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Palgrave Macmillan

Never Call Retreat

Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War

ISBN 9781137306524
Publication Date December 2013
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

The final years of Theodore Roosevelt's life have long been considered a dark, aberrant period in which a once-great statesman descended into contrarianism and ill health as his legacy was eclipsed by world events. This stirring narrative decisively puts the lie to such depictions of Roosevelt's twilight years, showing the characteristic dignity, intellectual brilliance, and youthful vigor with which he confronted both private hardships and the onset of the First World War.

It was a historical moment eerily reminiscent of our own: violence in the failed state of Mexico bleeding across the border, an insurgency brewing within the Republican party, and an eloquent and charismatic Democratic president facing a global conflict while bedeviled by constant and vitriolic partisan attacks. That president was Woodrow Wilson, and his committed adversary was Theodore Roosevelt, who would wage a personal and political battle against the administration until the day he died. This duel of American titans lies at the center of J. Lee Thompson's history, which is the first modern account of Roosevelt exclusively during the war years. This is a tale of politics and global conflict, but also a private story of true love and familial devotion: the love of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt and the deep bonds of affection they held for all their children—particularly sons Ted, Kermit, Archie, and Quentin, who all served bravely on the front. From public triumphs to personal tragedies, Thompson gives us a long-overdue look at the later life of one of American history's most indelible figures, as well as the inexorable process by which the US was drawn into the greatest war the world had yet seen.

J. Lee Thompson is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Professor of History at Lamar University, USA. His previous books include Theodore Roosevelt Abroad and A Wider Patriotism: Alfred Milner and the British Empire. His work has been featured on C-SPAN and other venues, and he is a visiting Fellow at Cambridge University.

Prologue: Peace Envoy, Spring 1910
1. A Great Tragedy Impends, June-August 1914
2. A Great Black Tornado, August-November 1914
3. To Serve Righteousness, November 1914-April 1915
4. A Course of National Infamy, May-August 1915
5. First American Citizen, September 1915-March 1916
6. Not in Heroic Mood, March-June 1916
7. A Shadow Dance of Words, July-November 1916
8. The Curse of Meroz, December 1916-April 1917
9. A Slacker in Spite of Himself, April-July 1917
10. Children of the Crucible, August-December 1917
11. The People's War, January-March 1918
12. Crowded Hours of Glorious Life, March-July 1918
13. A Noble Life Gloriously Ended, July-August 1918
14. Peace with Victory, August-November 1918
Epilogue: November 1918-January 1919


'In an aggregate of scholarly rankings—from 1948 to 2011—of the American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt scores an impressive number 5 position, putting him among those chief executives most historians consider great. And yet, among many historians and non-historians alike, the image of TR is inevitably marred by his willingness to go to war whenever the interests—or even the honor—of the United States seemed under threat. Surely, this collective cognitive dissonance explains why so many notable historians and biographers—even the great Edmund Morris—have been loath to explore Roosevelt's attitude and activism during the Great War, both before and after U.S. entry into it. In Never Call Retreat, J. Lee Thompson addresses this highly significant historical lacuna by telling two remarkable stories, whose telling is long overdue. One is the narrative of TR's ex-presidential life and public engagement, and the other is the profile of intelligent opposition to Wilsonian neutrality. Until now—and Thompson's book—the story of former president Theodore Roosevelt was cast in the shadows, and the argument for American engagement in the 'European' war was left largely unexplored and certainly uncelebrated. Thompson's quiet, comprehensive, utterly fascinating book is not written in a style intended to create controversy. But it will—at long last—create controversy nonetheless.'—Alan Axelrod, author of Selling the Great War: The Making of American Propagandaand Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps
'It has been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt's death in 1919, yet scholars of US foreign policy remain keenly interested in the life and times of this extraordinary (that is not too strong a word) political figure, who currently ranks among the most effective and well-regarded of all the country's chief executives. Now, to the list of distinguished titles on the political career and personal biography of the 26th president, J. Lee Thompson adds a volume that is destined to become the definitive work about a critical, if poorly understood, phase of Rooseveltian political activism, his campaign on behalf of 'preparedness' and American entry into the First World War. Anyone who believes that bitter partisanship is only a recent characteristic of the American political scene will be forced to think again after reading this superb book. In prose that crackles repeatedly with high drama, Never Call Retreat brings to life the passion and energy commanded by Roosevelt as he waged a public and bitter battle against his great antagonist, Woodrow Wilson. Thompson tells the story, in fascinating and gripping detail, of Roosevelt's increasingly strident campaign on behalf of early American intervention in a war from which Wilson hoped America could remain aloof. This book is political history at its finest.'—David G. Haglund, Professor of Political Studies, Queen's University
'Following on the great work of William Harbaugh and Edmund Morris, J. Lee Thompson offers here a detailed and clearly presented narrative account of Theodore Roosevelt's experience and political activity through the Great War to his untimely death in January 1919. Thompson sensitively combines an extensive account of TR's relations with his associates and friends at home and abroad with equal attention to a family life filled with great love and concern.'—Douglas Eden, author of 'Could Rooseveltian Diplomacy Have Prevented the Great War?'in L'héritage de Théodore Roosevelt, 'Theodore Roosevelt and the British'in America's Transatlantic Turn, and 'America's First Intervention in European Politics: Theodore Roosevelt and the European Crisis of 1905-1906' in A Companion to Theodore Roosevelt
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