The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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.