Book Feature: “The Naturalist”

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2016 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of our National Park Service, and no U.S. president is more popularly associated with nature and wildlife than is Theodore Roosevelt—prodigious hunter, tireless adventurer, and ardent conservationist. Even today, we think of him as a larger-than-life original, yet in The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, a Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History, Darrin Lunde has located Roosevelt in the proud tradition of museum naturalism.

Lunde—who currently works at the Smithsonian—brings his singular experience to bear on Roosevelt’s life through the lens of his passion for the natural world. From his earliest days, when he first collected specimens and proudly displayed them in his childhood bedroom, Roosevelt actively modeled himself on the men who pioneered a key branch of biology by developing a taxonomy of the natural world—each of whom based his work on the visceral, experiential study of nature. The impact these scientists had on Roosevelt would shape not only his audacious personality but his entire career, informing his work as a statesman and ultimately affecting generations of Americans’ relationships with this country’s wilderness. Today, this vital influence lives on in our national parks and at some of our most valued institutions, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Drawing upon Roosevelt’s diaries and expedition journals, along with his own experience as a leading figure in museum naturalism today, Lunde constructs a thoughtfully researched history that tracks Roosevelt’s maturation from an exuberant boyhood hunter, who embraced outdoor activity as a strategy for overcoming his physical limitations, to a champion of serious scientific inquiry, who was engaged in dialogue with many of his era’s most renowned naturalists. From Roosevelt’s teenage pursuits to his years at Harvard, from the White House to his triumphant collecting expedition in Africa (a trip that Roosevelt himself considered to be the high point of his lifelong passion), The Naturalist keenly demonstrates how one of America’s most beloved historical figures was, in his own words, “fond of politics, but fonder still of a little big-game hunting.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darrin Lunde is a Supervisory Museum Specialist in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Previously, he worked at the American Museum of Natural History, and he has led field expeditions throughout the world, collecting specimens in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Lunde has named more than a dozen new species of mammals and shed light on hundreds of others. He lives in Maryland.

Click here for more birthday events in Oyster Bay including a book talk, hosted by the National Parks Service (NPS).

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