"The Imperial Cruise" by James Bradley

Brian Gongol

One-paragraph review: It's easy to admire the mythological Teddy Roosevelt. He was not only a bold and colorful character, but he was also acutely aware of how to build a myth around himself in his own time. And while the myth makes for great fun, the reality is more complicated. "The Imperial Cruise" is a thorough look at one of the dark corners of that complexity -- specifically, a look at how Roosevelt's very un-progressive views on race relationships caused him to undertake a foreign policy in the Pacific Rim that ultimately set up the conditions that led to Japan's aggressions culminating in World War II. While the book promises more than it actually delivers on the story of the "Imperial Cruise" itself (a trip taken by emissaries of the Roosevelt administration, including William Taft and TR's daughter, Alice Roosevelt), even the vigorous Roosevelt enthusiast would be well-served by a reading of this historical investigation. While the better parts of Teddy's myth still impress upon our identity as Americans today, his shortcomings (and short-sightedness) are worth studying as well. The impact of mistakes and misjudgment can last long after the actors have left the stage, and it would serve us well to recognize the echoes of yesterday's failures when choosing how and when to intervene in other nations' affairs today.

Verdict: Strongly recommended reading for anyone who appreciates a historical context for foreign policy-making today.