The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey
With the inauguration of a new President days away, it seems the right time to review this book for you. I first read it in 2005, and loved it so much I gave a copy to my brother, who ended up passing it around to everyone he works with.
Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the US from 1901-1909, becoming the youngest person – at age 42 – to be President when he assumed the role after William McKinley was assassinated. After losing to Taft in 1912 ( 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms in office wasn’t passed until 1947) he set his considerable energy and enthusiasm to a new, more physically dangerous task.
This book chronicles his attempt to chart the River of Doubt, a tributary of the Amazon that previously had not been mapped. With him is Candido Rondon, Brazil’s most famous explorer, Roosevelt’s eldest son Kermit and a number of other adventurous individuals, convinced by Roosevelt’s powerful personality, the idea of discovery, and the lure of fame.
Their journey was incredible, dangerous and threatened the lives of every member of the expedition. The jungle was dark, hot, difficult at every turn, and there were no helicopters on standby if things got rough. Those that survived emerged forever changed, mentally, physically, or both. This is a fascinating book with real jungle travel and adventure, no glamour whatsoever, and gives a very different picture of the man whose image is now a bit softened by his association with the Teddy Bear – every child’s beloved friend named after him, or gets confused with his cousin Franklin.
The kind of person who becomes President is always a driven sort of individual, and I think none was ever more so than Theodore Roosevelt. But conquering this river was different than leading an Army into battle or leading a country. The river was indifferent and the jungle and its inhabitants – from microbe up to indigenous human – did not welcome these men, or sympathize with their task.
The actual River of Doubt was renamed after him, and is on maps today as Roosevelt River, and that whole section of northwest Brazil was named Rondonia after Candido Rondon.
This is not the kind of history that ever seems to make it into schoolbooks, but it should. Excellent book, and fascinating picture of a former President. Not everyone goes on to a life of quiet diplomacy. Or lives “happily ever after.”
Excellent book, and it does not read at all like a dry dusty ‘history book’ – you should read it if you are interested in Presidents, Brazil, jungles, or just human beings.