335 of 342 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Gave me a New Appreciation for TR
Anyone who enjoyed Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage or any other tale of exploration and hardship will love River of Doubt. Candice Millard's new book chronicles the expedition of Theodore Roosevelt and his Brazilian co-commander, Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon, down one of Amazon's last unexplored tributaries in 1914-the River of Doubt. The 400-mile river trip...
Published on December 5, 2005 by John D. Sherwood
75 of 96 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Through the Brazilian Wilderness
While this book does fill in what was perhaps Roosevelt's greatest adventure, it treats the subject more like a National Geographic special than it does a historical review of events that led to this "voyage of discovery." Millard focuses almost exclusively on the journey itself, filling in gaps in her narrative with what amount to little more than character sketches...
Published on November 20, 2006 by James Ferguson
Most Helpful First | Newest First
335 of 342 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Gave me a New Appreciation for TR,
Anyone who enjoyed Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage or any other tale of exploration and hardship will love River of Doubt. Candice Millard's new book chronicles the expedition of Theodore Roosevelt and his Brazilian co-commander, Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon, down one of Amazon's last unexplored tributaries in 1914-the River of Doubt. The 400-mile river trip tested every ounce of the ex-president's intellect, courage, and physical stamina. Millard's book, therefore, is more a tale of survival than adventure.
Roosevelt and his American companions were woefully unprepared for their journey. They brought boats too large to be of use on a shallow river, and had to rely instead on Indian-made dugouts-canoes designed more for local transportation on flat water than long-distanced descents through rapids. The American and Brazilain members of the group often had to portage these heavy, waterlogged boats around rapids, which cost the group both time and precious food supplies.
Food proved to be one of the most vexing problems of the journey. Much of the canned food shipped from the United States was too heavy to be carried to the expedition's launching point in the Brazilian highlands, and had to be discarded. Instead, Roosevelt hoped to augment his increasingly meager rations with game shot along the way. Unfortunately, the rain forest did not offer much bounty and the group ended up eating monkeys and piranhas to survive-creatures far more difficult to kill than deer and antelope.
If that were not enough, disease plagued the expedition at every corner. Kermit, the son of President Roosevelt, fought malaria for most of the trip and Theodore almost died when he contracted a deadly bacterial infection from a small flesh wound. Author Candice Millard does an excellent job of describing the numerous hazards confronted by the group without getting too bogged down in rain forest ecology. The book's moderate length and circumscribed subject matter make it much easier to plow through than a typical biography. With that being said, some historians may be disappointed that the book does not shed much more light on Roosevelt's political philosophies or his quest to preserve public land. Was Roosevelt an early environmentalist or simply an avid hunter and adventurer? This book does not answer that question.
It does, however, show us a side of Theodore Roosevelt's character often lacking in traditional biographies of the man: his humanity. The author describes how the ex-president shared in the work, dangers, and hardships of the journey. In one scene, she shows Roosevelt washing the clothes of his companions and in another, the sick ex-president giving away his rations to one of the expedition's "more productive" Brazilian laborers. In short, readers will walk away from this book with new-found appreciation for President Roosevelt and his undaunted courage-something often lacking in today's breed of politicians.
286 of 299 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating,
When I saw River of Doubt it struck me as a fascinating story and I immediately put in my order with Amazon. As I waited for it to arrive, I began to worry that I might have been too impulsive. Afterall, a fascinating story can be as limp as milk toast in the hands of a mediocre writer. I wondered if the author would bring Roosevelt's Amazon journey to life without adding so many extraneous details about Roosevelt himself that the real adventure was lost. Or, on the other hand, not supplying enough details about the central characters to allow me to understood the true context in which the adventure occurred.
After I got the book and started to read, all of my concerns were put aside. Completely. I know next to nothing about T. Roosevelt. Millard gave me what I needed to know to understand why he would take such a dangerous trip, at such a late age, in the first place.
She was equally masterful with all the other participants (many fascinating characters in their own right). I think Millard was near perfect in giving the background of people and why they ended up on this diasterous adventure while keeping the story moving at a fascinating and absorbing clip. One really gets a sense of how people were feeling when they started with what they thought would be a casual adventure and found themselves descending into one of Earth's strangest hells. It's a spellbinding story delivered by a very competent writer and researcher.
I've always enjoyed true stories of the Amazon River. Miller's River of Doubt is fascinating, informing, and gripping and stands with the best of them.
90 of 93 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My Great Great Grandfather's Story,
This is a fascinating account of Theodore Roosevelt's expedition through the Brazilian wilderness in The River of Doubt. This book was especially interesting for me as my great great grandfather is Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon, the co-commander of the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific expedition which put the Rio de Duvida, later renamed the Rio Roosevelt, on the map.
The author is a former writer and editor for National Geographic magazine and brings that adventurous spirit and knowledge into her writing. She did extensive research for the book into not only the history of the region but also the biology. But this information isn't just tossed into the book for the sake of trivia. Instead she weaves each piece of info into the story. For example, she discusses Roosevelt's foreign policy specifically as it relates to South America while, in the story, Roosevelt's ship is steaming toward Brazil. At other points she discusses fish as large as sharks in order to explain the type of psychological pressures the men were up against as they went along their journey. Also, when helpful for the story, she details relevant biographical information for the purpose of character development.
