River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

by Candice Millard

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Overview

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767913737
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/10/2006
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 32,195
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

CANDICE MILLARD is a former writer and editor at National Geographic magazine and New York Times bestselling author. She lives in Kansas City.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1


Defeat


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. The doors were not scheduled to open for another hour and a half, but the excitement surrounding the Progressive Party’s last major rally of the presidential campaign promised a packed house. The party was still in its infancy, fighting for a foothold in its first national election, but it had something that the Democrats had never had and the Republicans had lately lost, the star attraction that drew tens of thousands of people to the Garden that night: Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt, one of the most popular presidents in his nation’s history, had vowed never to run again after winning his second term in the White House in 1904. But now, just eight years later, he was not only running for a third term, he was, to the horror and outrage of his old Republican backers, running as a third-party candidate against Democrats and Republicans alike.

Roosevelt’s decision to abandon the Republican Party and run as a Progressive had been bitterly criticized, not just because he was muddying the political waters but because he still had a large and almost fanatically loyal following. Roosevelt was five feet eight inches tall, about average height for an American man in the early twentieth century, weighed more than two hundred pounds, and had a voice that sounded as if he had just taken a sip of helium, but his outsized personality made him unforgettable—and utterly irresistible. He delighted in leaning over the podium as though he were about to snatch his audience up by its collective collar; he talked fast, pounded his fists, waved his arms, and sent a current of electricity through the crowd. “Such unbounded energy and vitality impressed one like the perennial forces of nature,” the naturalist John Burroughs once wrote of Roosevelt. “When he came into the room it was as if a strong wind had blown the door open.”

Not surprisingly, Roosevelt was proving to be dangerous competition for the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, to say nothing of President William Howard Taft, the lackluster Republican incumbent whom Roosevelt had hand-picked to be his successor in the White House four years earlier. It was a bitterly contested race, and Roosevelt hoped that this rally, strategically scheduled just a week before election day, could help swing the vote in his favor.

Before the doors even opened, more than a hundred thousand people were swarming the sidewalks and choking the surrounding cobblestone streets. Men and boys nimbly wove their way through the crowd, boldly hawking tickets in plain sight of a hundred uniformed policemen. The scalpers had their work cut out for them selling tickets in the churning throng. Days earlier the Progressive Party, nicknamed the Bull Moose Party in honor of its tenacious leader, had posted a NO MORE TICKETS sign, but brokers and street-corner salesmen had continued to do a brisk business. Dollar seats went for as much as seven dollars—roughly $130 in today's money—and the priciest tickets in the house could set the buyer back as much as a hundred dollars. On the chaotic black market, however, even experienced con men could not be sure what they had actually bought. When Vincent Astor, son of financier John Jacob Astor, arrived at his box, he found it already occupied by George Graham Rice, lately of Blackswell's Island—then one of New York's grimmest penitentiaries. When the police escorted him out, Rice complained bitterly that he had paid ten dollars for the two choice seats.

More than two thousand people tried to make it into the arena by bypassing the line and driving to the gate in a hired carriage or one of Henry Ford's open–air Model T’s. But this tactic did not work for everyone. Even Roosevelt’s own sister Corinne was turned away at the gate.

“For some unexplained reason the pass which had been given to me that night for my motor was not accepted by the policeman in charge, and I, my husband, my son Monroe, and our friend Mrs. Parsons were obliged to take our places in the cheering, laughing, singing crowd,” she later wrote. “How it swayed and swung! how it throbbed with life and elation! how imbued it was with an earnest party ambition, and yet, with a deep and genuine religious fervor. Had I lived my whole life only for those fifteen minutes during which I marched toward the Garden already full to overflowing with my brother's adoring followers, I should have been content to do so.” Caught up in the moment, fifty-one-year-old Corinne finally made it into the arena by climbing a fire escape.

