The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

4.1 167
by Candice Millard

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At once an incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, The River of Doubt is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing exploration of one of the most dangerous rivers on earth.

The River of Doubt—it is a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles…  See more details below


At once an incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, The River of Doubt is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing exploration of one of the most dangerous rivers on earth.

The River of Doubt—it is a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world. Indians armed with poison-tipped arrows haunt its shadows; piranhas glide through its waters; boulder-strewn rapids turn the river into a roiling cauldron.

After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many at the time refused to believe it. In the process, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever.

Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.

From the soaring beauty of the Amazon rain forest to the darkest night of Theodore Roosevelt’s life, here is Candice Millard’s dazzling debut.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews
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A year after Teddy Roosevelt suffered defeat in his 1912 run for the White House, the audacious adventurer determined to renew his broken spirit with an investigative trip to South America. What began as a relatively mundane float down previously mapped terrain, however, became a much more dangerous journey into the unknown -- an expedition down a locally feared tributary of the Amazon known as the "River of Doubt."

Millard's account of Roosevelt's unprecedented feat propels readers straight into the heart of the Amazon -- a place filled with hazards of every conceivable description. From vines, poisonous snakes, and piranhas to cannibals and duplicitous guides, Roosevelt was forced to bushwhack a path much more perilous than that of 20th-century politics, and faced unspeakable hardships. Poor planning led to improper food supplies and inadequate boats, and a succession of bow-breaking rapids meant days lugging supplies through the dense jungles.

Roosevelt and his fellow explorers faced constant illness and disease, fear of attack from hostile tribes, drowning, starvation, and even mutiny within their own ranks. A raging, flesh-eating infection that reached its peak at the most treacherous point in the journey brought Roosevelt himself to the brink of death. But the expedition's labors would forge a new map of the world as well as a previously unplumbed strength of character, necessary for survival. (Holiday 2005 Selection)

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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The line outside Madison Square Garden started to form at 5:30 p.m., just as an orange autumn sun was setting in New York City on Halloween Eve, 1912. The doors were not scheduled to open for another hour and a half, but the excitement surrounding the Progressive Party’s last major rally of the presidential campaign promised a packed house. The party was still in its infancy, fighting for a foothold in its first national election, but it had something that the Democrats had never had and the Republicans had lately lost, the star attraction that drew tens of thousands of people to the Garden that night: Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt, one of the most popular presidents in his nation’s history, had vowed never to run again after winning his second term in the White House in 1904. But now, just eight years later, he was not only running for a third term, he was, to the horror and outrage of his old Republican backers, running as a third-party candidate against Democrats and Republicans alike.

Roosevelt’s decision to abandon the Republican Party and run as a Progressive had been bitterly criticized, not just because he was muddying the political waters but because he still had a large and almost fanatically loyal following. Roosevelt was five feet eight inches tall, about average height for an American man in the early twentieth century, weighed more than two hundred pounds, and had a voice that sounded as if he had just taken a sip of helium, but his outsized personality made him unforgettable—and utterly irresistible. He delighted in leaning over the podium as though he were about to snatch his audience up by its collective collar; he talked fast, pounded his fists, waved his arms, and sent a current of electricity through the crowd. “Such unbounded energy and vitality impressed one like the perennial forces of nature,” the naturalist John Burroughs once wrote of Roosevelt. “When he came into the room it was as if a strong wind had blown the door open.”

Not surprisingly, Roosevelt was proving to be dangerous competition for the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, to say nothing of President William Howard Taft, the lackluster Republican incumbent whom Roosevelt had hand-picked to be his successor in the White House four years earlier. It was a bitterly contested race, and Roosevelt hoped that this rally, strategically scheduled just a week before election day, could help swing the vote in his favor.

Before the doors even opened, more than a hundred thousand people were swarming the sidewalks and choking the surrounding cobblestone streets. Men and boys nimbly wove their way through the crowd, boldly hawking tickets in plain sight of a hundred uniformed policemen. The scalpers had their work cut out for them selling tickets in the churning throng. Days earlier the Progressive Party, nicknamed the Bull Moose Party in honor of its tenacious leader, had posted a NO MORE TICKETS sign, but brokers and street-corner salesmen had continued to do a brisk business. Dollar seats went for as much as seven dollars—roughly $130 in today's money—and the priciest tickets in the house could set the buyer back as much as a hundred dollars. On the chaotic black market, however, even experienced con men could not be sure what they had actually bought. When Vincent Astor, son of financier John Jacob Astor, arrived at his box, he found it already occupied by George Graham Rice, lately of Blackswell's Island—then one of New York's grimmest penitentiaries. When the police escorted him out, Rice complained bitterly that he had paid ten dollars for the two choice seats.

