…but, you should read this book.
If you know me at all, you know I read a lot of non-fiction, and often when I turn to fiction it’s the stuff of Gore Vidal or James Mitchner, or even James Ellroy where the storyline is deliberately set within an historical context. Rarely do I recommend these books to other people. I understand that my taste in literature is not that of most normal people, and I’d never subject my friends to this stuff. That said, I just finished reading The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard, and it was excellent. This thing was a page-turner. I couldn’t set it down.
This is the account of Teddy Roosevelt’s poorly planned and nearly fatal expedition to map an uncharted river deep within the Amazon. I’m not very familiar with South America, and this book got me really interested in Brazil and it’s history, especially Candido Rondon, a great explorer and the first director of Brazil’s Indian Protection Agency. Its motto: “Die if necessary, but never kill.”
Millard relates this story using accounts and diaries of the expedition party members, Roosevelt, his son newly engaged son, Kermit, Rondon, naturalist George Cherrie and others, giving you a sense of what each man was thinking and feeling as the expedition continued further down the river. With no way to turn back the men must face dwindling supplies, impassible rapids and waterfalls, an inhospitable jungle, death and even murder. This book also gets into the geography and ecology of the region, explaining why the river was so dangerous and why it was so difficult to survive in the Amazon, a jungle so dense that all the plant and animal life has become so competitive as to make it nearly impossible to find fruit, successfully hunt animals or catch fish, and where disease is a real and deadly threat.
Roosevelt never fully recovered from this journey and died 5 years later. Rondon went on to recieve his nations highest military rank of marshal and lived to see the state Rondonia named after him.