Theodore Roosevelt, the object of all the furor, had nearly as much trouble trying to reach Madison Square Garden as his sister. The police had blocked off Twenty-seventh Street from Madison to Fourth Avenue for his car, but when his black limousine turned onto Madison Avenue at nine-fifteen, the excitement burning all night flamed into hysteria. A New York Sun reporter marveled at the chaos as swarms of people rushed Roosevelt's car, “yelling their immortal souls out. They went through a battery of photographers, tried to sweep the cops off their feet, tangled, jammed and shoved into the throng.”

Roosevelt, a little stiff in his black suit, stepped out of the car, raised his hat to the crowd, and walked through a narrow, bucking pathway that the policemen had opened through the suffocating press of bodies. As Roosevelt passed by, his admirers “had their brief and delirious howls, their cries of greeting,” one reporter wrote. When he opened a door that led directly onto the speaker's platform, the arena seemed to expand with his very presence, and the people outside “had to step back and watch the walls of the big building ripple under the vocal pressure from within, like the accordion-pleated skirt of a dancer.”


Inside the auditorium, Edith Roosevelt, every inch the aristocrat with her softly cleft chin and long, elegant neck, was seated in a box above the fray when a mighty roar rose up from the audience, heralding her husband’s entrance. Four colossal American flags greeted Roosevelt, waving grandly from the girdered ceiling, and an entire, massive bull moose stood mounted on a pedestal and bathed in a white spotlight, its head raised high, its ears erect, as if about to charge.

Roosevelt, still famously energetic at fifty-four, greeted his admirers with characteristic vigor, pumping his left arm in the air like a windmill. His right arm, however, hung motionless at his side. The last time Roosevelt had given a speech—just two weeks earlier, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—he had been shot in the chest by a thirty–six–year–old New York bartender named John Schrank, a Bavarian immigrant who feared that Roosevelt's run for a third term was an effort to establish a monarchy in the United States. Incredibly, Roosevelt’s heavy army overcoat and the folded fifty-page manuscript and steel spectacle-case he carried in his right breast pocket had saved his life, but the bullet had plunged some five inches deep, lodging near his rib cage. That night, whether out of an earnest desire to deliver his message or merely an egotist's love of drama, Roosevelt had insisted on delivering his speech to a terrified and transfixed audience. His coat unbuttoned to reveal a bloodstained shirt, and his speech held high so that all could see the two sinister-looking holes made by the assailant's bullet, Roosevelt had shouted, “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose!”

Now, in Madison Square Garden as the boisterous cheering went on for forty-one minutes, Roosevelt still had one of Schrank's bullets in his chest. At 10:03 p.m., pounding on the flag-draped desk in front of him and nervously snapping his jaws, he finally convinced the crowd that he was in earnest, and the hall slowly quieted. Unaided by a loudspeaker, an invention that would revolutionize public speaking the following year, he began his speech. “Friends….” At the sound of his voice, the crowd erupted into a thunderous cheer that continued for two more minutes. When it tapered off, he began again. “My friends,” he said, “perhaps once in a generation …”Suddenly, from seats close to the platform, a clamor arose as policemen tried to push back several people who had forced their way into the hall. Bending forward, Roosevelt bellowed, “Keep those people quiet, please! Officers, be quiet!”

Then, in a voice that filled the auditorium, Theodore Roosevelt launched into the last great campaign speech of his political career: “Friends, perhaps once in a generation, perhaps not so often, there comes a chance for the people of a country to play their part wisely and fearlessly in some great battle of the age-long warfare for human rights.” He still had the old percussive rhythm, exploding his “p”s and “b”s with vigor, but his tone had lost the violence and his words the bitterness of the past. He did not attack his opponents—the coolly academic Wilson or the genial Taft. Instead, he talked in broad terms about character, moral strength, compassion, and responsibility. “We do not set greed against greed or hatred against hatred,” he thundered. “Our creed is one that bids us to be just to all, to feel sympathy for all, and to strive for an understanding of the needs of all. Our purpose is to smite down wrong.”

