It can't be easy to make Teddy Roosevelt dull, but that feat is achieved by dynasty-ographer Peter Collier, whose targets have included the Kennedys, Rockefellers, Fords and Fondas. TR's eight years as President are kissed off in about 30 pages, and his towering personality is assessed primarily for how it intimidated his brother and sons. That is typical of a book uninterested in the clan's accomplishments but obsessed with its dysfunctionality. Collier has little new to say. He conducted few interviews and mainly cut and pasted quotes from other books and, occasionally, family documents.
The author's claim to originality is bringing together the stories of the Oyster Bay (TR) and Hyde Park (FDR) branches, united by blood but divided by habit, temperament and political party. The most interesting bits depict the struggles between TR's own children on one side and Franklin and Eleanor on the other for the mantle of the old Bull Moose—with T.R. Jr. competing against Franklin to become governor of New York and a candidate for the White House. The rivalry was bitter, and Collier exploits its drama. There's plenty of drunkenness, financial scandal, marital misery and sexual hanky-panky in this biography. But Collier lacks narrative grace and energy. The book doesn't race, it clumps. (Simon & Schuster, $27.50)
(Editor's note: Henry wrote this review in early June, three weeks before his death.)