Heather G. Cole and R.W.G. Vail. Theodore Roosevelt: A Descriptive Bibliography .

Cover Image Theodore Roosevelt: A Descriptive Bibliography

Heather G. Cole and R.W.G. Vail. Theodore Roosevelt: A Descriptive Bibliography. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2020. 320 pages plus 8-page color insert. ISBN: 1584563877. $75.00.

Why This Book

I have to admit that it has been many years since I read a bibliography such as this one. My BA thesis, actually had been a bibliography. I had at the time, a deep curiosity for this kind of work. To Analyse and to describe each single copy available to show all these differences that make these books that were at the birth the same but that went through different journeys.

So, when I saw on Twitter the ad looking for people willing to read and review books on bibliography and history of books related subjects, I could not be more delighted. This is how I came across the book which is the subject of this review.

The Authors and How the Bibliography Was Created

Heather G. Cole is the Head of Special Collections Instruction and Curator of Literary and Popular Culture Collections at Brown University’s John Hay Library; from 2012 to 2017 she was the Curator of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Harvard University.

She has continued the work done by R.W.G. (Robert William Glenroie) Vail. He was the Librarian at the museum created by the Roosevelt Memorial Association, after Roosevelt’s death, on the site of his childhood home on 20th Street Manhattan (today the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site). Vail had first started putting together as many documents on Roosevelt as possible. Later, he decided to begin writing a bibliography of all of Roosevelt’s works. During the 1920s, he wrote to publishers, collaborators and booksellers to find out as much as he could on these works. He could not complete and publish the bibliography, he started working for the New York Public Library in 1937. His work was “recovered” by Heather Cole and brought back to life; what she managed to do was to make all the work previously done, plus new information and research, available to readers and researchers.

It is a book, that anyone interested in bibliography, books history, history of publishing and, of course, the life and works of Theodore Roosevelt will found fascinating. In the Introduction, Cole gives a short biography of Theodore Roosevelt, centred on his life as a historian and world traveller.

The bibliography describes all the book publications, including pamphlets, authored by Theodore Roosevelt; from his first work “Summer birds of the Airondacks” in 1877 to the last work “Theodore Roosevelt’s letters to his children” in 1919. The analysis showed differences in the content, the use of different kinds of paper, to differences related to bindings, covers, pagination, engravings and use of different printing characters, to prices, advertisings, etc…

Interesting Cases

The following are the books, whose stories and description most fascinated me.

The winning of the West” was first published in 1889 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons; it was first published in two volumes, but then expanded in four volumes (the third was published in 1894 and the fourth in 1896). Roosevelt described this work as his magnum opus and in a letter said that his success as a literary author depended on the success of this work.

This work was dedicated to Francis Parkman, the famous American historian noted for his history of France and England in North America, covering the colonial period from the beginnings to 1763. In the second volume of this work, there is a letter where the Roosevelt explains into details to Parkman the research and writing process of this work. The first edition is found at the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

A special edition of this work is the Alleghany edition, published in 1900 by G.P. Putman’s Sons. It is special because fifty sets of this edition were created and sold especially for the members of the US consular and diplomatic service. It differs from the other editions because there is an additional title page, printed in Japanese vellum. There are two copies at the Houghton Library; one of these belonged to Horace Porter, ambassador to France from 1897 to 1905.

Hero Tales from American History” was first published in 1895 by The Century Co. What piqued my curiosity was that in 1896 an “Edition for the blind” was published in two volumes. In the bibliography’s note written by Cole, it is explained how in 1895 Roosevelt was contacted, along with Rudyard Kipling, in order to publish editions for the blind for this work and for the “Jungle Book”. Unfortunately there seem to be no copies of this edition anywhere. Cole has seen though another edition for the blind, which was published in 1921.

“The Naval Operations of War” was first published in 1901, in the US by Little, Brown and Company and in the UK by Sampson Low, Marston and Company Ltd. What is interesting is the story behind the publication of this work in the US and in the UK. This work was originally written by Roosevelt as a chapter for the “The Royal Navy” by W. Lair Clower. Roosevelt began writing it when he was working as New York Police Commissioner and complete the manuscript and the work on the profile while he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the book was printed when he was Vice President and finally published when he was President. He found that the views that he had expressed in this work, as a private citizen, would not have been appropriate as a President of the United States. He therefore asked the publishers to cancel his contract and suppress the publication of this work. The American one did so, apart from 10 copies which were distributed among various libraries. The British publisher though, published this work as it had been intended, as a chapter in the American and English edition of “The Royal Navy” but withheld the publication of this work as a separate edition until 1910, so after the end of Roosevelt’s presidency.


I want to stay that reading this book has been a great journey.

I learned so much! And it brought back to me why working on bibliographies is so exciting! There are so many things to discover and investigate! This book is a perfect example of what a bibliography should be. Also, I think it will be a great help for all the American history researchers out here that want to know more about these books but cannot see them in person. This book has to be in every university’s library catalogue, in my opinion. I hope that this review will be useful to readers and researchers.

Concetta La Spada