In 1913, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt departed on a trip up an unknown river in the Amazon with a party that included his son Kermit, Brazil’s most famous explorer Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon, and the naturalist George Cherrie. Because the trip was originally planned to be less challenging and also because it was provisioned (by the leader of a failed arctic expedition) with more of an eye to comfort than practicality, the party soon found itself in dire straits, and by the end of the trip Roosevelt was near death.
In The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, Candice Millard writes a compelling tale of this dangerous journey to a completely unexplored region, which ended by putting a 1000-mile river on the map of Brazil. In a hostile environment that the explorers found strangely lacking in food, they were at times very close to attack from the Cinta Larga Indians, who had only had a small amount of exposure to Brazilian rubber hunters–and that had been violent. The group also had to deal with boats that were unsuited to the rapids they encountered, disease, dangerous animals, and theft and murder by one of their party.
Whether Millard is explaining the scientific reasons behind the jungle’s apparent lack of food, the geology of the region, or the dramatic events of the trip, she writes with absolute clarity and interest. Although this book reminded me a great deal of The Lost City of Z, which I reviewed earlier and also enjoyed, I thought it was much more interesting and better written.