it does rely on her previously established good auditory memory.

I found the book only so-so, but people with an interest in the Adirondacks area may find it more captivating.  Since this is a first novel, there’s plenty of room for improvement in later installments.

A quick note:  Since this book is published by Cengage, the final product is likely to have end note content not available in the uncorrected proof, such as book club discussion topics.

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