Thursday, September 05, 2013

“The River of Doubt” by Candice Millard – Presidential Vacation

River of Doubt by Candice Millard - book cover
In 1912 came the most humiliating and dreadful day, at least so far, in the life of well-known American president, hero, and general badass, Theodore Roosevelt; he lost the election more convincingly than he could have ever imagined. In order to set his sights away from such a stunning defeat, he decided to do what any other person would: he set out to explore a dangerous and unmapped part of the Amazon, alongside his son, Kermit, a few crewmen, and a famous Brazilian explorer, Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon.

The way through the Amazon was certainly far from being easy, as Roosevelt and his group encountered murderous Indians, betrayal, starvation, treacherous rapids, rampant disease, and perhaps even more devastatingly, a lack of hope. River of Doubt by Candice Mallard is a narrative which recounts those events as they were later chronicled, and the author is only sprucing things up superficially to make this into a story rather than a historical document. Now, the story is more than a hundred years old at this point, and unfortunately there is no real way of knowing whether all the facts we dispose of are correct, so I’d say that if there is any embellishment or lack of accuracy, it ought to be forgiven.

Moving on, I found the story to be extraordinary in many aspects, with the first one being that this is what a former president did on his post-defeat vacation. It truly tells the tale of an exceptional man who has certainly experienced more during this trip than many of us will during our lifetimes. All the hurdles he had to overcome and suffer through were described vividly and in great detail, helping to mold Roosevelt’s larger-than-life persona and bringing him back to life.

All things considered, regardless of whether this story is a work of fiction or a completely accurate retelling, I found River of Doubt to be an exceptional work of writing, showing us just what the human soul can really endure and why life itself is perhaps the best teacher there is. The characters are very believable and realistic, many of them having interesting background stories which add more layers of depth to the story. I’m sure that most of you will find a few of them to even be relatable on some level.

River of Doubt is perhaps one of the best debut novels I have had the pleasure to read, and I suggest anybody interested in Theodore Roosevelt or harrowing explorations through the jungle give this novel a shot.

Candice Millard (1968) - author

Candice Millard

Personal site

Candice Millard is a journalist and writer of American origin and once served as a writer and editor for National Geographic. Her book The River of Doubt, exploring Theodore Roosevelt's venture into the Amazonian Rainforest in 1913 and 1914, became a bestseller, as did her second book, Destiny to the Republic. In 2012 she was awarded the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime Book, as well as the 34th Thorpe Menn Award.

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