THE KING AND THE COWBOY, by David Fromkin, The Penguin Press, 256 pages, $25.95.

Mostly, we speak of the "special relationship" between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II.

But historian David Fromkin, from Boston University, has unearthed some very interesting ties between our own feisty President Teddy Roosevelt and England's King Edward VII near the turn of the century.

Fromkin is so bold as to suggest that the two men took leadership of the English-speaking world and completely changed the alliance system of the civilized world. Roosevelt and Edward were very different human beings. At the time Edward assumed the British throne he was well-known as a playboy and a lover of fine food and drink who loved spending time with the pleasure-seeking elite of Paris and Monte Carlo.

Queen Victoria doubted Edward's ability to rule the British Empire, and Teddy Roosevelt was an accidental president who was lifted from the vice presidency by the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. Americans expected as little from Roosevelt as the British did from Edward.

For a long time scholars have known that Roosevelt far exceeded expectations and became one of our great presidents, known for his international presence as well as progressive politics at home. But almost no one remembers how Roosevelt and Edward worked together at the Algeciras, Spain, Conference of 1906 to trim the power and importance of Edward's power-hungry nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

Together, they determined "to sort out the future, not of Morocco, but of Europe." The conference lasted three months, negotiations conducted mostly in hotel rooms. Although Roosevelt and Edward worked closely during the conference, Edward stayed in the shadows and let Roosevelt manage things for both of them.

Together, the two English-speaking leaders managed to isolate the Kaiser and to start forging Allied strength that would be so useful during World War I. The author even believes that Roosevelt and Edward prepared the way for Franklin Roosevelt and Churchill's "special relationship."

The most important result for Teddy Roosevelt was that the United States took an important role on the world stage. Roosevelt and Edward shared the same world view — that maintaining peace must be done "by building up armed strength against potential aggressors."

Of course, the conference decisions also led to World War I. The author tells an important story of pre-war Europe's new and continuing involvement with the United States.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com