To the people in the hall, and to millions of Americans, Roosevelt was a hero, a leader, an icon. But even as he stood on the stage at Madison Square Garden, he knew that in six days he would lose not only the election but also this bright, unblinking spotlight. He would be reviled by many and then ignored by all, and that would be the worst death he could imagine.

“I know the American people,” he had said prophetically in 1910, upon returning to a hero’s welcome after an epic journey to Africa. “They have a way of erecting a triumphal arch, and after the Conquering Hero has passed beneath it he may expect to receive a shower of bricks on his back at any moment.”


On election day, November 5, 1912, Roosevelt’s grim expectations about his candidacy were realized in full. Woodrow Wilson took the White House in a landslide victory, winning 2.2 million more votes than Roosevelt out of the fifteen million cast. Roosevelt did not lose alone, however. He brought Taft, the incumbent Republican president, down with him. Only three and a half million Americans had voted for Taft, some six hundred thousand fewer than voted for Roosevelt and nearly three million fewer than Wilson. The Socialist candidate, Eugene V. Debs, pulled in over nine hundred thousand votes, more than twice the number he had received during his presidential run four years earlier.

For Roosevelt, who was not used to losing, even his victory over Taft was cold comfort. He had long ago lost his respect for the three-hundred-pound president, dismissing him as “a flubdub with a streak of the second-rate and the common in him.” Besides, everyone knew that Taft hadn't really been in the race from the beginning. Before the Republican convention, even Taft's own wife, the fiercely ambitious Nellie, had told him, “I suppose you will have to fight Mr. Roosevelt for the nomination, and if you get it he will defeat you.”

She was right on both counts. Roosevelt had at first vied for the Republican nomination, and when party bosses ensured Taft’s victory, he had struck back by ensuring their defeat in the general election. As a third-party candidate, Roosevelt could not count on winning, but he could certainly spoil. When backed by a united Republican Party in his earlier election bids, Roosevelt had swept easily to victory over the Democrats. By turning his enormous popularity against his former party, however, he merely split the Republican vote and handed the election to Wilson—a widely predicted result that, when it came to pass, provoked bitter criticism of his tactics. “Roosevelt goes down to personal and richly deserved defeat,” spat an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “But he has the satisfaction of knowing that by giving vent to his insatiate ambition and deplorable greed for power he has elevated the democratic party to the control of the nation.”

Roosevelt had never been willing to share his private pain with the public. In a formal statement, he announced, "I accept the result with entire good humor and contentment." In private, however, he admitted to being surprised and shaken by the scope of his crushing defeat. “There is no use disguising the fact that the defeat at the polls is overwhelming,” he wrote to his friend the British military attache Arthur Hamilton Lee. “I had expected defeat, but I had expected that we would make a better showing… I try not to think of the damage to myself personally.”

The Republican Party’s Old Guard, once a bastion of Roosevelt’s friends and backers, held him responsible for the debacle that had put a Democrat in the White House for the first time in sixteen years. Before the Republican convention, they had assured Roosevelt that if he would only accept the party's decision to let Taft run for a second term in 1912, they would happily hand him the nomination four years later. But his injured pride and his passion for what he believed to be a battle against the nation's great injustices had driven him out of the fold. “Many of his critics could account for his leaving the Republican Party and heading another, only on the theory that he was moved by a desire for revenge,” William Roscoe Thayer, Roosevelt's friend and one of his earliest biographers, wrote in 1919. “If he could not rule he would ruin. The old allegation that he must be crazy was of course revived.”


Roosevelt spent that winter hunkered down at Sagamore Hill with his wife and their younger daughter, Ethel. He took walks with Edith, answered letters, and worked quietly in his book–lined study. He had few interruptions.

