The Naturalist, by Darrin Lunde, is not a biography of Theodore Roosevelt. I wouldn't even call it a specialized biography. It is a love story. And Teddy Roosevelt is only one of the protagonists in this story - the other, the object of his love and affection, is the natural world.
Though you may catch a brief glimpse of his work as president or his time with the Rough Riders, they do not play a prominent role in this story. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you read this book and, at the end, didn't realize he was ever governor of New York or Assistant Secretary of the Navy. His interaction with the Republican Party leadership is confined to a short paragraph or two. Don't expect to learn much about Roosevelt's family life or even his death (it isn't mentioned).
This is a love story.
It's the story of a young man named Theodore Roosevelt who falls in love with creation. And like many other love stories, it all begins with a chance encounter on a busy city street. At age 9, Teddy Roosevelt meets a dead seal in a grocery store window. Listen to the way Lunde describes this life-changing encounter: "Sliding his hand along the seal's glossy-smooth pelt and peering deeply into its clouding eyes, he was overwhelmed with interest. Its eyes were so big, and they were fringed with delicate eyelashes just like his own." This meeting changes Theodore Roosevelt forever. As he later recalled, it "filled him with 'every possible feeling of romance and adventure.'"
This encounter is how The Naturalist's first chapter begins. The remaining chapters tell the story of how Teddy grew more and more in love with nature. With that said, some modern readers may find his love peculiar since it was manifested in the observation, killing, and collecting of animal specimens. Nevertheless, throughout this book, his love for the created world shines through. Even while he's hunting white rhinos in northern Africa, you get the sense that he genuinely loves these majestic creatures and only kills them so they can be preserved and enjoyed by future generations.
As the author acknowledges, this sort of naturalist is not looked on very highly in modern, Western culture. Ours is a culture that, too often, looks down on hunting and especially the killing of animals which are endangered - even for the sake of scientific study. But Theodore Roosevelt lived during a different time and his love for the created order shouldn't be questioned because of the way he loved it. Love of nature and an affection for hunting are not at odds. On the contrary, it is often the hunter who has the most love for and knowledge of nature. This is especially evident in the life of Teddy Roosevelt.
If you're expecting to read a book about Theodore Roosevelt's life, don't bother with this book. Like a well-edited film, this book doesn't dwell (or even mention) facts that don't push the narrative along. And (if it's not already obvious) the narrative is solidly focused on the love and passion Roosevelt had for nature.
However, if you approach it for what it is, a love story between Theodore Roosevelt and the natural world, you will find the fascinating tale of a remarkable man who fell in love with a remarkable world - and in the reading, you may drawn to love that remarkable world too.