Review: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice MillardThe River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
Genres: Nonfiction, History
Release: 2005
Type: Nonfiction Book
five-stars

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When thinking of the adventures of Theodore Roosevelt, an immediate thought may be of the Battle of San Juan Hill, or of ranching in the Dakotas, or skinny-dipping in the Potomac River while serving as President of the United States, or even of boxing matches in the White House. Few will recall one of his most grueling adventures, one which he embarked upon after his political career.

In River of Doubt, Millard chronicles the 1913-14 Roosevelt–Rondon Scientific Expedition to explore and map the River of Doubt, a dangerous tributary in a remote Amazonian region.

The book outlines some of the context surrounding the expedition, including Roosevelt’s foreign policy in Latin America, his recent loss to Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 U.S. Presidential Election, and his speaking tour in South America.

The book also provides background on the other legendary leader of the expedition, Cândido Rondon. Rondon had been an army engineer who built telegraph lines through Mato Grosso. His explorations and adventures in the Amazonian rainforest are amazing just by themselves.

The expedition was harrowing, with impassible rapids, infection, illness, accidental death, and even murder. Roosevelt fought illness and an infected leg wound that nearly killed him. Millard deftly carries readers through this journey.

What Makes it Epic Grit:

  • Adventure and Wonder: A dangerous expedition in the Amazon basin, led by a former U.S. President and a famous Brazilian explorer.
  • Believable Characters: Yup.
  • Real Consequences: It was a dangerous journey, and they did not escape unscathed.
  • Epic in Scope: “Man versus Nature”.
  • Subverts “Good versus Evil” Tropes: As a “man versus nature” story, we often put nature in a malevolent role. However, when the environment in question is the Amazon, we are also able to see the malevolent role that man has played in the region. This book features individuals who want to conquer the environment, while at the same time respecting and conserving it.
  • Different Perspectives: This book does not only focus on Roosevelt, but also delves into Rondon and Roosevelt’s son Kermit.

Verdict: five-stars

A great book for anyone who likes history and adventure.