Mornings on Horseback

by David McCullough
370 pages, Biography/History
Reviewed by Jeanne

A fascinating look at what shaped the man Theodore Roosevelt.


While doing research for his award-winning history of the building of the Panama Canal, "The Path Between the Seas," David McCullough became interested in Theodore Roosevelt. Our twenty-sixth president is mainly known for shouting "Bully!" and charging up San Juan Hill, but he was much deeper than that, and McCullough set forth in this biography of Roosevelt's early life to show what shaped the character of one of America's greatest presidents.


Theodore's father was a philanthropist and ran several good-will organizations in New York. He gave his children a good moral code to follow and encouraged them to have strong characters. Theodore and most of his family had very high standards, and wrongdoing is not condoned in any.

Spiritual Content

The Roosevelts attended church. As a child Theodore thought that a fox was God; as an adult he writes that "if he believed in heaven..." Evolution seems to have been accepted by the Roosevelt family. Theodore taught Sunday School for awhile during his Harvard years.


Theodore suffered from acute asthma as a child and it is described as a feeling like strangling. His mother, Mittie, was a Southerner and she often told her children stories about the Old South and about the exploits of her family; several of her siblings were killed during the Civil War. Theodore was always fond of hunting, and of dissecting and observing his kills, and his excursions are sometimes given in detail. During his stay in the West he breaks several bones; one of the "Wild West" characters, the Marquis de Mores, fought and won several duels.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Theodore's father strongly discouraged an excess of drink, but Theodore's brother, Elliott, eventually fell into alcoholism. Different kinds of alcoholic beverages are mentioned.

Sexual Content

McCullough mentions that Theodore's uncle had a mistress, which was not known by his family at the time. As a young man Theodore was friends with several young ladies. Politicians are accused of affairs and the like. Elliott's marriage was a failure and he eventually had a mistress. Interestingly and sadly, the Roosevelt family was so closely knit that Theodore's sisters, Bamie and Corinne (and especially Corinne), seemed unable to love others as much as they did their siblings - even their husbands.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Exclamations like "By George," and "d***" are used in some places. Rabid antisemitism is mentioned.


As he did in his biography of John Adams, McCullough brings his subject to life as vividly as a good novel. The letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles set the reader in the Roosevelts' time and he captures wonderfully the closeness of their family; especially interesting was Theodore's ties to the South and the tension that came during the Civil War, with his father being a Northerner and his mother, aunt, and grandmother being from the South and having Southern sympathies. The only disappointment about the biography is that McCullough stopped just a little after Roosevelt's "Badland Years" and did not write about the rest of Roosevelt's life.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 4
Written for Age: adult

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