Sunday, September 18, 2016

682 (2016 #37). The River of Doubt

by  Candice Millard

Wow!  What a story!

I'm not as familiar with former U. S. president Theodore Roosevelt as I probably should be.  From what I do know of the Rough Rider Bull Moose naturalist, the fact that he journeyed down an unexplored Amazon River tributary is not surprising.  What is surprising - after reading this book - is that he survived.

A last-minute decision to explore the unknown Rio da Dúvida (the River of Doubt, today's Rio Roosevelt) combined with poor planning by expedition members unfamiliar with the area, nearly spelled disaster.  Roosevelt's team included his son Kermit, the Brazilian explorer Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, American naturalist George Cherrie, and numerous Brazilian "camaradas" who did all the heavy work.  They battled insects, excessive rain, rapids, unmanageable dugouts, disease, insufficient supplies (and the inexplicable carrying of unnecessary gear), near starvation, the threat of attack by animals and natives, and even death among their ranks.

This was a perfect topic for the first book by Candice Millard (who has a fabulous three-screen setup for her work computer), a former writer and editor for National Geographic.  She weaves in information about the flora and fauna of the Amazon basin and the natural and political history of the area.  Even better, she writes well, and the story flows and compels the reader.

The book is well-researched:  its 353 pages of text are followed by 38-plus pages of endnotes, eight pages each of bibliography and index, and photo credits for 16 pages of photo inserts.  There are maps on the end pages - it would be helpful though if they were larger.

Since the publication of this book, Millard has written one about the assassination of U. S. President James Garfield, and her third book, about Winston Churchill, will be published on Tuesday, September 20.  I plan to read them all, and anything else she writes.  She ranks up there with Erik Larson for narrative nonfiction.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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