More than two thousand people tried to make it into the arena by bypassing the line and driving to the gate in a hired carriage or one of Henry Ford's open–air Model T’s. But this tactic did not work for everyone. Even Roosevelt’s own sister Corinne was turned away at the gate.

“For some unexplained reason the pass which had been given to me that night for my motor was not accepted by the policeman in charge, and I, my husband, my son Monroe, and our friend Mrs. Parsons were obliged to take our places in the cheering, laughing, singing crowd,” she later wrote. “How it swayed and swung! how it throbbed with life and elation! how imbued it was with an earnest party ambition, and yet, with a deep and genuine religious fervor. Had I lived my whole life only for those fifteen minutes during which I marched toward the Garden already full to overflowing with my brother's adoring followers, I should have been content to do so.” Caught up in the moment, fifty-one-year-old Corinne finally made it into the arena by climbing a fire escape.

Theodore Roosevelt, the object of all the furor, had nearly as much trouble trying to reach Madison Square Garden as his sister. The police had blocked off Twenty-seventh Street from Madison to Fourth Avenue for his car, but when his black limousine turned onto Madison Avenue at nine-fifteen, the excitement burning all night flamed into hysteria. A New York Sun reporter marveled at the chaos as swarms of people rushed Roosevelt's car, “yelling their immortal souls out. They went through a battery of photographers, tried to sweep the cops off their feet, tangled, jammed and shoved into the throng.”

Roosevelt, a little stiff in his black suit, stepped out of the car, raised his hat to the crowd, and walked through a narrow, bucking pathway that the policemen had opened through the suffocating press of bodies. As Roosevelt passed by, his admirers “had their brief and delirious howls, their cries of greeting,” one reporter wrote. When he opened a door that led directly onto the speaker's platform, the arena seemed to expand with his very presence, and the people outside “had to step back and watch the walls of the big building ripple under the vocal pressure from within, like the accordion-pleated skirt of a dancer.”

Inside the auditorium, Edith Roosevelt, every inch the aristocrat with her softly cleft chin and long, elegant neck, was seated in a box above the fray when a mighty roar rose up from the audience, heralding her husband’s entrance. Four colossal American flags greeted Roosevelt, waving grandly from the girdered ceiling, and an entire, massive bull moose stood mounted on a pedestal and bathed in a white spotlight, its head raised high, its ears erect, as if about to charge.

Roosevelt, still famously energetic at fifty-four, greeted his admirers with characteristic vigor, pumping his left arm in the air like a windmill. His right arm, however, hung motionless at his side. The last time Roosevelt had given a speech—just two weeks earlier, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—he had been shot in the chest by a thirty–six–year–old New York bartender named John Schrank, a Bavarian immigrant who feared that Roosevelt's run for a third term was an effort to establish a monarchy in the United States. Incredibly, Roosevelt’s heavy army overcoat and the folded fifty-page manuscript and steel spectacle-case he carried in his right breast pocket had saved his life, but the bullet had plunged some five inches deep, lodging near his rib cage. That night, whether out of an earnest desire to deliver his message or merely an egotist's love of drama, Roosevelt had insisted on delivering his speech to a terrified and transfixed audience. His coat unbuttoned to reveal a bloodstained shirt, and his speech held high so that all could see the two sinister-looking holes made by the assailant's bullet, Roosevelt had shouted, “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose!”

Now, in Madison Square Garden as the boisterous cheering went on for forty-one minutes, Roosevelt still had one of Schrank's bullets in his chest. At 10:03 p.m., pounding on the flag-draped desk in front of him and nervously snapping his jaws, he finally convinced the crowd that he was in earnest, and the hall slowly quieted. Unaided by a loudspeaker, an invention that would revolutionize public speaking the following year, he began his speech. “Friends….” At the sound of his voice, the crowd erupted into a thunderous cheer that continued for two more minutes. When it tapered off, he began again. “My friends,” he said, “perhaps once in a generation …”Suddenly, from seats close to the platform, a clamor arose as policemen tried to push back several people who had forced their way into the hall. Bending forward, Roosevelt bellowed, “Keep those people quiet, please! Officers, be quiet!”