“The telephone, which had rung like sleigh–bells all day and half the night, was silent,” wrote Roosevelt’s young literary friend and eventual biographer Hermann Hagedorn. “The North Shore neighbors who, in the old days, had flocked to Sagamore at every opportunity, on horseback or in their high fancy traps, did not drive their new shining motor-cars up the new, hard-surfaced road the Roosevelts had put in the year before. The Colonel was outside the pale. He had done the unforgivable thing—he had ‘turned against his class.’ ”

Friends and colleagues who had once competed for Roosevelt's attention now shunned him. Roosevelt, like his wife, had been born into New York’s highest society. From childhood, he had been not only accepted but admired and undoubtedly envied as a Roosevelt, the older son of a wealthy and respected man. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he had been a member of the exclusive and unapologetically elitist Porcellian Club. During the Spanish-American War, he had been glorified as a courageous colonel of his own regiment—Roosevelt's Rough Riders. And as president of the United States for nearly eight years, he had been at the apex of power and prestige. Now, for the first time in his life, he was a pariah, and he was painfully aware of it.

Reading Group Guide

The introduction, discussion questions, and author bio that follow are intended to enhance your group’s discussion about Candice Millard’s The River of Doubt. We hope that they will provide useful ways of thinking and talking about the book. For more information, visit BroadwayBooks.com.

For free supplementary materials including information on book groups, suggestions for further reading, chances to win books, phone-in author appearances, and much more, e-mail BroadwayReads@RandomHouse.com.

1. Chapter one, “Defeat,” depicts dramatic scenes from Roosevelt’s final election. What parallels exist between a risky political career and a risky Rain Forest expedition? What enabled him to survive both?

2. Compare Rondon’s and Roosevelt’s leadership styles. In what ways did these co-commanders complement each other? In what ways were they at odds?

3. Discuss the very concept of survival as it shapes The River of Doubt. In choosing provisions, what items did Roosevelt’s team consider necessary for survival? What aspects of survival (greater quantities of dry, mildew-free clothes, for example) did they overlook? What intangibles (especially in terms of emotions) are also necessary for such an expedition?

4. What aspects of humanity were represented by the various personalities in the group, ranging from exploitive Father Zahm and the rational Cherrie to the volatile Julio? Can such varied people coexist? How did you react to Roosevelt’s belief that it was necessary for Julio to be found and shot after he murdered one of the team members?

5. Do any contemporary American politicians possess Roosevelt’s public-speaking style? Why did he believe it was important to debate the former Chilean ambassador and deliver speeches refuting the protestors there?

6. Discuss the extraordinary medical history included in The River of Doubt. How was Roosevelt able to survive so much in his lifetime–from gunshot and disease to a train wreck–with only rudimentary medical care? What aspects of modern medicine would have made his expedition safer? Would safer conditions have undermined the thrill?

7. What did you discover about the intricate, sometimes surreal ecology and geography of the Rain Forest itself? What is the significance of the ancient history of South America’s formation, such as the plate tectonics that sculpted the Andes Mountains? What was it like to read descriptions of a region where few humans have adapted to the environment? Why is it important to preserve rather than develop these ecosystems?

8. In the end, what do you believe Roosevelt’s true missions were in this expedition? What was revealed about the nature of some geographic explorers when his success was met with deep skepticism? What motivates any explorer–from ancient nomads to NASA scientists? What separates Roosevelt’s brand of adventurousness from that of contestants on television shows such as “Survivor”?

9. Share your observations about the Cinta Larga, ranging from nutrition and family life to warfare. Does their self-sufficiency make them noble?

10. What did you discover about Roosevelt’s parenting style? Is his approach–particularly his insistence that his children learn to conquer rather than avoid obstacles–prevalent in many American schools today?

11. Do you believe that Kermit’s later despondency, which eventually drove him to suicide, was related more to genetics or to his life’s circumstances? Did his father expect too much of him? How did their relationship shift throughout this father-son expedition? How would you have fared on a similar mission with your mother or father?

12. How might Roosevelt respond to current concerns about the environment and climate change? How might he and his Progressive “Bull Moose” Party have fared in recent elections?

13. What separates The River of Doubt from other presidential narratives you have read? What writing techniques enabled the author to weave together science, travelogue, and history? What do the Notes and Acknowledgments sections reveal about her research techniques? If someone were to write a biography of you, what narratives could be constructed from your collection of letters and other memorabilia?

