When America declared war on Spain in 1898, the US Army had just 26,000 men, spread around the country. In desperation, the Rough Riders were born. A unique group of volunteers, ranging from Ivy League athletes to Arizona cowboys and led by Theodore Roosevelt, they helped secure victory in Cuba in a series of gripping, bloody fights across the island. The creation of this regimen marked a turning point for America, uniting the country and ushering in a new era of global power.
It is almost impossible to write a book in which Theodore Roosevelt plays a supporting role. If he’s in it, he’s the star ... The Crowded Hour is a rare exception to this rule. In Clay Risen’s fast-paced, carefully researched new history of Roosevelt’s regiment of Rough Riders, which dazzled Americans during the Spanish-American War, the future president may be in the thick of the action, but he does not monopolize the story, quietly stepping aside for long stretches of time. In his place appears an irresistible cast of characters...It quickly becomes clear, however, that the book’s central character is neither Roosevelt nor any of these men. It is the brash young country they dared the world to dismiss ... Risen...is a gifted storyteller who brings context to the chaos of war. The Crowded Hour feels like the best type of war reporting — told with a clarity that takes nothing away from the horrors of the battlefield.
Risen is a good storyteller, and his fast-paced narrative on the Rough Riders’ travails in Cuba—no other regiment in the Spanish-American War suffered as many casualties—makes The Crowded Hour, Roosevelt’s term for his regiment’s bloody struggles across the island, a gripping tale ... Roosevelt is the protagonist of this tale, but one of the most compelling features of The Crowded Hour is the attention paid to the mélange of characters who followed him in battle. Risen depicts the Rough Riders as representatives of modern America ... This 'blinkered view of American power . . . forged in [Roosevelt’s] experience with the Rough Riders' is powerfully relevant at a time when the country is torn apart by competing visions of globalism and 'America First.'
...a swashbuckling tale ... Although Risen doesn’t entirely ignore Cuban and Spanish voices, here he unapologetically spins what he calls a 'quintessentially American story.' Cuba and Cubans, Spain and the Spanish recede almost entirely from view; when we see them, it is through American eyes. We still seem to be in the American Century: the world is the stage, but the star of the show is the United States. Still, The Crowded Hour is a good yarn. Risen’s special talent is the character sketch, and between Roosevelt and the Rough Riders he has a lot to work with ... The Crowded Hour reminds us that great leaders need ideas, perhaps even a coherent philosophy, to take the nation in a new direction.