Then, in a voice that filled the auditorium, Theodore Roosevelt launched into the last great campaign speech of his political career: “Friends, perhaps once in a generation, perhaps not so often, there comes a chance for the people of a country to play their part wisely and fearlessly in some great battle of the age-long warfare for human rights.” He still had the old percussive rhythm, exploding his “p”s and “b”s with vigor, but his tone had lost the violence and his words the bitterness of the past. He did not attack his opponents—the coolly academic Wilson or the genial Taft. Instead, he talked in broad terms about character, moral strength, compassion, and responsibility. “We do not set greed against greed or hatred against hatred,” he thundered. “Our creed is one that bids us to be just to all, to feel sympathy for all, and to strive for an understanding of the needs of all. Our purpose is to smite down wrong.”

To the people in the hall, and to millions of Americans, Roosevelt was a hero, a leader, an icon. But even as he stood on the stage at Madison Square Garden, he knew that in six days he would lose not only the election but also this bright, unblinking spotlight. He would be reviled by many and then ignored by all, and that would be the worst death he could imagine.

“I know the American people,” he had said prophetically in 1910, upon returning to a hero’s welcome after an epic journey to Africa. “They have a way of erecting a triumphal arch, and after the Conquering Hero has passed beneath it he may expect to receive a shower of bricks on his back at any moment.”

On election day, November 5, 1912, Roosevelt’s grim expectations about his candidacy were realized in full. Woodrow Wilson took the White House in a landslide victory, winning 2.2 million more votes than Roosevelt out of the fifteen million cast. Roosevelt did not lose alone, however. He brought Taft, the incumbent Republican president, down with him. Only three and a half million Americans had voted for Taft, some six hundred thousand fewer than voted for Roosevelt and nearly three million fewer than Wilson. The Socialist candidate, Eugene V. Debs, pulled in over nine hundred thousand votes, more than twice the number he had received during his presidential run four years earlier.

For Roosevelt, who was not used to losing, even his victory over Taft was cold comfort. He had long ago lost his respect for the three-hundred-pound president, dismissing him as “a flubdub with a streak of the second-rate and the common in him.” Besides, everyone knew that Taft hadn't really been in the race from the beginning. Before the Republican convention, even Taft's own wife, the fiercely ambitious Nellie, had told him, “I suppose you will have to fight Mr. Roosevelt for the nomination, and if you get it he will defeat you.”

She was right on both counts. Roosevelt had at first vied for the Republican nomination, and when party bosses ensured Taft’s victory, he had struck back by ensuring their defeat in the general election. As a third-party candidate, Roosevelt could not count on winning, but he could certainly spoil. When backed by a united Republican Party in his earlier election bids, Roosevelt had swept easily to victory over the Democrats. By turning his enormous popularity against his former party, however, he merely split the Republican vote and handed the election to Wilson--a widely predicted result that, when it came to pass, provoked bitter criticism of his tactics. “Roosevelt goes down to personal and richly deserved defeat,” spat an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “But he has the satisfaction of knowing that by giving vent to his insatiate ambition and deplorable greed for power he has elevated the democratic party to the control of the nation.”

Roosevelt had never been willing to share his private pain with the public. In a formal statement, he announced, "I accept the result with entire good humor and contentment." In private, however, he admitted to being surprised and shaken by the scope of his crushing defeat. “There is no use disguising the fact that the defeat at the polls is overwhelming,” he wrote to his friend the British military attache Arthur Hamilton Lee. “I had expected defeat, but I had expected that we would make a better showing… I try not to think of the damage to myself personally.”

The Republican Party’s Old Guard, once a bastion of Roosevelt’s friends and backers, held him responsible for the debacle that had put a Democrat in the White House for the first time in sixteen years. Before the Republican convention, they had assured Roosevelt that if he would only accept the party's decision to let Taft run for a second term in 1912, they would happily hand him the nomination four years later. But his injured pride and his passion for what he believed to be a battle against the nation's great injustices had driven him out of the fold. “Many of his critics could account for his leaving the Republican Party and heading another, only on the theory that he was moved by a desire for revenge,” William Roscoe Thayer, Roosevelt's friend and one of his earliest biographers, wrote in 1919. “If he could not rule he would ruin. The old allegation that he must be crazy was of course revived.”

Roosevelt spent that winter hunkered down at Sagamore Hill with his wife and their younger daughter, Ethel. He took walks with Edith, answered letters, and worked quietly in his book–lined study. He had few interruptions.