14. Discuss the historical context of Roosevelt’s trip, in terms not only of South American history but other aspects of world history from this time period, such as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912? Would World War I have unfolded differently if Roosevelt had defeated Wilson?

15. How were the first chapters of Roosevelt’s life, which were marked by poor health, resolved by this final South American chapter? Do his triumphs of endurance, from boxing at Harvard to valiant service during the Spanish-American War, form a timeline of progressively more dangerous challenges throughout his life? If so, did he finally meet his match with The River of Doubt? Why do you believe this expedition was, until now, less well known than his other triumphs?

Introduction

The introduction, discussion questions, and author bio that follow are intended to enhance your group’s discussion about Candice Millard’s The River of Doubt. We hope that they will provide useful ways of thinking and talking about the book. For more information, visit BroadwayBooks.com.

For free supplementary materials including information on book groups, suggestions for further reading, chances to win books, phone-in author appearances, and much more, e-mail BroadwayReads@RandomHouse.com.

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River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 205 reviews.
BrianKGlass More than 1 year ago
I've been a longtime admirer of Teddy Roosevelt so when this book was originally published I got it right away. I started reading it but something happened and for no particular reason I stopped after a few chapters. I found that I wasn't as enthusiastic about it as I thought I would be. So for several years it set on my book shelf and I promised I would go back and finish it someday. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. This book has a lot of interesting information, everything from Roosevelt family history to politics of the era and the story of the Amazon all rolled into a pretty rousing adventure tale. If there is one failing of the book it is the lack of atmosphere. What I mean by this is that while the author writes of the dire circumstances of the expedition's plight the writing can be a little too sterile to convey that emotionally. It's one thing to be told of the crew's starvation but I didn't necessarily feel like I was there. It's hard to quantify and it is not a major problem, the writing is very well done. I like the insight into Roosevelt's personality and ideals. If there is one thing the author conveyed in no uncertain terms it is the admiration and sense of awe that the former President instilled in those around him. I love this time frame in US and world history and this jungle safari fantasy come to life. It was packed full of great information and little bits of detail that added quite a bit to the story. The historic photos also added a lot. For me it was a fast and enjoyable read.
davedDD More than 1 year ago
River of Doubt is a great read. It's a look into a day when men still did exceptional things, without thought of their safety. truely a lookinto the later life of one of America's greatest men.
Judesd More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful exciting description of an adventure by one of our most famous presidents. If you get excited about real life exploration that is descriptive detail that keeps you wanting to read on and on then read this book. I was excited about the writing of Candice Millard and disappointed to not find any other books by her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you like adventure books or President Roosevelt, this is an excellent book. I normally do not read adventure books but I couldn't put this down. Literally, I couldn't wait to find out what was around the next curve in the river.
Lisa52 More than 1 year ago
A wonderful true adventure story - I never knew about this expedition - wha an amazing and courageous group of explorers
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an overall fascinating account of great adventure and triumph against the odds. I appreciated lack of numbered annotations in the text, which kept the story flowing. The author describes the rain forest and its inhabitants very well. I felt I was being led to believe some disaster would come of the relationship of Kermit and Belle, as our attention was constantly turned to it through his letters to her. The dugouts, for the most part, did get the party a long way down the rapids of the river and were easily traded to the rubber men, so why did I get the feeling they were to lead to absolute disaster? I would read this again in a minute, despite the somewhat melodramatic telling of a story that needed no embellishment. But first, I want to find a good read on Colonel Rondon!
Gary51 More than 1 year ago
This is a biography about Theodore Roosevelt¿s darkest journey down the River of Doubt (Rio da DÚvida) which is the name of the 1000 mile river that is a tributary to the Amazon River. The River of Doubt is and uncharted tributary that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world.
Candice writes ¿Throughout his life, Roosevelt had turned to intense physical exertion as means of overcoming setbacks and sorrow, and he had come to the Amazon in search of that same hard absolution.¿
