Wednesday, February 2, 2011

River of Doubt

Lately I have become a huge fan of Theodore Roosevelt.  I can't imagine any of our modern presidents being like him but I think it would do a world of good for the country if they had some of his qualities.

Through my reading I have, in an unplanned way, followed a great deal of his life.  Much of what I have read has overlapped but each author gives his or her own view and helps fill in the gaps.  The first book that I read, Mornings on Horseback, by one of my favorite authors, David McCullough, chronicles the early life of Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt.  Though a weak and sickly child, he transformed his mind and body, at the inspiration of his father, into a strong, rugged man physically and intellectually.  Today, in a world where excuses abound this is a refreshing story of what man can do when he puts his mind, and body, to it.

Last month I began reading The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.  I began reading this book primarily to become familiar with the United States Forest Service and the men who created it.  I was very much surprised to learn of the pivotal role that President Roosevelt played in forming and building the Service.  This book showed me that TR wasn't loved by everyone.  I was shocked to learn that in the early 1900's conservation was frowned upon by most of the country.  I found it ironic that the conservation movement was begun by this Republican President.

Recently I finished what so far has been the most gripping, heartbreaking, and spellbinding story of Theodore Roosevelt.  The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey chronicles his journey and quest for adventure on an, up to then, unchartered river deep in the Amazon Jungle.  The River of Doubt begins with Roosevelt's failed bid for a third term as President.  Even though he was loved by most of the country, he was rejected by his own party in this bid for re-election.  He soon became the leader of a third party, The Progressive Party, or Bull-Moose Party as it was commonly known.

Reeling from this loss and betrayal, he decided to challenge himself, as he often did, to conquer not only something unknown, but also his own depression that resulted from the loss.  The River of Doubt follows Roosevelt from a speaking tour in Brazil to the headwaters of the Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt) to its end in the Amazon River.  Along the way, Roosevelt, his son Kermit, Candido Rondon, the famed Brazilian explorer and officer, and many other men faced the perils of the river, the forest, and the frailty of humanity.  

What began as a scientific exploration to map and chronicle a never before navigated river quickly became a 2 month fight for survival.  The men faced bone, and canoe, crushing rapids in the river along with flesh eating fish and dangerous parasitic organisms.  The jungle on either side of the river didn't offer much help either.  Camouflaged in the lush green of the jungle were poisonous snakes and frogs, wild animals, and disease carrying mosquitoes.  To add to the danger, the expedition is followed through much of their journey by a tribe of native Indians, armed with poison arrows and concealed by the jungle, ready to end the journey down the river.  What began as a journey to explore the unknown and perhaps assuage the President's pride became the fight of his life and surly his darkest journey.

This book is not only an excellent story of the expedition but the author also weaves in a great deal of background information as well as scientific information that makes for an informative as well as entertaining read.  I highly recommend The River of Doubt!

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