Theodore Roosevelt vs Speed Reading

2 minute read

Theodore Roosevelt vs Speed Reading

The President manages to get through at least one book a day even when he is busy. Owen Wister has lent him a book shortly before a full evening’s entertainment at the White House, and been astonished to hear a complete review of it over breakfast. “Somewhere between six one evening and eight-thirty next morning, beside his dressing and his dinner and his guests and his sleep, he had read a volume of three-hundred-and-odd pages, and missed nothing of significance it contained.”

– from The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.

This biography of Teddy Roosevelt was fascinating, especially considering I had no real interest in the topic before deciding to read it.

This may beg the question of why I read a huge book about him in the first place, for which the answer is - I played a lot of Red Dead Redemption 2, which caused me to get interested in the topic of cowboys, which led me to read “Cattle Kingdom - The Hidden History of the Cowboy West” by Christopher Knowlton (another excellent book, if that period appeals to you anyway), which features Roosevelt as a major ranch owner, which inspired me to find a biography of the guy.

He’s a fascinating character and inspiring in the sheer amount of work he gets done. It is just incomprehensible to me, a man who didn’t write a blog post for ten months due to laziness.

One thing that really stood out to me was his apparent ability to read at a prodigious rate. I read a lot of non-fiction (and some fiction) and would really like to increase the rate at which I read books. There are a lot of highly-rated books and not enough time to get through them.

I wouldn’t say I am a particularly fast or slow reader but I had heard of speed reading and decided to look into it.

However, as this blog from Scott Young describes, it seems like the whole idea of it is just impossible. Supposedly just going above 500 words a minute is improbable because of how the eye works, and getting up to that speed would sacrifice comprehension.

It seems like speed reading is just another fad idea which is not worth trying (file that along with barefoot running).

But the question I come back to is - how did Roosevelt manage to get through books so quickly and retain information? Maybe it’s an apocryphal tale, or maybe he was a genius - which does seem apparent from his biography.

On evenings like this, when he has no official entertaining to do, Roosevelt will read two or three books entire.


N.B. A couple of great quotes:

Wine makes me awfully fighty - from Roosevelt’s diary

While its first edict, promising to “hang, burn or drown any man that will ask for public improvements at the expense of the County” could have been worded more diplomatically, it at least voiced sound Republican sentiments - about Wild West politics