“If You Want To Lead, You Must Read”

TheodoreRooseveltJust wanted to share this August 31 entry from George Grant’s Christian Almanac. Although most of us will never accomplish what today’s subject did, his example will benefit us all. May we all, grateful for the grace of God in Christ, strive to love him  with our minds all the more (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).

Theodore Roosevelt was a voracious learner and an avid reader throughout his extraordinary life. It is hard to imagine though, when he might have found the time–his record of public service and his private interests were astonishingly diverse. How he possibly squeezed reading into the crowded hours of his life was a matter of some substantial speculation among those that observed him flash across the stage of history.

Among his friends he counted the greatest writers, thinkers, scholars, and scientists of his day. And by all accounts he was the best read of them all–being readily conversant on everything from the traditional classics to the most recent philosophical, sociological, or technological musings. He usually read at least five books a week–unless he wasn’t too busy, in which case, he read more. And yet his attitude toward the torrid pace of his intellectual pursuit was refreshingly relaxed: “I am old-faschioned, or sentimental, or something about books. Whenever I read one I want, in the first place, to enjoy myself, and, in the next place, to feel that I am a little better and not a little worse for having read it.”

His son Quentin claimed that he read every book received at the Library of Congress–which of course, he surely did not. But many of his friends testified that however new the volume they recommended to him, he had always read it already. “His range of reading is amazing,” wrote the science fiction writer H. G. Wells. “He seems to be echoing with all the thought of the time, and he has receptivity to the pitch of genius.” Guglielmo Marconi, the great Italian physicist and inventor, was amazed by his knowledge in the specialized field of Italian history and literature. “That man actually cited book after book that I’ve never heard of, much less read. He’s going to keep me busy for some time just following his Italian reading.” And the English diplomat Lord Charnwood asserted, “No statesman for centuries has had his width of intellectual range.”

ChristianAlmanac%20CoverAs a result of his relentless studies and his near-perfect recall, his knowledge was highly integrated, and he was continually crossing boundaries, moving back and forth from one area of human knowledge to another. He was thus able to make connections that mere specialists were unable to make.

According to Viscount Lee, “Whether the subject of the moment was political economy, the Greek drama, tropical fauna or flora, the Irish sagas, protective coloration in nature, metaphysics, the technique of football, or post-futurist painting, he was equally at home with the experts and drew out the best that was in them.” Indeed, “In one afternoon,” said his son Archie, “I have heard him speak to the foremost Bible student of the world, a prominent ornithologist, an Asian diplomat, and a French general, all of whom agreed that Father knew more about the subjects on which they had specialized than they did.”

“If you want to lead, you must read,” was a maxim that Roosevelt took seriously. It was merely an extension of his whole philosophy of life: making the most of his mind was of a piece with making the most of his body. It was merely an exercise of good stewardship.


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