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

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
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's review
Dec 24, 2011

really liked it
Read in November, 2011

A 4-star book on a 5-star life. Did not Theodore Roosevelt cram more into one year of his life than most of us do in 10 or 20 (a big yes-nod from me). Throughout his life Roosevelt countered deep disappointment with a vigorous physical challenge. In 1844 at the age of 25 he lost his first wife, Alice, and his mother both on Valentine's Day. He followed up this crushing blow by traveling to the Dakota Bandlands where through hard work and long days he defeated the grief, the "black care" that had filled his soul after his loss.

And so it was in late 1912 after Roosevelt received the political face-slap of his career when as the candidate of the Progressive Party he lost to Woodrow Wilson by 2.2 million votes in an effort to serve a third term as president. The stinging rejection would lead to the last great adventure of a larger-than-life life. His escape from the "black care" this time would lead him to South America and into the Amazon basin where he would be part of the first expedition to travel down the River of Doubt. The trip would cost him 1/4 of his body weight and almost his life, and he never fully recovered from the exertions.

The book is about much more than Theodore Roosevelt. Almost as large a character, and in some ways much more interesting, is his Brazilian counterpart of the journey, Colonel Candido Rondon. A man small of stature, Rondon championed the rights of rain forest natives while exploring the area and running telegraph lines. A human rights activist before the term was coined, in the Amazon basin his exploits were second to none.

This is a good read about that interface between young and old, between North and South America, between loss and redemption, and between self-doubt and proving oneself. Roosevelt embarked on this journey at an age similar to my own now, and I was fatigued from reading the descriptions of his travails from the comfort and safety of my arm chair.


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