Non-fiction audiobook review: Leave It As It Is

Teddy Roosevelt and saving our public lands.


Title: Leave It As It Is: A Journey Through Theodore Roosevelt's American Wilderness
Author: David Gessner
Publication Info: Simon Schuster, 2020. 352 pages hardback; 12.5 hours audio.
Source: Library

Publisher's Blurb:
“Leave it as it is,” Theodore Roosevelt announced while viewing the Grand Canyon for the first time. “The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.” Roosevelt’s rallying cry signaled the beginning of an environmental fight that still wages today. To reconnect with the American wilderness and with the president who courageously protected it, acclaimed nature writer and New York Times bestselling author David Gessner embarks on a great American road trip guided by Roosevelt’s crusading environmental legacy.

Gessner travels to the Dakota badlands where Roosevelt awakened as a naturalist; to Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon where Roosevelt escaped during the grind of his reelection tour; and finally, to Bears Ears, Utah, a monument proposed by Native Tribes that is embroiled in a national conservation fight. Along the way, Gessner questions and reimagines Roosevelt’s vision for today.

As Gessner journeys through the grandeur of our public lands, he tells the story of Roosevelt’s life as a pioneering conservationist, offering an arresting history, a powerful call to arms, and a profound meditation on our environmental future.

My Review:
This book has a lot to recommend it--and, alas, a fair amount to criticize. I felt that the treatment of Roosevelt was pretty even-handed, neither excusing him for his failings and prejudices (which were normal for his time, but sadly not up to the level of ahead-of-his-time vision he showed on saving our wild places) nor unduly blaming him for it. I learned a lot of straight-forward history.

I also enjoyed the author's travels with his new-adult nephew and his visits to the places that had mattered to Roosevelt. It was fun to see them through both Gessner's eyes and those of TR, as I'm fairly familiar with most of the stops on the way. These first two threads are well-integrated and make sense--retracing the historic footsteps in a modern-day pilgrimage is a pretty standard framework for this kind of book.

The third element of the book--and the fact that I'm talking about three separate elements is part of the problem--is the save-the-world screed that bursts out in the final chapters of the book in a manner passionate and persuasive but sadly not terribly connected to the main topic of the book. Here's where I had a problem.

I appreciate Gessner's passion for the environment and totally share his outrage over Trump's shrinking of the Bear's Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. His exploration of the reasons why Bear's Ears is worth saving at the larger size is fantastic and was quite relevant, as I'm heading there in April. Unfortunately, it wasn't appropriate to the main purpose and thrust of the book, despite some efforts to explain how TR would feel about this. Basically, the final chapters were a great essay on the Bear's Ears along with a discussion of the Antiquities Act and how it is/should be used today. They were not a great conclusion to a book that gave us an otherwise excellent look at Teddy Roosevelt.

My Recommendation:
Despite the issues, I can recommend this book both for the information on TR and the information about the Four Corners region. Just don't worry about how the two connect, and be happy in the knowledge that President Biden has restored the monuments to their original size, though the legal status of Trump's move still needs to be resolved, or we can never again trust than any land is protected.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Leave it As it Is from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”   

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2023
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