Until you read the book it’s difficult to comprehend just how skillfully, and with what narrative brio, Brinkley manages to tell this story of one man’s single-minded odyssey, aided and abetted by men like Harold Ickes and FDR’s uncle Frederic Delano. Perhaps he is a little quick to absolve FDR from the ecological downsides of some of his schemes ... But Brinkley’s admiration for the leader’s devotion to the land is clearly sincere, and FDR’s story is surely a unique and hitherto neglected one, fully deserving of such a big canvas.
“Rightful Heritage is in several ways a more engrossing book than Wilderness Warrior. Many of Teddy’s environmental achievements remain in place today, but his perspective, for all its forward-looking rhetoric, was focused on pulling back from the excesses of the Gilded Age. And his accomplishments, impressive as they were, were possible only because the rest of the country had yet to catch up with him; one gets the sense that corporations, Congress and the public often simply watched in awe as his pen strokes created vast stretches of publicly protected wilderness. But that was the easy part. By the 1930s, Franklin understood, it was no longer enough to protect the natural resources America had left; after a century of industrialization, the landscape was as bankrupt as the economy.
[a] high-spirited and admirably thoroughly new book on FDR ... Brinkley styles Rightful Heritage as a sequel to The Wilderness Warrior, his account of Theodore Roosevelt’s equally stellar environmental record. In the new book, Brinkley can be superficial when it comes to legal issues — it’s not always clear what authority FDR is drawing on when he takes a pro-environmental stance.
It’s an idyllic picture, although Brinkley is a bit disingenuous about his role. He doesn’t tell his readers until the acknowledgments that he has been a trustee of Roosevelt’s presidential library and spent much time in the Hudson Valley steeping himself in the mythology of the Roosevelt legacy ... Regardless, Rightful Heritage is a valuable addition to the many books of Roosevelt’s influence and importance. If it will squeeze into your backpack, take it along to trace his presence in whatever national park you are visiting.
Brinkley is a sleuth in the archives, turning over every leaf and letter, which is one reason for the size of his books. Thankfully, they are engrossing ... Starting with the title of this book, Rightful Heritage, Brinkley draws FDR out from Theodore's formidable shadow, showing, in 717 pages, that the environmental record of cousin equaled cousin, that Franklin, to be sure, was a bona fide tree hugger ... So what are the new particulars we learn from this big book about Roosevelt's life and legacy? FDR more than anyone showed that saving the economy and protecting the nation did not require sacrificing the environment, and he validated conservation as a creator, not a destroyer, of jobs.
Rightful Heritage is a big book about a pivotal time in American history. Brinkley writes admiringly of Roosevelt's record, but his tone is backed up by a rich trove of research. For the millions of Americans who enjoy the fruits of Roosevelt's work each year, that admiration is easier to understand.