Friday, March 7, 2008

The River of Doubt

I read the book The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey before the semester started, but now just as we're getting to Spring Break and the book is due back to the library I've got just a moment to post about it.

This is one of those books that could be made into a three part movie and there will still be pieces left out. It was put together over about four years by former National Geographic writer and editor Candice Millard, based on diaries, letters, magazine articles, and books written by those involved in the expedition.

It recounts Theodore Roosevelt's journey with his son Kermit along with several others to explore Rio da Dúvida or River of Doubt, now renamed Roosevelt River, a tributary of the Amazon in Brazil. I won't do it justice here, but this was an amazing story. After Roosevelt had been out of the presidency for a term, he decided to run again, but was defeated. In order to overcome his depression from losing so badly, he decided upon this expedition. It was supposed to be somewhat of a token expedition down a tame, well-known river, similar to his hunting trips to Africa, but it ended up being a battle for survival down a completely unknown river deep in the rain forest. Roosevelt eventually died from the illness and injury he sustained on the River of Doubt.

The rich description of the teeming wildlife, both flora and fauna, and how they have specialized and adapted to remain hidden from predators and maintain symbiotic relationships with other life in the rain forest is such that you can picture yourself floating down the river on one of the heavy dugout canoes they used through piranha-infested waters. Between fighting the wildlife, a lack of proper supplies, and disagreements amongst themselves, it is a wonder they completed their journey.

The entire time they floated the river, the natives who lived along the river were watching them, in disagreement about what to do with these invaders. It was only the lack of a centralized leadership among the native tribes which led to indecision about whether they should allow Roosevelt's team to pass that saved them from being killed by the Indians.

As dark and terrible as this sounds, the book is a testament to these strong men who were able to survive based on their will to live and their strength, and makes this such an amazing story. There are so many details I should list, but you will be better served by reading the book than listening to me rave about it.

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