After serving two terms as president Roosevelt took a safari to Africa for a year. He brought back several things that stocked the newly formed Natural history museum in Washington D.C. To date the collection of things he brought back and contributed is more than anyone else has.
This adventure takes place after Roosevelt failed campaign for an unprecedented third term in the White House in which Roosevelt founded the Progressive Party and ran on its ticket.
I particularly enjoyed Candice Millard¿s style of writing, as it made me feel as if I was right there with the expedition, exploring and traveling down and uncharted river in the tropics, with the beauty of the surroundings, the treacherousness of the rapids of the river, and a very dangerous and volatile Indian tribe that would just as soon kill you with poison arrows as to look at you.
Theodore Roosevelt is portrayed as the author states as a person with ¿puritanical morals.¿ Throughout this expedition he gave of his food to others that were with him even when he was to sick and weak to do so.
The descriptions of botanical and medical nature are quite thorough; as are the parasites and trials they went through. Due to lack of food starvation was one among many of the dangers they faced.
The research that Candice did in writing this book was not only quite thorough but also it would seem went above and beyond the call of duty to insure the accuracy of the events.
Due to the adventure I found the book to be fast moving as it held my interest throughout, as a result I would highly recommend it.
WM_D More than 1 year ago
Never before have I ever read history described in such detail. Candice Millard brought the rain forest alive, with her words. The research was great. History lesson with a twist of geography and made me like it. Wow I can't say enough about this book.
BubbaMo More than 1 year ago
I found this to be a wonderful documentation of an aspect of President Roosevelt's life I had never learned from history classes. Both entertaining and educational.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not as compelling as The Lost City of Z. This book does illuminate the arrogance of Roosevelt and his pals.
swmreader More than 1 year ago
Great book for anyone looking for a story of great adventure, some history and discovery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a slow reader but plowed through this book. Good story. Good charecter detail. Good adventure. Great read. Good historical story. Might learn a little too. Highly recommended.
AJ_Wheat More than 1 year ago
Just when you thought you couldn't pack in one more amazing, adventurous detail from Theodore Roosevelt's remarkable life - then he takes you down the River of Doubt! I had read several books on TR's remarkable life and had seen mention of his expedition in South America, but in reading Candice Millard's excellent book - you glimpse something of the essence of this great man. He suffered a heart-breaking loss in his Progressive Party presidential loss of 1912. He was depressed and felt somewhat lost for what his life would be. So in 1913, at age 54, Roosevelt and his son Kermit struck out on a daring expedition deep into the Amazon jungle of Brazil to find a fabled uncharted river. You can see the frustration being exercised out of TR as they press through difficult challenges and hardships to find the river. Then you see the lion personality of the man humbled by what became a journey for survival - navigating the River of Doubt. The name of the river (The River of Doubt) becomes symbolic for where Roosevelt is in his personal life at that time. This is a story of boldness and courage, but also the story of a man acting out on his personal crisis - seeking catharsis and rejuvenation. In the end... you'll have to read whether he emerges revived or aged from this incredible journey. Candice Millard's writing style is picturesque and engaging. Her descriptions of the Amazon's beauty and brutality are unforgettable. But most importantly - she shows us the inner workings of an American icon fighting the fact that his star was falling.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amazingly detailed research and tightly written. A great portrait of Roosevelt and his son Kermit.
Anonymous 7 days ago
It's a great story about an amazing journey..
thewanderingjew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The River of Doubt, is the story of Theodore Roosevelt¿s journey into South America, in order to map the river of the same name, in a previously uncharted region of the Amazon. The expedition seemed ill-fated from the beginning. Early on, it became apparent that the person chosen to head up the planning and organizing was ill prepared to do the job. Venturing into that part of the world, in the early part of the 20th century was dangerous to begin with, but to go into unexplored territory with inadequate supplies and unprepared, unqualified participants, was tantamount to suicide. Although it is non-fiction, the documentation of the trip reads like a novel. The dreadful details that are expressed will sometimes horrify the reader. It chronicles one of the most arduous adventures anyone could encounter, real or imagined. It debilitated Roosevelt¿s normally healthy, vigorous constitution. It left a permanent mark on