John's Reviews > The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
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Dec 08, 11

Read from December 07 to 08, 2011

This turned out to be the perfect book to read on a short business trip from Duluth, Minn., to Atlanta and back. The length of the book was just what I needed to have something to read whenever needed but to nearly have it finished by the time I got home. And it wasn't too balky for a carry-on bag.
More important, the contents kept me from complaining about the scarcity of airline food or the various frustrations and inconveniences of airline travel.How can you complain about a 30-minute flight delay for deicing when you're reading a passage like this?
The Brazilian colonel, Roosevelt wrote, regarded the threat that even jaguars posted as "utterly trivial compared to the real dangers of the wilderness -- the torment and menace of attacks by the swarming insects, by mosquitoes and even more intolerable tiny gnats, by the ticks, and by the vicious poisonous ants which occasionally cause villages and even whole districts to be deserted by human beings. These insects, and the fevers they cause, and dysentery and starvation and wearing hardship and accidents in rapids are what the pioneer explorers have to fear."
"The River of Doubt" chronicles an expedition former President Theodore Roosevelt co-led down a previously unexplored tributary of the Amazon in 1913-14. Several members of the expedition died en route, and it's remarkable that Roosevelt didn't -- he certainly came close. And it's clear that he never fully recovered from the toll the expedition took.
As in "Destiny of the Republic," her more recent book, Candice Millard does a masterful job of telling this little-known incident in American history. Along the way, she offers an education in everything from building a dugout canoe in the rain forest to the survival tactics of poison-dart frogs.
I came away even more convinced than I had been that Theodore Roosevelt was America's most interesting president.
Here's one more excerpt:
So sick was the former president that, when Raymundo Jose Marques paddled over to the expedition, Roosevelt could not lift himself out of his canoe to meet him. His condition, however, did not diminish the old seringueiro's awe when he learned that the ragged and stricken man he saw lying in the roughest sort of dugout canoe had once been the president of the United States.
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