Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency ended in 1912 after he was defeated in the election by Woodrow Wilson. When faced with negative emotions and stress such as this, Roosevelt turned to nature to take his mind off whatever was happening at home. His retreats into nature often involved daring expeditions into mysterious and unexplored locations around the world.
In 2005, Candice Millard wrote The River of Doubt, the story of Roosevelt’s journey through the most unknown regions of the Amazon. Roosevelt set out with a team of explorers to journey down a river known at the time as the River of Doubt, today called the Roosevelt River. His team of explorers included his son, Kermit, and, most important, Cândido Rondon, the Brazilian who discovered the River of Doubt. Additionally, the team had many other people eager to take this daring trip.
Throughout the journey the team encountered every hardship and challenge imaginable. The rainforest was filled with disease-carrying plants and animals, exposing the men to life-threatening illnesses, especially malaria. Rough waters often increased the risk of drowning, physical injury, and damage to or loss of supplies. Perhaps more frightening than drowning in these waters, though, were the animals inhabiting the river, especially the fierce piranha and bizarre candiru fish (you’ll for sure think twice about urinating in a river after reading about the candiru fish). Among the greatest obstacles faced by Roosevelt and the team were the hostile tribes of indigenous people native to Brazil, who had had little to no contact with white people at the time. They inhabited the rainforest surrounding the River of Doubt, armed with poisonous arrows, and the explorers had to avoid attacks throughout the entire expedition.
This only scratches the surface of the whole story. Battling disease, murder, poisonous arrows, and loss of supplies was just a part of this bold expedition into the Amazon. It is such a gripping story that you could very well find yourself finished with it in a couple of days. It is also easy to forget that this is a nonfiction book! The River of Doubt is an entertaining introduction to the second life of the 26th president of the United States. —Aaron Katzman ’22
First edition cover: Doubleday (a division of Random House, Inc.) and Candice Millard