every member of his team.There were man-eating fish, hostile Indian tribes that were known to be cannibals, insects that invaded the body through its orifices and even a kind of fish that could do that, which lived in the waters they explored. As they traveled in the uncharted, untamed territory, mapping their path, naming their discoveries, they encountered plants, reptiles, insects, birds, animals and fish they had never seen before. This was not a benign environment. Malaria was a constant threat and there was no viable treatment at that time. As time passed and their canoes were destroyed, medical and food supplies dwindled dangerously low, ammunition was lost, equipment disappeared and they were tracked by enemies, and suffered betrayals and witnessed a murder by a member of their own party, their situation worsened and became dire. By the end of their trip, their numbers had dwindled and their vigor was diminished.Nevertheless, although it sometimes seemed like a foolhardy endeavor, this group of men was made up of some of the most courageous in history. Roosevelt was a strong, seemingly fearless man who expected the same disciplined behavior of which he was capable, from all of the men with whom he was surrounded, and he, himself, never shirked his duty or pretended to a higher station than the others. This was the fascinating tale of the exploration of a region that still remains largely unexplored.There were times when the tale became tedious with too much information. The description of their surroundings seemed better suited to a scientist. Perhaps a naturalist, zoologist, botanist, etc., would have had a greater appreciation of the details described and a better understanding of the finer points of their observations about the peculiar things they witnessed. Also, at times it was repetitious and I felt it could have easily been much shorter. Still, this book is worth the effort in spite of its few faults.
InCahoots on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The stunning story of President Theodore Roosevelt and a group of American and Brazilian men who risk everything to traverse an uncharted river in the Amazon rain forest. Part adventure thriller, part psychological intrigue, part natural science, part American History, this one was hard to put down. If this is what Candice Millard can do for a debut, I say bring the woman a glass of wine, and get out of her way. This author needs to do some more writing.
Hoker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A quick and easy read. Tells a good tale about the last great adventure of one of Americas greatest presidents.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Subtitled Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, this tells the story of Roosevelt's trip into South America to map an unknown Amazon tributary after his defeat for a third Presidency. Equal parts true life adventure story, biographical portrait of a larger than life politician, and South American history, this is a generally interesting, sometimes gripping story I had never heard before. I will admit that my knowledge of long dead presidents is fairly sketchy and generally limited at best to their major accomplishments (or failures) in office, but I did have some inkling of the adventure-junky aspect of Roosevelt's character. After all, which school child hasn't heard about the hunting trip that resulted in the naming of the teddy bear or about his African safaris or about his Rough Riders? But about the expedition down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon, nothing.After his final defeat, Roosevelt obviously needed something to take his mind off the political failure and to test him physically, despite suffering from numerous ailments that would have kept a less determined man from the hardship and danger that faced him in the Amazonian jungle. The South American officer leading the expedition wanted to chart the course of the the River of Doubt. The museum naturalists accompanying the former president wanted to catalog new species of plant and animal. The Catholic father who had been the originator of the plan wanted a South American adventure. Kermit Roosevelt was along to make sure no ill came to his father. And the local men were there to paddle the inadequate log boats and do most of the hardest work of the journey. Like all good adventure stories, this has murder and hardship and ultimate survival only by the skin of the men's teeth. It has inadequate knowledge coupled with appalling risks and near starvation. And it has the larger than life figure of Theodore Roosevelt. Even with all of this, there are still times when Millard's narrative bogs down in details. The journey took far longer than anyone had anticipated and perhaps drawing the narrative out was intended to mimic the increasingly desperate slog down the river in a race against time but the end especially really dragged until the men emerge from the renamed Roosevelt River. Once the objective of conquering the river has been met, Millard speeds the narrative on, giving a quick overview of what happened to all the notable (or traceable) men of the party.I didn't originally want to read this book when it was chosen by my bookclub but it certainly turned out to be more interesting that I had suspected. Ultimately I ended up liking it but I can see my friend's argument that it was dry. I will pass it along to my husband as he's a history buff for whom I suspect it will be a perfect read.