Heir to the Empire City

Heir to the Empire City

New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt
1st Edition
December 2013
Hardcover · 272 Pages
$26.99 U.S. · $30.00 CAN · £17.99 U.K. · €19.99 E.U.
ISBN 9780465024292
Basic Books


Sam Roberts, New York Times

“The historian Edward P. Kohn returns with a primer that corrects the ‘Western image’ of the Manhattan-born former police commissioner and governor.”

The Daily Beast

“Kohn’s prose is snappy and engaging, and his portrayal of the city, from the economic slump of the 1850s, through the Civil War, and growth of the avenues of corruption that it would be TR’s charge to cleans, is as vivid as his evocation of the man himself…. [T]his is a tight and well-argued thesis.”

New Yorker's Page-Turner Blog

“Kohn’s last book, Hot Time in the Old Town, explained how New York’s disastrous 1896 heat wave, which occurred while Roosevelt was the police commissioner, helped vault the young man on to the political stage. Heir to the Empire City expands this storyline, looking at Roosevelt’s biography and writings to demonstrate that Teddy was as much an urban sophisticate as he was a cowboy, and more of a New Yorker than a frontiersman.”

Washington Times

“Theodore Roosevelt has come down in history as the ‘cowboy president,’ a man whose persona was shaped by the period he spent in the Dakota badlands as a young man, riding, hunting, even owning two sizable ranches…. This claim – created in large part by Roosevelt himself – draws a healthy snort of disagreement from historian Edward Kohn…. The truth is, Mr. Kohn writes, Roosevelt is far more a product of New York City than the West.”

New York Times Book Review

“Kohn shows us the ways Roosevelt both shaped and was shaped by the city…. He was not a cowboy after all, but an adroit politician who ‘carefully calculated what was practicable,’ and Kohn persuades us that New York was Roosevelt’s prep school for the presidency.”

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“Heir to the Empire City recasts America’s 26th president as what its author believes he truly was: a politician shaped mainly by his upbringing in New York City and public service in the Empire State, who in turn shaped the city at a time when it was undergoing tremendous – and tremendously rapid – change.”

The Oklahoman

“[Kohn] is to be commended for his insight into the character and deeds of a man historians rank in the top five of this country’s presidents.”

Open Letters Monthly

“[A] taut and interesting new book…. Kohn tells the tales with relish…. [He] narrates it all with a clean thoroughness and occasional glints of dry humor…. It’s the tension between indomitable will, which can err, and due process, which can be perverted, that forms the tension at the heart of this book – and the tension makes for good reading.”

McGill News Alumni Magazine

“Using anecdotes drawn from Roosevelt’s personal and public life, Kohn makes a convincing case that the skill required to navigate the corrupt plutocracy of Tammany Hall, along with a compassion developed by seeing first-hand the appalling conditions suffered by New York’s poor, gave Roosevelt the tools he needed to win over all factions of the Republican Party, and advance a progressive social agenda that would be key to the party’s future success. Along the way, Kohn paints a lively picture of how turn-of-the century New York felt, smelled and sounded in an era before organized policing and regular public garbage collection became commonplace.”

Library Journal

“Focused and concise, this book is a solid choice for general readers of history not sufficiently aware of TR’s cosmopolitan background in contrast to his adopted cowboy persona. It details another side of a consequential, transformative rather than transitional president.”


“An intriguing portrait of Roosevelt’s ascendance to power.”

Publishers Weekly

“Kohn provides a concise account of Roosevelt’s early career and presents a convincing case that he should be remembered as a gentleman of the East, not a cowboy of the West.”

Aida D. Donald, author of Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt

“Theodore Roosevelt is among the great American presidents, but the elements that formed his exuberance, intelligence, and zeal for reform have divided historians. In a detailed and swift moving biography, Edward P. Kohn argues that Roosevelt, born in and vigorously attached to New York, never left home in his heart and mind. Roosevelt, from the moment he was first elected to public office, learned from the city’s people, its streets, and its often-vicious politicos. Working against and sometimes with powerful local politicians, he remade New York. This whirlwind apprenticeship made him a seasoned leader and more than prepared him for his singular tasks as president.”

Edwin G. Burrows, author of Forgotten Patriots and co-author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

“A timely reconsideration of the Theodore Roosevelt legend, reminding us that he was no rough-hewn cowboy from the wild west but instead a sophisticated urban progressive immersed in the politics of his native New York City. Thought-provoking and refreshingly readable.”

Kathleen Dalton, author of Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life

“Edward Kohn has captured the lively personalities and dramatic scenes of New York life at the end of the nineteenth century. His Theodore Roosevelt is a thorough New Yorker, full of brash energy and innovative ideas, scrappy and hard to keep down. Kohn tells a well-crafted and lightning-quick story of TR and his New York, a tale which will reward readers with entertainment and insight into a central phase of the city and the nation’s history.”

Thomas Fleming, author of A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War

“A vivid look at the challenges Theodore Roosevelt faced in his early career. Heir to the Empire City will surprise a lot of people who know little or nothing about New York City’s role in Roosevelt’s life. Even more surprising is his home town’s growing admiration for him as he struggled to rescue the city he loved from entrenched political corruption.”