“The telephone, which had rung like sleigh–bells all day and half the night, was silent,” wrote Roosevelt’s young literary friend and eventual biographer Hermann Hagedorn. “The North Shore neighbors who, in the old days, had flocked to Sagamore at every opportunity, on horseback or in their high fancy traps, did not drive their new shining motor-cars up the new, hard-surfaced road the Roosevelts had put in the year before. The Colonel was outside the pale. He had done the unforgivable thing—he had ‘turned against his class.’ ”

Friends and colleagues who had once competed for Roosevelt's attention now shunned him. Roosevelt, like his wife, had been born into New York’s highest society. From childhood, he had been not only accepted but admired and undoubtedly envied as a Roosevelt, the older son of a wealthy and respected man. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he had been a member of the exclusive and unapologetically elitist Porcellian Club. During the Spanish-American War, he had been glorified as a courageous colonel of his own regiment—Roosevelt's Rough Riders. And as president of the United States for nearly eight years, he had been at the apex of power and prestige. Now, for the first time in his life, he was a pariah, and he was painfully aware of it.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 167 reviews.
davedDD More than 1 year ago
River of Doubt is a great read. It's a look into a day when men still did exceptional things, without thought of their safety. truely a lookinto the later life of one of America's greatest men.
Judesd More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful exciting description of an adventure by one of our most famous presidents. If you get excited about real life exploration that is descriptive detail that keeps you wanting to read on and on then read this book. I was excited about the writing of Candice Millard and disappointed to not find any other books by her.
BrianKGlass More than 1 year ago
I've been a longtime admirer of Teddy Roosevelt so when this book was originally published I got it right away. I started reading it but something happened and for no particular reason I stopped after a few chapters. I found that I wasn't as enthusiastic about it as I thought I would be. So for several years it set on my book shelf and I promised I would go back and finish it someday. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. This book has a lot of interesting information, everything from Roosevelt family history to politics of the era and the story of the Amazon all rolled into a pretty rousing adventure tale. If there is one failing of the book it is the lack of atmosphere. What I mean by this is that while the author writes of the dire circumstances of the expedition's plight the writing can be a little too sterile to convey that emotionally. It's one thing to be told of the crew's starvation but I didn't necessarily feel like I was there. It's hard to quantify and it is not a major problem, the writing is very well done. I like the insight into Roosevelt's personality and ideals. If there is one thing the author conveyed in no uncertain terms it is the admiration and sense of awe that the former President instilled in those around him. I love this time frame in US and world history and this jungle safari fantasy come to life. It was packed full of great information and little bits of detail that added quite a bit to the story. The historic photos also added a lot. For me it was a fast and enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you like adventure books or President Roosevelt, this is an excellent book. I normally do not read adventure books but I couldn't put this down. Literally, I couldn't wait to find out what was around the next curve in the river.
Lisa52 More than 1 year ago
A wonderful true adventure story - I never knew about this expedition - wha an amazing and courageous group of explorers
Gary51 More than 1 year ago
This is a biography about Theodore Roosevelt¿s darkest journey down the River of Doubt (Rio da DÚvida) which is the name of the 1000 mile river that is a tributary to the Amazon River. The River of Doubt is and uncharted tributary that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world.
Candice writes ¿Throughout his life, Roosevelt had turned to intense physical exertion as means of overcoming setbacks and sorrow, and he had come to the Amazon in search of that same hard absolution.¿
After serving two terms as president Roosevelt took a safari to Africa for a year. He brought back several things that stocked the newly formed Natural history museum in Washington D.C. To date the collection of things he brought back and contributed is more than anyone else has.
This adventure takes place after Roosevelt failed campaign for an unprecedented third term in the White House in which Roosevelt founded the Progressive Party and ran on its ticket.
I particularly enjoyed Candice Millard¿s style of writing, as it made me feel as if I was right there with the expedition, exploring and traveling down and uncharted river in the tropics, with the beauty of the surroundings, the treacherousness of the rapids of the river, and a very dangerous and volatile Indian tribe that would just as soon kill you with poison arrows as to look at you.
Theodore Roosevelt is portrayed as the author states as a person with ¿puritanical morals.¿ Throughout this expedition he gave of his food to others that were with him even when he was to sick and weak to do so.
The descriptions of botanical and medical nature are quite thorough; as are the parasites and trials they went through. Due to lack of food starvation was one among many of the dangers they faced.
