When a president wrote for book review

Past presidents and future presidents have long written for the Book Review – Herbert Hoover, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy. The very f...


Past presidents and future presidents have long written for the Book Review – Herbert Hoover, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy. The very first to do so, however, was Theodore Roosevelt on October 13, 1918. It was clearly a blow to the Book Review, then a little over two decades old, to persuade the former president to review “Jungle”. Peace, ”a new volume from explorer and naturalist William Beebe on the jungles of Guyana.

To say that Roosevelt liked the book is an understatement. “Sir. Beebe’s volume is one of the few books which represents a positive addition to the total sum of genuine literature,” he wrote. “It contains material of extraordinary scientific interest, in a language which has all the charm of an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson. It speaks of birds and beasts and plants and insects.… Everything he touches, he turns into the gold of truth correctly interpreted and clearly displayed – as evidenced by his extraordinary tale of the sleeping lounge of some beautiful tropical butterflies.

The magazine “Jungle Peace” appeared in the annual Fall Preview issue of Book Review. According to an editor’s note, paper shortages and “the great change since the war in the output of publishers” forced the Book Review to sharply reduce the number of titles presented – only 100, instead of the 300 or so. 500 usual. Space was at such a premium on the show that even the former president apparently received a word count; his review ended on the front page instead of continuing inside, as one would expect.

“If I had room, I’d like to give a summary of the whole book,” Roosevelt wrote in a somewhat hasty and nailed-down conclusion. “As it stands, I just advise anyone who likes good books, great books, to get this book from Mr. Beebe right away.”

Tina Jordan is Associate Editor of Book Review and co-author of “The New York Times Book Review: 125 Years of Literary History,” which will be released on November 2.

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