Theodore Roosevelt is one of the most prolific figures in American History. Even though he served as President of the United States for 8 years, he is equally admired for his life outside of politics.
His prolific adventures are both inspiring and intriguing: As a young child he overcame asthma and other medical ailments to live a life of vigor: He was a cowboy out West, led the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American war, went on hunting safaris in Africa and much more.
The The River of Doubt highlights the journey of one of the lesser known adventures from Roosevelt’s lifetime.
Following his defeat as the candidate of the Bull Moose Party in the Presidential election of 1912, Roosevelt set off for South America. His goal was to venture deep inside the Amazon jungle with Brazilian Explorer Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon to explore the ‘River of Doubt’.
An adventure that was a likely death sentence for most men, was something that Roosevelt looked forward to. What inspired Roosevelt to take this event is not entirely unclear. Some suggest that he coped from emotional setbacks by undergoing grueling physical tasks, or perhaps he was just looking for adventure.
The Journey Begins
The expedition proved to be arduous from the start. It wouldn’t be appropriate to say they were underprepared, but rather over prepared. Roosevelt and his party were exceptionally generous with their packing list, except for food rations because they were expecting to hunt their food; they were sorely disappointed. They also brought canoes that were much too large for the river they were navigating.
In addition to the burdens imposed by supplies, disease and food shortages were rampant throughout the trip. The former President was so violently ill at one point he was flirting with death after contracting serious bacterial infection.
One of the most distinctive aspects of the The River Of Doubt is that it portrays Roosevelt in a light that is rarely in other biographies. As a badass extraordinaire, Teddy looks all but invincible throughout his life; the man got shot before a speech and delivered regardless for Pete’s sake. In this book Millard manages to show that this man truly is mortal whether he is overcome by disease or weary from navigating the unforgiving landscape.
Another character we learn a great deal about is Roosevelt’s son, Kermit. Kermit is a fascinating figure in his own right, serving in both world wars, until succumbing to suicide during the Second war. In this book we see the emotional fragility of this man. He was intent on being wed to his fiancé prior to the expedition, but was urged to join his father for safety reasons.
No Fluff, No Nonsense
If you’re looking for a book about the political actions and ideologies of Theodore Roosevelt then this book is not what you’re looking for; one of Edmund Morris’s biographies is what you’re looking for. This book is purely a narrative of this harrowing journey in South America. With that said the book reads at a quick pace going from one calamity to the next.
Throughout the book Millard maintains excellent storytelling, never delving far from the adventure nor inserting any unnecessary biases or prejudices. The detailed descriptions of the Brazilian wilderness are another unique aspect of this book. When you put it all together makes it a truly memorable story from the life of an amazing man.
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