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This account of a rather astounding adventure would be of great interest even were it not for the participation of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt.After Roosevelt lost the bid for President in 1912, he decided he needed something to take his mind off of the loss. In 1913, with his son Kermit, the famous Brazilian explorer Candido Rondon, various naturalists, camaradas, boats, pack animals, and provisions, he went off to explore the Amazon jungle and the mysterious Rio da Duvida. This book details the disease, starvation, cannibals, constant rain, whitewater rapids, giant insects, flesh-eating fish, and other obstacles that became daily occurrences for the men on the river. Through it all, Teddy Roosevelt (in his mid-fifties!) displayed indomitable courage, stamina, energy, and good humor, inspiring all the others to keep pushing on in spite of hardships.Although you will learn nothing about TR¿s politics from this saga, you will learn a great deal about TR¿s character, as well as about the beauty, strength, and invincibility of the rain forest.
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt failed in his run for the Presidency on a third party platform. Instead of withdrawing to a peaceful retirement on his comfortable Oyster Bay estate, Roosevelt instead embarked upon a death defying exploration of the Amazon basin. This book is a narrative of that journey. While this story is merely a short chapter in the incredible life of Roosevelt, it is an excellent indicator of his view of life and his character. For those who have read more comprehensive biographies of Roosevelt, many of the details of the journey will not be surprising. In my opinion, Roosevelt (along with perhaps Benjamin Franklin) is the most "American" of all historical Americans. From a childhood marked by poor health and personal tragedy, Roosevelt rehabilitated both his physical and emotional beings through a succession of personal tests. Cattle ranching on the plains of the unsettled Dakota badlands, leading the Roughrider charge on San Juan Hill, winning the Presidency, African safaris and finally charting the previously undiscovered Rio du Duvida (River of Doubt) were a series of challenges confronted and ultimately conquered by Roosevelt. I feel strongly that it is only the absence of a history defining event during his Presidency that prevents him from being held in the same regard as Lincoln and Washington in our pantheon of Presidents (he is after all on Mount Rushmore). In addition to setting out the seemingly impossible obstacles facing the expedition (hostile Indians, miserable weather, poor provisioning, debilitating disease, maddening insect infestation and other hazardous animal life), the book does an outstanding job of introducing the reader to other important members of the expedition, most importantly, Brazilian explorer and naturalist Colonel Candido Rondon and Roosevelt's son Kermit. If you enjoy this type of story, I would highly recommend Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, which details the Lewis and Clark expedition.
StrokeBoy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a page turner of a book. It chronicles how Theodore Rooseevelt and several other well known explorers fumbled thier way through the Amazon jungle to put a never before documented river on the map. From an inadequate preperation to stunning decisions that put the party in danger the reader is constantly wondering just how these men survived. How could men that left one of their party in the jungle to die after committing a murder then endanger the lives of everybody by stoping for two days to search for a lost dog? You may not understand but you will begin to see how people begin to think when at the edge of life and death and almost all seems lost.
ZoharLaor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic and gripping tale of a exploration into an unknown land. Maybe I liked it better then others because I was actually there, in that region.I only wish I would have had that book available to me then (many moons ago) because I would have appreciated my personal journey better.The journey of this expedition is so amazing no-one could have made it up.If you live in NYC go to the Museum of Natural History and view the small River of Doubt display to compliment this book.
artnking on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Great Man in CrisisThere are many books about Theodor Roosevelt; His childhood, personal life and statecraft. This book gives a very clear glimpse into his character when his own life was on the line. Well researched and well written. A very poignant ending.
mzonderm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Some books that describe a particular place in vivid detail make you really want to visit that place. This is not one of those books. The lush descriptions of the deadly flora and fauna of the rainforest made me perfectly happy to enjoy it all from a distance. But the same descriptions make Roosevelt and his fellow explorers very real, and gave me a good appreciation for the dangers they faced and the risks they took.