When people think of Teddy Roosevelt they may think of his adventures with the Rough Riders, his two terms as U.S. president, or his famous saying, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” But most of us don’t think of him as an Amazonian explorer. Yet he was. Fulfilling an ambition from his childhood, in his mid-50s, he traversed an entire, thousand-mile river, placing it on South American maps. It was to be the last of his extraordinary accomplishments.
Candice Milliard does a masterful job of capturing the former president, whose memory towers above many past leaders. While her portrayal of Roosevelt isn’t one of a noble superhero, she does manage to capture much in his character and behaviour that were great.
But even if Roosevelt had been absent from the river’s first non-native run, the story would still be worth reading. Milliard introduces readers to South American luminaries such as Candido Rondon, Roosevelt’s co-leader in the expedition, considered to be one of the 20th-century’s greatest explorers. She describes deadly native Indian tribes that shadowed the trip. And the jungle itself becomes a living, suffocating character in Milliard’s narrative.
This is a first-rate adventure story for anyone who loves to read about difficult journeys and heroic deeds. There are plenty of those. There are also sordid stories born of human weakness. I recommend it to anyone who loves history, is interested in the Amazonian Rainforest, or who just loves a good story.