Saturday, November 6, 2010

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

Ah - nothing can replace the bookstore - not even the internet in all its depth and breadth. Book stores smell good; the choices are endless, the arrangements enticing. It's like being part of a private club. Especially enticing are the bargain book tables.

At any rate, that's how I came upon this wonderful book; buy two - get one free. (Yes, I admit I'm a sucker for that selling ploy). I saw a book by a favorite author, picked up another that sounded interesting and chose this as the distant third. I'm interested in history and am acquainted with the basic facts about Theodore Roosevelt, but not his post-presidency South American exploration.

His journey on the River of Doubt was unbelievably harrowing. It was ill planned in the first place, undertaken during the rainy season and the only experienced explorers were the South American officer in charge and the 'camaradas' - or porters. Roosevelt's immediate party was composed of his son Kermit and various friends and associates who were completely unprepared for the hardships they would face.

Who knew the book would be a real 'page turner'. The author describes the environs, the dangers, the hardships of the jungle and river in great detail: man-eating fish, poisonous snakes and irritable natives armed with poison tipped arrows, to name a few - plus the ever present danger of drowning in the numerous rapids and waterfalls they encountered and even - a murder. It is amazing that most of the men survived and only with the most heroic effort. Roosevelt survived but his health was broken. He never regained his former vigor.