The story reads like a fiction novel though it is a well-documented and footnoted true story. The suspense involved makes it a page-turner that you don't want to put down. All in all, she fits a broad range of biography, history, and biology into a fascinating true story that reads like a suspense fiction. If you are into to nature, adventure travel, history, or even just quality books, this is the one for you.
I didn't know much about my great great grandfather, Rondon for short, until I read the book. Today he is national icon in Brazil. Kind of like a Lewis & Clark type of figure. He explored and surveyed more of the Amazon than anyone before him had and probably more than anyone since. To quote Millard about his life after the expedition,
"He was hounded by photographers and journalists, invited to meet the president of Brazil, asked to run for political office (an opportunity he repeatedly declined), and promoted first to brigadier general and then, near the end of his life, to marshal. In the 1920s, after meeting Rondon on a trip to Brazil, Albert Einstein nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, and, in 1956, the Brazilian government renamed a territory of ninety-four thousand square miles -- nearly twice the size of England -- Rondonia in his honor."
But what stands out most to me, and this quality is referenced in the above quote by his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, is his work with the Amazon Indians. He was the first westerner to make contact with dozens of tribes. So isolated were some of them that these River dwelling people had never even conceived of the concept of a boat, nearly 2000 years after the time of Jesus' calmed the seas from one! Rondon had a love for the Indians who were treated as no more than objects by most of the westerners entering the territory.
A large part of his legacy is the founding of the National Indian Protection service, or FUNAI, in Brazil. His mission: peace. The difficulty: these Indians were not peaceful. He appeared to be a bit of a pacifist, but not at all out of cowardice. Rather it was on principle. This man who obtained the highest rank in the Brazilian Army, Field Marshal, had a quote : "Die if you must, but never kill." He knew peace could only be made between the two violent sides by standing in the gap and laying down your own life, if that's what it took.
Hopefully that's enough detail to give you an idea of what the book is about and get you excited about reading it. Enjoy!
102 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roosevelt's Adventures on the Amazon,
There is a spate of books concerning Theodore Roosevelt's life: his New York years and first marriage, his cowboy days in the Dakota's, the Spanish-American War phrase and his presidency. Until last year, there were few books about his retirement decade until Patricia O'Toole's "When Trumpets Call." His dangerous exploration of the Amazon rain forest covers a mere 7 pages in Ms. O'Toole's biography. That exploration is the subject of "The River of Doubt."
Does this brief three month trip of discovery on the Rio da Duvida (River of Doubt) warrent a full scale book? In Ms. Millard's superb account of the near fatal expedition, the answer is yes. The former president was an adrenaline junkie who needed to forget his loss in the 1912 campaign for the White House. He found all the adventure he would ever crave on the Rio da Duvida, for he was way in over his head. If not for their guide, Colonel Candido Rondon, no one would have made it out alive -- Roosevelt's disappearance would have top Amelia Earhart as the mystery of the century. This adventure yarn focuses, not on the political animal, but on a man who would never quit and never did.
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History comes alives in a riveting adventure,
I loved this book. This book was great in so many ways. It is a great portrait of Teddy Roosevelt in his quest to explore an uncharted tributary of the Amazon after his presidency. It is a fascinating look at life in the unexplored rain forest - featuring the people, plants, animals and general ecology. It's a riveting life-or-death adventure. The author does a great job moving between the people in the present drama, their backgrounds, and the "life of the forest." It's a beautifully written page-turner. It leaves one with a profound sense of the place, people and time. I can't recommend this book more highly. Years ago, I read Undaunted Courage, the story of Lewis and Clark's expedition. I liked it, but that never grabbed me like River of Doubt did. This sets a new standard for "exploration history" literature. Read it!
75 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars T.R. Survived, But was Never the Same Again,
After narrowly losing the 1912 Presidential election to Woodrow Wilson (how history might have been different if Roosevelt, who despised Racism and was Pro-British, had beaten the Racist Wilson), Theodore Roosevelt decided to embark on a long journey into an unknown tributary of the Amazon River - The River of Doubt, hence the title of this book. Roosevelt was confident, cocksure, - after all this was a man who advocated "the strenuous life", had built himself up in the Badlands of the American West and had explored the deepest, remote regions of Africa. After all, a river in Brazil couldn't be much different, right?
Well, unfortunately for Roosevelt, wrong. The jungles were full of poisonous snakes, of Anacondas, of malaria-ridden mosquitoes, and other parasites, and his expedition had not prepared adequately for the task of exploring this dangerous region. In short, most of the expedition became ill quite fast, and even the former President, stricken with dysentery and a festering leg wound, urged the expedition and his son, Kermit, who was with him, to go on and let him die along the banks of the river. Indeed, Roosevelt was ready to take his own life, but Kermit Roosevelt, ironically not as fit as his brothers Archie, Quentin, or Theodore Jr. - who weren't on this dangerous voyage - refused to let his father die an inglorious death, and managed to bring him out of the jungle.