The research that Candice did in writing this book was not only quite thorough but also it would seem went above and beyond the call of duty to insure the accuracy of the events.
Due to the adventure I found the book to be fast moving as it held my interest throughout, as a result I would highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an overall fascinating account of great adventure and triumph against the odds. I appreciated lack of numbered annotations in the text, which kept the story flowing. The author describes the rain forest and its inhabitants very well. I felt I was being led to believe some disaster would come of the relationship of Kermit and Belle, as our attention was constantly turned to it through his letters to her. The dugouts, for the most part, did get the party a long way down the rapids of the river and were easily traded to the rubber men, so why did I get the feeling they were to lead to absolute disaster? I would read this again in a minute, despite the somewhat melodramatic telling of a story that needed no embellishment. But first, I want to find a good read on Colonel Rondon!
WM_D More than 1 year ago
Never before have I ever read history described in such detail. Candice Millard brought the rain forest alive, with her words. The research was great. History lesson with a twist of geography and made me like it. Wow I can't say enough about this book.
BubbaMo More than 1 year ago
I found this to be a wonderful documentation of an aspect of President Roosevelt's life I had never learned from history classes. Both entertaining and educational.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not as compelling as The Lost City of Z. This book does illuminate the arrogance of Roosevelt and his pals.
swmreader More than 1 year ago
Great book for anyone looking for a story of great adventure, some history and discovery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a slow reader but plowed through this book. Good story. Good charecter detail. Good adventure. Great read. Good historical story. Might learn a little too. Highly recommended.
AJ_Wheat More than 1 year ago
Just when you thought you couldn't pack in one more amazing, adventurous detail from Theodore Roosevelt's remarkable life - then he takes you down the River of Doubt! I had read several books on TR's remarkable life and had seen mention of his expedition in South America, but in reading Candice Millard's excellent book - you glimpse something of the essence of this great man. He suffered a heart-breaking loss in his Progressive Party presidential loss of 1912. He was depressed and felt somewhat lost for what his life would be. So in 1913, at age 54, Roosevelt and his son Kermit struck out on a daring expedition deep into the Amazon jungle of Brazil to find a fabled uncharted river. You can see the frustration being exercised out of TR as they press through difficult challenges and hardships to find the river. Then you see the lion personality of the man humbled by what became a journey for survival - navigating the River of Doubt. The name of the river (The River of Doubt) becomes symbolic for where Roosevelt is in his personal life at that time. This is a story of boldness and courage, but also the story of a man acting out on his personal crisis - seeking catharsis and rejuvenation. In the end... you'll have to read whether he emerges revived or aged from this incredible journey. Candice Millard's writing style is picturesque and engaging. Her descriptions of the Amazon's beauty and brutality are unforgettable. But most importantly - she shows us the inner workings of an American icon fighting the fact that his star was falling.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amazingly detailed research and tightly written. A great portrait of Roosevelt and his son Kermit.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Anonymous 8 months ago
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Anonymous 9 months ago
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Anonymous 9 months ago
ann-meyer More than 1 year ago
One of my all-time favorite books as is Candice Millard's more recent - Destiny of the Republic.  I could not put this one down!!!!!!   It is a story of one of our most adventurous presidents and his ill-prepared trip down the Amazon after his presidency.    I have shared this book with many, many people (owned three copies over the years) and have received nothing but raves from them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book two to three years ago and read the first 30 pages or so and just could not get into it. So it sat in my library. Finally after watching "The Roosevelts " on PBS, I said alright read that book. I just finished and it most certainly picks up once the journey begins. Not the greatest book, but full of interesting facts. Just be prepared to take a while with it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By the time I was done reading this book, I had made a list of 50 things I wanted to do more research on. This is a fantastic story! And it's great to learn some not very well known yet important things about a very well known and important American historical figure. If you read a review that says reader was bored, know that the review came from a intensely boring person!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Res 1: Main camp Res 2: Map and rules Res 3: Bios Res 4: Chat room Res 5: Leader's den (talk to me in private, one at a time please) Res 6: Deputy den Res 7: Med den Res 8: Nursery Res 9: Warriors den Res 10: Apperentice den Res 11: Elder's den Res 12: Fresh kill pile Res 13: Hunting ground Res 14: Forest Res 15: Lake Rules: no cussing. No mating. Get a private book. Simple.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago