Martin's Must Reads: 'The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey'

Sep 3, 2019

“I don’t believe he can live through the night.” George Cherrie wrote in his diary in the spring of 1914. A tough and highly respected naturalist who had spent twenty-five years exploring the Amazon, Cherrie too often had watch helplessly as his companions succumbed to the lethal dangers of the jungle. Deep in the Brazilian rain forest, he recognized the approach of death when he saw it, and it now hung unmistakable over Theodore Roosevelt.”

I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and that’s the first paragraph of Candice Millard’s book The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. In 1914 after Roosevelt was defeated in his third party presidential candidate bid, he was looking for a new adventure. When he heard about an unexplored Amazon river, he set his sights on that and hired Candido Rondon to lead the expedition.

Rondon had spent the previous 25 years in the Amazon jungle installing telegraph poles. Roosevelt’s son Kermit went along to insure that his father would return from the adventure. The dangers were many -- rapids, unfriendly natives, deadly snakes and fish, disease bearing insects and, by the end of the journey, hunger, exhaustion and fear.

The journey began on February 27, 1914 with 22 men. Partway through the trip, Roosevelt cut his leg badly while trying to dislodge two of their precious dugouts from rapids rocks. From that point on, his health declined to the point that he  was convinced he should take his lethal dose of morphine and unburden the rest of the party.  The lasting effects of that journey caused his death five years later.

If you’re looking for a well researched, engrossing tale of a journey through the Amazon jungle, then you must read The River of Doubt by Candice Millard.