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The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey (original 2005; edition 2005)

by Candice Millard

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2,122993,087 (4.18)284
Member:chickitychina
Title:The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
Authors:Candice Millard
Info:Doubleday (2005), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 432 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:owned, read

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The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard (2005)

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Summary: Narrates Roosevelt's exploratory expedition to South America, the decision to navigate "The River of Doubt", and the harrowing journey that nearly cost Roosevelt his life.

What does one do with oneself after you've been President of the United States? What, especially does one do when still relatively young? This was the dilemma of Theodore Roosevelt, known to most of us for his adventures with the Rough Riders, his ascent to the presidency following McKinley's assassination, and for his own reform-minded presidency and a foreign policy shaped by the dictum, "speak softly and carry a big stick." Some even are aware of his failed run for the presidency as a third-party candidate in 2012. Fewer of us are aware of his journey down a never-before explored river in Brazil that nearly cost him his life, and irreversibly damaged his health.

It is this journey that Candice Millard brilliantly narrates in this work. I first discovered Millard in her later exploration of the assassination of James Garfield (Destiny of the Republic, reviewed here), in which she helps us understand what we lost in Garfield, the crazed personality of his assassin, and the botched medical care that resulted in his death. So I was delighted to return to this author's earlier work, which did not disappoint.

I had previously read about this journey in Edmund Morris' Colonel Roosevelt (reviewed here). Where it seemed that Morris focused mostly on Roosevelt's battle with the infection that nearly killed him, and the urgent race to get him back to civilization, Millard gives us much more of the whole story behind the exploration, and much more about the journey both before and after Roosevelt sustained the injury that threatened his life. She sets the context of the invitation to go on an exploratory journey over a relatively safe portion of the Amazon with Catholic Father Zahm, and the decision, influenced by explorer Rondon, to explore a previously unexplored and unmapped river, known as the River of Doubt. We meet other key figures in the expedition from the failed Arctic explorer Fiala, who was responsible for poorly provisioning the expedition, Cherrie, the skilled naturalist who played an indispensable role in the expedition, the cameradas, some remarkably able and on whom the expedition's success largely rested, and some dissolute, like Julio, who kills another expedition member, and ultimately is left to his fate in the rain forest. Finally, Millard sketches the intense personality of son Kermit, dedicated to his father's survival, newly engaged, and trying to carve out his own identity in the shadow of his father.

She also narrates a journey that seems to go wrong from the start as overburdened animals shed needed supplies and die on the land journey to the river's headwaters. And then there is the harrowing journey itself, running through the territory of a fierce tribe of Indians, involving repeated overland diversions because of rapids that might have been negotiated in the lightweight boats, but impossible to traverse in the heavy, unwieldy dugouts. It was during the effort to retrieve one of these that broke loose in a rapid that Roosevelt re-injured a leg injury that rapidly became infected. Between a serious infection, and malaria, Roosevelt's life hangs in the balance, as does the survival of the expedition, short on food, all suffering the effects of disease and malnutrition.

We relive the struggle between the courageous resolve of the explorers, the dangers of attack at any moment, and the ravage of illness and infection as they struggle toward the junction with the Amazon. We learn the price Roosevelt paid for the glory of accomplishing this exploration. Millard also recounts the afterlife of the other explorers, including the sad trajectory of Kermit's life, much like that of Roosevelt's brother Elliot.

Along the way, we see the indomitable spirit of Roosevelt, the disregard for his own safety and life in the pursuit of great aims, and the survival of others, and the humility of being willing, as a former president, to do anything from do the laundry of other expedition members to rescue a stranded canoe, all the while pursuing habits of reading and writing for which he was famously known. We also see the driven character of a man who even in his sixth decade as a former president, still needed to test himself physically against rigors that had killed many younger men.

If you enjoy biography, narratives of exploration, or anything concerning Roosevelt, I would highly commend this riveting narrative of the exploration of the River of Doubt, and Roosevelt's "darkest journey. ( )
  BobonBooks | Dec 4, 2016 |
This was an interesting biography of Theodore Roosevelt’s post-presidential life, focusing on his historic trip down the river in Brazil. I listened to the book rather than reading it, but the writing seemed solid. The story was interesting, although not captivating, and the author wove in an interesting variety of information about the Amazon jungle and its history. ( )
  Joe24 | Nov 26, 2016 |
Wow! What a story!

I'm not as familiar with former U. S. president Theodore Roosevelt as I probably should be. From what I do know of the Rough Rider Bull Moose naturalist, the fact that he journeyed down an unexplored Amazon River tributary is not surprising. What is surprising - after reading this book - is that he survived.

A last-minute decision to explore the unknown Rio da Dúvida (the River of Doubt, today's Rio Roosevelt) combined with poor planning by expedition members unfamiliar with the area, nearly spelled disaster. Roosevelt's team included his son Kermit, the Brazilian explorer Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, American naturalist George Cherrie, and numerous Brazilian "camaradas" who did all the heavy work. They battled insects, excessive rain, rapids, unmanageable dugouts, disease, insufficient supplies (and the inexplicable carrying of unnecessary gear), near starvation, the threat of attack by animals and natives, and even death among their ranks.

This was a perfect topic for the first book by Candice Millard (who has a fabulous three-screen setup for her work computer), a former writer and editor for National Geographic. She weaves in information about the flora and fauna of the Amazon basin and the natural and political history of the area. Even better, she writes well, and the story flows and compels the reader.

The book is well-researched: its 353 pages of text are followed by 38-plus pages of endnotes, eight pages each of bibliography and index, and photo credits for 16 pages of photo inserts. There are maps on the end pages - it would be helpful though if they were larger.

Since the publication of this book, Millard has written one about the assassination of U. S. President James Garfield, and her third book, about Winston Churchill, will be published on Tuesday, September 20. I plan to read them all, and anything else she writes. She ranks up there with Erik Larson for narrative nonfiction.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.] ( )
1 vote riofriotex | Sep 18, 2016 |
Certainly a story about Teddy Roosevelt I knew nothing about--his post-presidency expedition to explore an unmapped portion of the Amazon rain forest. The journey no doubt played a role in shortening his life. The author tells it straight, not enhancing the drama as much of the story is dramatic enough in itself.

T.R. is a president about whom I carry mixed feelings, but he truly shines here. ( )
  kvrfan | Aug 19, 2016 |
Remarkable attempt by the ex-president to explore an unknown Amazon River tributary. The ill-prepared expedition reminds me of Scott's ill-fated attempt to conquer the South Pole. Fortunately, the co-leader of the expedition is part Indian and is the glue that holds the expedition together. TR's son Kermit is also on the expedition. ( )
  jerry-book | Jul 30, 2016 |
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The line outside Madison Square Garden started to form at 5:30 p.m., just as an orange autumn sun was setting in New York City on Halloween Eve, 1912.
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Teddy takes a trip
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0767913736, Paperback)

At once an incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, The River of Doubt is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing exploration of one of the most dangerous rivers on earth.

The River of Doubt—it is a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world. Indians armed with poison-tipped arrows haunt its shadows; piranhas glide through its waters; boulder-strewn rapids turn the river into a roiling cauldron.

After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many at the time refused to believe it. In the process, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever.

Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.

From the soaring beauty of the Amazon rain forest to the darkest night of Theodore Roosevelt’s life, here is Candice Millard’s dazzling debut.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:15 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Chronicles the 1914 expedition of Theodore Roosevelt into the unexplored heart of the Amazon basin to explore and map the region surrounding a tributary called the River of Doubt, detailing the perilous conditions they faced.

(summary from another edition)

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