Yes, they survived, but the experience completely shattered what was left of the Old Lion's health - after all, he had been shot in the chest only two years before in the Bull Moose campaign against Wilson, and had gone blind in one eye. Susceptible to infection that weakened his heart, Roosevelt died but five years later, at a relatively young 60. In many ways, this is as much the story of Kermit Roosevelt, who accompanied his father to toughen himself. The experience proved to be the opposite, as he never recovered from his father's death, and would plunge into alcoholism, infidelity, and finally suicide.
The author, a National Geographic well-traveled veteran has written a fairly detailed, incredible book about the preserverance of T.R. and of the region, aptly named the River of Doubt, that he explored.
The reader might also consider "The Lion's Pride" by Edward J. Renehan. While the passage on the ill-fated journey is short, there's much about the Old Lion's relationship with Kermit, and Kermit's subsequent, unhappy life in it.
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No doubt about The River of Doubt,
I shall be brief; for it is better to spend any free time that you might have reading or listening to this extraordinary book. It actually is three books in one. It offers every bit the insight as the historical writings of Ambrose, MuCullough or Ellis. It involves you every bit as much as the adventurous writings of Krakauer and certainly offers every bit of the fascination of the natural history narratives of Burroughs. I would suggest you listen and read along with this story. While at home you will not be able to put it down, so be advised to listen during your commutes. Almost as interesting as the story is the author herself and how she came to find the story. Near the end of her writing project, she herself had to draw upon the insipration of the expedition. But that is a story you will need to find on your own if you so choose. The bottom line is that this a superb book on so many levels, and destined to become a classic and, hopefully, a film. If you enjoy presidential history, natural history and adventure there is absolutely no reason you will not fall in love with this book as I did. I suspect as well, you will be reading passages aloud to your friends and family...sometimes to their dismay of the subject matter, perhaps. Also, one note of warning: it may bring a tear or two to your eyes as it winds down. I give it my highest recommendation.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally Absorbing History,
This is a thoroughly interesting book. I found it totally absorbing.
It is well written and well researched. The author takes the time to provide the necessary background of each of the participants on the expedition so that readers can judge for themselves their actions under duress.
She also takes the time to explain in detail the ecology of the rain forest. Also interesting are details on the culture of the native Indians in this remote jungle who never allowed themselves to be seen until the 1960's. I look forward to later work by Constance Millard.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It put me into a page turning frenzy!,
This book is quite a page turner! Funny thing how a title or a subject catches your eye. I knew, for example, that Roosevelt participated in an expedition in South American after losing the Presidential election of 1912. What I did not know was how extraordinary the expedition was, how high risk it was for the 55 year old former President. Millard's expert narrative features Roosevelt but also pays a great deal of attention to Candido Rondon Brazil's most famous explorer and Indian rights activist. In addition there is Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore's son who came along to protect his father and ended up needing to be watched himself. This is, in part, a father-son story. And the rest of the expedition members all seem so real and well defined within these pages.
I understand Candice Millard is a former National Geographic writer/editor and this really is the strength of her story telling. She brings to life the jungle environment, for example the Indians the expedition never saw or understood she covers in interesting detail so the reader fully understands the threat they posed. In some morbid detail Millard brings this world to life. She explains everything in a most entertaining way. She goes from discussing the ground cover, to the trees overhead and how they grow, to the rapids, man eating fish, and even a murder. I had to sit back in my chair while reading about the tiny cat fish that are so small that they are able to prey on larger fish victims by entering the gills to suck their blood. I will leave it for you to read where these tiny blood sucking cat fish enter the human body when confused.
This is a trip that almost killed Theodore Roosevelt and perhaps took years off his life. He finally found out what it was like to be a real explorer. He in deed did actually put a river on the map for the first time. I think you will find this stranger than fiction tale puts you into a page turning frenzy.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Adventure Story,
Although I'm something of a history buff, I had never heard of Roosevelt's journey down the River of Doubt. Candice Millard does a great job of describing the harrowing trip through uncharted areas of the Amazon rain forest. Although Roosevelt's journey was much shorter than Lewis and Clark's, the story reminded me a lot of Stephen Ambrose's "Undaunted Courage," which is high praise for Ms. Millard. Ms. Millard's writing is certainly up to the drama of the trip.
The expedition's difficulties were almost beyond belief, and even after finishing the book, it was difficult to imagine how Roosevelt or anyone else survived the ordeal. No wonder that some critics were initially skeptical of the expedition's success.
The expedition included a number of colorful characters, and Theodore Roosevelt is clearly the celebrity of the group, but other characters, including Roosevelt's son Kermit and the Brazilian frontiersman Candido Rondon, are portrayed vividly as real people, not just bit players in Roosevelt's great adventure. One of the most fascinating elements of the book is the interplay between the characters as the extreme hardships of the journey brought out the strengths and weaknesses of the participants.
Besides being a really superb chronicle of the journey, the book is full of fascinating information about rain forest dynamics, which explained why the expedition had so little success in finding food along the way. After reading River of Doubt, I have no desire to go wandering around in the Brazilian jungles!
A really good, well written adventure story that I recommend to anyone.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard