Teddy Roosevelt’s 10 Rules For Reading: Seek Enjoyment, Spurn Fads, Read What You Like


Ted­dy Roo­sevelt seems to us a para­dox today, and did in his time as well: A man’s man hunter, cow­boy, and war hero, who sup­pos­ed­ly saved the game of foot­ball from extinc­tion (Roo­sevelt wor­ried that ban­ning the game would pro­duce “mol­ly­cod­dles instead of vig­or­ous men”); also, a Har­vard-edu­cat­ed New York pro­gres­sive and tree­hug­ging con­ser­va­tion­ist hero, who re-defined pres­i­den­tial style with Brooks Broth­ers three-piece suits and uni­forms. And for all of his pub­lic hero­ics, Roo­sevelt was also a dot­ing father who gave his nick­name to the most uni­ver­sal­ly cud­dly species of bear. Per­haps some of the best rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Roo­sevelt’s per­son­al ethos are pho­tographs of his com­bi­na­tion library and gun room, hung with hunt­ing tro­phies and skins in the home he built for his fam­i­ly in Oys­ter Bay, New York (below—see more at the appro­pri­ate­ly named “Art of Man­li­ness”).


One sig­nif­i­cant rea­son Roo­sevelt could embody seem­ing­ly wide­ly diver­gent traits was that he was a devour­er of books, read­ing tens of thou­sands in his life­time, absorb­ing thou­sands of points of view from every pos­si­ble source. But Roo­sevelt did not read the way we do today—rapidly tak­ing in infor­ma­tion for its own sake, with auto­mat­ed ser­vices com­pil­ing rec­om­men­da­tions from the meta­da­ta (a phe­nom­e­non Susan Jaco­by has indict­ed as part of our hyper-par­ti­san, group­think cul­ture). He read accord­ing to his whim, putting plea­sure ahead of prof­it and dis­dain­ing fads and rigid cul­tur­al norms. He was, lit­er­ary site Book Riot sup­pos­es, “prob­a­bly the most well-read pres­i­dent, and per­haps one of the most well-read men in all of his­to­ry.”

Book Riot points us toward a few pages of Roosevelt’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy, in which—amidst picaresque chap­ters like “In Cow­boy Land” and heavy ones like “The Pres­i­den­cy; Mak­ing an Old Par­ty Progressive”—Roosevelt paus­es to detail his thoughts on read­ing in a par­tic­u­lar­ly prag­mat­ic chap­ter titled “Out­doors and Indoors.” Although Roo­sevelt does not present his con­tem­pla­tion as an eas­i­ly digestible list of rules, as is the fash­ion now, Book Riot has seen fit to con­dense his thought. Below see the first five of their list, “Ted­dy Roosevelt’s 10 Rules for Read­ing.” I’d be will­ing to bet that if every­one fol­lowed Teddy’s advice, we could up the woe­ful nation­al lit­er­a­cy quo­tient with­in a few short years.

1. “The room for choice is so lim­it­less that to my mind it seems absurd to try to make cat­a­logues which shall be sup­posed to appeal to all the best thinkers. This is why I have no sym­pa­thy what­ev­er with writ­ing lists of the One Hun­dred Best Books, or the Five-Foot Library [a ref­er­ence to the Har­vard Clas­sics]. It is all right for a man to amuse him­self by com­pos­ing a list of a hun­dred very good books… But there is no such thing as a hun­dred books that are best for all men, or for the major­i­ty of men, or for one man at all times.”

2. “A book must be inter­est­ing to the par­tic­u­lar read­er at that par­tic­u­lar time.”

3. “Per­son­al­ly, the books by which I have prof­it­ed infi­nite­ly more than by any oth­ers have been those in which prof­it was a by-prod­uct of the plea­sure; that is, I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked read­ing them, and the prof­it came in as part of the enjoy­ment.”

4. “The read­er, the booklover, must meet his own needs with­out pay­ing too much atten­tion to what his neigh­bors say those needs should be.”

5. “He must not hyp­o­crit­i­cal­ly pre­tend to like what he does not like.”

Head over to Book Riot for the remain­ing five of Roo­sevelt’s “rules,” along with some wit­ty com­men­tary.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

‘The Right of the Peo­ple to Rule’: Lis­ten to Theodore Roo­sevelt Speak­ing 100 Years Ago Today

Study Finds That Read­ing Tol­stoy & Oth­er Great Nov­el­ists Can Increase Your Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence

Ernest Hem­ing­way Cre­ates a Read­ing List for a Young Writer, 1934

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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