I’m always reluctant to recommend a book before I’ve finished it myself, but I’m making an exception for Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker ($13.92). There are two reasons why this is: The first is that it’s a biography, which means there are no spoilers. The second is that I’m so excited to read it that I’m inclined to tell anyone who will listen.
The Alice in question was what we now call American royalty, the firstborn child of President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and before you assume I’m about to tell you about the most boring historical nonfiction tale of all time, pause. In an era when women were meant to be seen and not heard, to smile and nod, to marry well and stay faithful, Alice followed no rules. She was 17 when her father took office, and she did everything women weren’t supposed to do: She smoked in public, she gambled, she was the last to leave every party, and she kept a pet snake in the White House.
A pet snake. In the White House. In 1901. Alice attracted controversy, to say the least.
Brilliant, beautiful, and delightfully bitchy, Alice lived a lot of life in her 96 years, acting at various turns as a political adviser, a legendary and oftentimes malicious wit, a delegate of the Republication National Convention, a fashion icon of her time, and a fixture of the Washington social scene. Alice is an extremely thorough account, with over 600 pages inside its covers—and, man, is it good.
Aside from telling one of the most riveting American stories of all time, it’s well-written and thoughtful but not flowery. It’s factual, too, which is ever important when it comes to historical literature. All in all, it’s a pleasure to read, and not only because of the subject matter (though it does, of course, help).
You don’t have to be into historical nonfiction to feel great about this book, I promise. If you love reading about intelligent women changing the landscape of a male-dominated society, juicy public scandals, searing disses, and, OK, a little bit of history, then every single one of those 608 pages is worth it. Just a word of advice: You may want to go with an ebook. The physical book is pretty damn heavy.