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A Book Review: “Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey: The River of Doubt,” by Candice Millard

Posted by Stephen on September 14, 2010

If you are a fan of the 26th President of the United States, or if you enjoy historical perspectives and stories that leave you amazed, or if you are a political junky, or if you just enjoy great stories then Candice Millard’s story, Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey: The River of Doubt, surrounding one of the most amazing journey’s any American has ever undertaken is a must read.

Teddy Roosevelt, like Abe Lincoln, transcended politics and was viewed as an American hero. Bigger than life, TR was a man that continually placed himself in harms way while undertaking grave challenges that pushed the human spirit to the brink. However, no stories ever spun about the man that led America into the Industrial Revolution could compare to the harrowing journey he led in the mysterious and dark country of the Amazon on rivers never before experienced by civilized people.

While it would have been easy to turn this book into a dry expose of the travels of the President and his party, a former writer and editor for the National Geographic, Candice Millard, pens a story that seems to take you to a land that time forgot. Utilizing journals, letters, newspaper reports and varying books addressing the expedition, Millard writes a wonderful book that keeps you in such suspense you find it hard to put the book down and yet leaves your head spinning as you imagine your own reaction to truly unbelievable circumstances, and measures your intestinal fortitude.

On the sound of silence in the darkness of night:

“Let there be the least break in the harmony of sound,” Cherrie observed, “and instantly there succeeds a deathlike silence, while all living things wait in dread for the inevitable shriek that follows the night prowler’s stealthy spring.”

On the living danger within the waters of the river:

The rivers other inhabitants were largely invisible from the expeditions dugouts…If one of their boats tipped over in a whirlpool or rapid, the men would find themselves dumped into the middle of the river with no option but a frightening swim to shore…The fish that inspired the greatest fear among the men was the piranha…Rondon and his soldiers regularly offered up their weakest ox to a school of piranha so that the rest of the heard could safely cross the river.

On contemplating the dangers of the forest versus the river:

Standing at the river’s edge, Roosevelt and his men realized that they had very few options left. They could either hack their way through the forest on foot-likely losing most if not all of their men in the process-or they could try to build a new canoe. The last option was nearly as dangerous as the first.

Millard’s writing takes you inside the heads and hearts of men that are pushed to murder, theft, abandonment, near suicide, and astonishing feats of courage, all in the name of desperation as each person clings to life while living each minute fearing a death that could come from simply being lost on a river so desolate the civilized world wouldn’t dare enter it.

Roosevelt realizing the end is near:

For him, this was not about suicide, it was about doing the right thing…Roosevelt informed his friend and his son of the conclusions he had reached. “Boys, I realize that some of us are not going to finish this journey. Cherrie, I want you and Kermit to go on. You can get out. I will stop here.”

Millard concludes this epic story with an Epilogue that tells the sad end to the end of the ‘Great Lion’s’ life as well as the fate of his son and those that risked everything to travel into the great unknown.

I have read my fair share of books on Presidential history and the men that have led America from the hallowed halls of the White House. I can honestly report that none have been as revealing and interesting as Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey: The River of Doubt.

I cannot give a greater endorsement or recommend with more fervor this incredible account of TR’s final great adventure.

If you are seeking a gift for a friend or loved one (which includes yourself) or anyone who is interested in the amazing possibilities of the human spirit then run to your favorite book store, or Green Valley Book Fair, or Amazon site, and purchase Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey: The River of Doubt.

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