Exploring the Wild: The River of Doubt, Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

A well-written book about Theodore Roosevelt and his dramatic adventure on an uncharted tributary of the Amazon River.

Continuing on with my explorations into books involving the wilderness, I picked up “The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” by Candice Millard.

This is the story of Teddy Roosevelt – after his presidency. After he lost his bid for a third go at the presidency, a series of events led to him traveling to Brazil for a speech-making tour followed by a canoe tour of one of the Amazon River’s tributaries. This was in the early 1900s, before much of the Amazon was charted, when there were still native tribes that had never white men.. waaa-aaay before satellite phones and helicopters.

These men began their Amazon journey with many men and loads of supplies, and were planning on following a route that others had already explored. But when they arrived in Brazil, Roosevelt was tempted by an unknown, uncharted river, called The River of Doubt, so-named because the person who had discovered the river couldn’t tell where the river would ultimately end. They decided to follow this different, unexplored river. Success would mean putting the river, and themselves, on the map. Failure could mean death.

The book explores their trials along the river – which included theft, disease and starvation, and murder – as well as the history of the Amazon and its native peoples, and touches on the backstory of Roosevelt and his family. It’s an entertaining, interesting read. You get a real glimpse at Roosevelt the man, the adventurer, and learn about one of Brazil’s great explorers, Candido Rondon.

River of Doubt was named a Best Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and The Kansas City Star.

It was very enjoyable, highly readable and very entertaining – a great adventure story and subtle history lesson. I usually don’t make it through non-fiction books quickly, if at all, but this was definitely one I didn’t want to put down. It inspired me to pick up a biography about another famous president: Benjamin Franklin. This book was recently written by the same author of the new Steve Jobs biography. Looks pretty good so far…

Coming soon: Benjamin Franklin, An American Life, by Walter Isaacson.

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Victoriaanna Adinolfi December 28, 2011 at 05:56 PM
I read a bunch on TR a loooong time ago and one of my favorite quirks about him was that he just kept going regardless of what was in his way. He was leading a bunch of people - dignitaries or something equivalent - on a tour and walked straight through a river instead of going around. Some say foolish - I say no nonsense! this sounds like an interesting read.
Katy Dillman December 29, 2011 at 02:57 PM
TR sounds like a pretty great person to know - headstrong, interesting, and determined to "keep it real". Reading this has sparked my interest in discovering more about past political figures. One item that is on my 'to-read' list is Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis (winner of the Pulitzer Prize). My Civic History knowledge is pretty poor - I'm going to try and remedy that this year.


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