March 6, 2009

"The River of Doubt", by Candice Millard. The President's survival, the Amazon's survival, our own survival.

This book is from the 2007 UC Berkeley Summer Reading List whose theme was Survival! It’s described to students as "…a harrowing tale of survival" and "…an important and fascinating description of the Amazon ecosystem, which as we now know is an important link in our survival." There are so many current issues facing the world today that impact our very survival. Our environment is being damaged. American children have little or no understanding of America. They can name one of the American Idol judges but cannot name one of the three branches of government.

The author - a former National Geographic writer – puts together a descriptive story that is equal parts travel diary and American History. The River of Doubt carries you through the process of putting an expedition together in 1913 that involves a very popular US president and his son. Given their stature, you get an incredible feel for the amount details involved, the number of favors given and the emotional drama for the families and members of the expedition.

Eco-Tourism: Friend or Foe
During the time of Theodore Roosevelt's epic journey, Brazil and the Amazon Rain Forest still included indigenous people who had yet to encounter a single person outside of their immediate tribe let alone another country or race. These populations have been touched by the continual curiosity of Western explorers and adventurers,.

Cândido Rondon, the co-leader on President Roosevelt's expedition, is famous for his lifelong support of Brazilian indigenous populations. He was the first director of Brazil's Indian Protection Bureau (SPI/FUNAI), and the Brazilian state of Rondônia is named after him.

Today we read a lot about many eco-friendly tours available, especially in developing countries. The industry is so popular and profitable that you can find an International Ecotourism Society, describing related facts and statistics. Some countries very survival may rely on those of us who book these types of tours to take us through remote regions of the world, yet our footprint is felt even with the best of intentions.

Different Sort of Biography
The man known for his boldness was almost brought down by this last adventure. For most of his life he was drawn to one physically punishing effort after another. When Theodore Roosevelt lost his last election, his wife Edith knew it was only a matter of time before he found a new adventure.

The author does an excellent job writing the narrative so that we feel we are sitting next to Roosevelt as he journeys across the world, when he writes letters home describing his worry over his 24 year old son Kermit's health, and later bedside when he decides to end his own life if it means the survival of his son and the rest of the expedition.

Survival of the Fittest
One imagines in early 1900's South America that man would be fearful. This was a time before penicillin! The ease with which the men came down with malaria and became infected from all of the insect bites was scary. I expected that layer in the story but what this book illustrates clearly is that men were afraid but less so under the bold and clear leadership of both Roosevelt and Marshall Rondon. These strong men tackle the journey with a clarity and compassion that I found amazing given the time they lived.

This is a story about man challenging the Amazon to give up its secrets. All of the men on the expedition including Roosevelt literally have the clothes rot off their back, the shoes off their feet. Their environment teems with carnivorous animals, plants and deadly insects. The Amazon River is filled with schools of bone-cleaning piranha.

The River of Doubt gives readers their own map to an incredible soulful journey by our 26th and 25th President, Teddy Roosevelt and a beautifully detailed story of the expansive and mysterious Brazilian interior.


  1. Hi..
    Nice blog..
    ☆ Martinha ☆

  2. Thanks Martinha! I like your blog too!

  3. This book sounds like my kind of story - adventure and discovery not just about untreked lands but about oneself. Must order it even if I am a non US citizen it should hold some insights.

  4. Cate I think this book is perfect for you! Part interesting biography/history lesson and part adventure. Loved reading about this amazing time in Brazil and the world.


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