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The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

by Candice Millard

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,4731403,635 (4.19)371
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.… (more)
  1. 70
    The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann (bogreader)
  2. 10
    The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (CSL)
    CSL: Those looking for more about the most remarkable Theodore Roosevelt couldn't do better than to consult this first volume of Edmund Morris' (hopefully) three volume biography of the 26th President.
  3. 10
    The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston (rakerman)
    rakerman: The River of Doubt is a dangerous jungle expedition to explore a river in 1913–14. The Lost City of the Monkey God is a dangerous jungle expedition to explore a lost city in 2015. Although separated by a century, some similar challenges are encountered.
  4. 00
    In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides (davesmind)
  5. 00
    Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya by William Carlsen (rakerman)
    rakerman: River of Doubt tells the tale of a difficult exploration of an Amazonian river. Jungle of Stone tells the story of challenging explorations of Mayan sites.
  6. 00
    Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough (Cecrow)
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» See also 371 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 139 (next | show all)
A compelling true tale of exploration, and a glimpse into an extraordinary chapter in the life of Teddy Roosevelt after his presidency. ( )
  jemisonreads | Jan 22, 2024 |
As anyone who is well acquainted with the life of Theodore Roosevelt knows, he was a man who craved adventure, especially pitting himself physically against the forces of nature. Candace Millard’s book THE RIVER OF DOUBT: THEODORE ROOSEVELT’S DARKEST JOURNEY is the story of one such adventure when the former President, fresh off of his defeat in the 1912 Presidential election, when he ran on the third party Bull Moose ticket, decided to explore a tributary of the Amazon as a way to work past the gloom of an electoral loss. The story of this expedition may be a footnote in history, but it is one that reveals much, not only about one of the most vivid and consequential figures in American history, but also about human nature and the will to survive when confronted by adversity and an unimaginably hostile environment.

Roosevelt had been a sickly youth who had built up his physical strength and stamina in early adulthood, he strove to live what he called “the strenuous life,” and believed that a strong will could overcome any obstacle. It was an attitude which served him well for much of his life, which included being a rancher on the plains of the Old West, a police commissioner in the rough and tumble New York City of the late 19th Century, the leader of the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War, and a political career that had seen him rise from Governor of New York to Vice President, and ultimately to the highest office in the land upon the assassination of William McKinley. All this accomplished before the age of 42. As many reviewers have noted, TR was probably not a man given to introspection, and one possessing a sense of self confidence that surely crossed the border into hubris. If so, then THE RIVER OF DOUBT, is the story of how he was humbled.

At a little more than 350 pages, Millard’s book is a tight read, filled with detail, not only about the personalities who accompanied the former President on his expedition, but also about the rain forest itself, which, as described, would have made Indiana Jones think twice. Exposition, a narrative killer if not handled right, is expertly woven into the story as we learn not only of the extraordinary symbiotic plants and trees, but also of the truly vicious animal life, which includes wild boars, Coral snakes, jaguars, piranha fish, and a tiny catfish called the candiru, capable of swimming up a man’s urethra—that made me wince for sure. Add water born diseases which flourished in the damp tropical climate, and malaria, which afflicted all who journeyed to the jungles with incessant fevers and chills. Top it all off with native tribes who had not had contact with the rest of humanity in over a thousand years, and who, if the notion took them, would deal in a most lethal manner with any interloper who invaded what they considered their territory. I was quick to feel apprehension as Millard shows how Roosevelt’s expedition was poorly planned from the beginning when he trusted the provisioning and supplying to individuals who had only a dim idea of what they were going up against. While Roosevelt is the central character, the book allows others to emerge from the pages and stand on their own, no more so than Colonel Candido Rondon, a Brazilian army officer and explorer, who was a hero in his own right. He was a co-leader of the expedition with Roosevelt, and though the two men had great respect for each other, they would not always see things the same way. Roosevelt’s oldest son, Kermit, who was working in South America at the time, accompanied his father down the river, and we get a portrait of a young man trapped in the shadow of an imposing father whom he loved, but could not escape.

All these characters would be put to the test when, as they made their way down the River of Doubt, they encountered rapids and waterfalls which required them to haul their dugouts through the jungle to get down river, slowing down the progress considerably. Soon, the poorly acquired rations were running low and the density of the jungle would not reveal enough fresh game to be hunted. The hardships took a toll on the dugouts and then on the men themselves, as nearly everyone became ill in the tropical climate and sustained injuries, including the mighty TR himself. The isolation and the oppressive nature of the rain forest inflicted a mental strain, that when combined with the physical hardships, slowed the expedition’s progress down to a crawl. More than once, despair threatened to overwhelm them all, even bringing Roosevelt to the brink of suicide.

How these men persevered in the face of such peril makes this a first rate adventure as well as a cautionary tale. I’ve always thought Theodore Roosevelt to be the epitome of what a great leader should be, he thrived on challenge and had no fear of confrontation. Yet at the age of 55, it is easy to conclude that his trip into the Amazon was biting off more than he could chew. Calling it “risky behavior” would be putting it mildly. But though TR is one of the essential figures in forging the America of the 20th Century, he was essentially a man of an earlier and very romantic time, one who considered combat on a battlefield to be the ultimate test of one’s manhood, and war to be something virtuous and sought after. That puts him at odds with the generations that followed to say the least. That’s what I liked the most about Candice Millard’s book, the story of an old lion out for adventure, and taking on whatever crosses his path, paying the price, and persevering to the end. It is a great story. ( )
1 vote wb4ever1 | Dec 21, 2023 |
*All reviews are from online reviews*

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.
  TeacherCarrieP | Aug 28, 2023 |
Initially I had mixed feelings about Roosevelt, as he was unable to accept he lost the election and he ran again with an oversized ego, and pouted when he lost again. But it turns out, he was brave and selfless, in endless quantities. He and native Brazilian Rondon set out to map a lengthy deadly uncharted Amazon river, one that promised danger and treachery. This book reads like a thriller of the highest order. ( )
  KarenMonsen | Aug 22, 2023 |
The 'river of doubt' tells the harrowing story of President Roosevelt's travels through the South American Rainforest. The story is both inspiring and informative. A must read! ( )
  David_Fosco | Aug 21, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 139 (next | show all)
"The River of Doubt" spins these events into a rich, dramatic tale that ranges from the personal to the literally earth-shaking... "Ms. Millard succeeds in taking a broad, humbling view of one man's place in the natural scheme of things. She juxtaposes Roosevelt's larger-than-life persona with the rules of the jungle."
added by danielx | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Jan 20, 2017)
 
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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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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.

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Teddy takes a trip
Murder, illness, starvation
Sloop John B was right
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