River of Doubt

Book cover for the book River of Doubt, with Teddy Roosevelt and a picture of the Amazon

2006
Candice Millard

I got into reading “River of Doubt” by way of reading another of Candice Millard’s books, “Destiny of the Republic“, about the assassination of James Garfield.

Millard, a former writer for National Geographic, has a talent at writing biographical drama. I really enjoyed Destiny of the Republic.

After losing the 1912 presidential election, Teddy Roosevelt was in a funk. The Colonel (he desired to be called “The Colonel” and not “Mr. President”) knew that only one thing would cure his depression: getting out of his comfort zone and working physically hard at something that mattered.

About this time, his good friend father Zahm approached him with an idea: there was a opportunity to do some scientific exploration in parts of the Amazon that no western man had ever visited. Roosevelt considered himself a naturalist — after all, we have him to thank for the national park system — and such an opportunity only comes along once in a lifetime.

Once arriving in Brazil, Roosevelt made the choice to take the trip to the next level; the exploration of the “River of Doubt”, which was supposed to run for long ways through completely uncharted territory. It changed his trip from a few weeks in the jungle roughing it to a multi-month expedition through places that contained nothing any man had witnessed. It was a journey that many before had attempted — and not survived.

Millard does a great job of describing Roosevelt and the adventure. I don’t want to give away anything. This was a great book. I left with a better understanding of who T.R. was and why he mattered to the country.

When people die, it’s common to say “They broke the mold when they made him. There’ll never be another like him.” Of course, it’s not necessarily true. In some ways people are the same all over.

But Roosevelt was certainly a very interesting chap. Any man that was shot while giving a speech — and continued to give the speech until he was done — is a unique man. TR would have none of it, though. In his mind the hard-working and tough folks he grew up with out west would have done exactly the same thing.

If you like history, you’ll like this book. Very good read.

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