Do you need a good book to read? Do you need a good book to
recommend to your book club? Do you want a book that will
keep you up reading half the night?
River of Doubt by Candice Millard is well-written, well-researched,
and a well-received book—a national bestseller and praised by the
New York Times, the Washington Post Book World, San Francisco
Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, etc, etc, etc. You know
it can’t be bad if all those folks made their way through it!
Candice Millard is a former editor of the National Geographic
Magazine—so you can be sure of good sound writing on the
subject of a group of men—headed by Teddy Roosevelt—going
to South America to explore an unknown river that was thought
to empty into the Amazon. This was back in 1913.
Beriberi—remember that from grade school studies? Yes, we’ll
meet up with beriberi, malaria, typhoid—as well as lots, no,
zillions of insects in the manner of gnats, sandflies, horseflies,
small stingless bees (that the Brazileans call “eye-lickers”) and
about one hundred different types of mosquitoes.
Sound like adventure to you? Add in crocodiles, alligators,
anacondas (which can weigh up to 500 pounds each) and
Go home! Give it up! I shout to them as they finally near
their destination to “descend” the strange river. They won’t
be able to turn back for they’re going downstream and it
would be too difficult to buck the rapids and current to
turn around and return the way they came . . .
Millard sets the stage for us with the stillness and serenity of
the jungle–the green, green vegetation everywhere. She knows
and tells us of the magnificent survival skills honed by the
animals, insects, even the trees of the jungle after thousands
of years in the constant quest for survival.
The planning of the trip has been ill planned and it
soon becomes clear that it is very possible for the food and
supplies to run out. The boats that they have are heavy and
awkward—not suited for running rapids and carrying heavy
loads of men and supplies. Hunting for fresh meat is just
about fruitless, and even the fish are elusive to their fishing
The dugout canoes they have are barely above the water–they
really are ON the river. Natives they meet (and don’t) are
a constant worry. And don’t ask about the pest, candiree,
which is a blood sucker that prefers the urethra.
Go home! I shout. But they plow on. Conditions become dire.
The trip takes from February to April. It is doubtful that
Teddy Roosevelt and his son, Kermit, can return alive.
Midst all this angst I begin to wonder about the Roosevelt
family in general, and this made nice side research trips
from my reading. Don’t you love a book that keeps you
My copy of the book had a few pages with old black and
white photos about the trip and that was interesting. Even if you
don’t read the book, you can google “River of Doubt youtube”
and find an old original 14 minute film by the Library of
Congress about the trip. It’s in two parts so google part 1
and then part 2. Kind of fun but not as good as reading the book.
(four out of five)
I think our book club on Tuesday night will have something
to talk about! We recently read another book by Ms Millard,
Destiny of the Republic and everyone liked that one so it
should be a good discussion. I’ll add a bit onto this post when
I have gone to club.
Added later: hands down favorite! good discussion!
Next month’s selection is The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
I’ll save a seat for you–third Tuesday of the month.