Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The River of Doubt- book review

The River of Doubt
Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey
By: Candice Millard

What a man. His whole life he was fearless. He was a strong leader who was one of the most popular presidents in the nation’s history. When President McKinley was assassinated early in his first term, Roosevelt became president. He was re-elected for a second term then retired. He became disenchanted with President Taft and ran against him as a third party candidate. He called his new party Bull Moose. While campaigning in Wisconsin he was shot in the chest. His eye glass case and manuscript in his pocked slowed the bullet but it lodged five inches in his chest. He insisted on giving his speech while exclaiming “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose”. He did collect more votes than Taft but by splitting the Republican vote he gave the win to Woodrow Wilson.
This book is the story of a former President of the United States who after being defeated in 1912, did what he always did after suffering a defeat of any nature by going on an adventure that would tax him physically and included a measure of danger. This trip surpassed anything previously tried. He went on an expedition to discover and chart a river that had never been traveled before. It was called “The River of Doubt”. After his return many so-called experts wrote critical reports questioning his accomplishment of discovering and charting an unknown river in the Amazon jungle of South America. Further expeditions to this area substantiated his claim.
There has never been another President to place himself in such a perilous situation. When we think of how our President’s today are protected by the Secret Service it is inconceivable to think of this man placing himself, his son and the other members of the group in such danger in an area unexplored and without means of communication of any kind.
The author describes in great detail the many dangers including passing through territory populated by Indian tribes who had never encountered people other than similar tribes. Why they allowed the group to pass was never understood. Years later as more groups entered the area warfare resulted with many deaths on all sides. There were fish, snakes, reptiles and insects of all kinds that they encountered. There were deaths. Roosevelt himself came very close near the end and contemplated taking his own life to save the others as they were nearly out of food and any delay could have been fatal to them all. He didn’t and pushed himself to the limit of his strength to keep going.
There were many rapids and waterfalls to portage around cutting through the dense underbrush which continually delayed progress and required incredible feats of strength. Near the end they were living on less than half rations. The author provides infinite detail of the jungle so that the reader can understand the rigorous demands on the participants. Details of the trip were from the diaries of Roosevelt and his son Kermit and the log of the commander of the expedition, Candido Mariana da Silva Rondon. The river trip was preceded by an overland journey from 12/12/1913 to 2/25/1914 which was difficult in and of itself. The river trip lasted two months from Feb.27, 1914 to April 26, 1914 when they reached a settlement. He had lost over fifty five lbs. and had a puncture wound in a leg that festered and had to be opened and drained without any pain medication.
Having completed this book I am in awe that President Roosevelt put himself in such a dangerous situation. It is well worth reading.

Jack B. Walters
3961 N. Hillwood Circle
Tucson, AZ 85750
(520) 722-2958
August 18, 2008

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