The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...
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The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

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Overview

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

From Barnes & Noble
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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)
Shah Tahir
Roosevelt pulled through, and The River of Doubt reminds one of the man himself -- thorough, robust, extremely knowledgeable and triumphant. There are far too many books in which a travel writer follows in the footsteps of his or her hero -- and there are far too few books like this, in which an author who has spent time and energy ferreting out material from archival sources weaves it into a truly gripping tale.
— The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
The River of Doubt is not an ordinary biography. Its author, Candice Millard, is a credible historian as well as a former writer and editor for National Geographic. She pays keen attention to nature, human and otherwise, in this vigorous, critter-filled account of Roosevelt's last epic journey: a white-water voyage through the Brazilian rain forest and the deep unknown.
— The New York Times
Bruce Barcott
Although The River of Doubt sheds new light on one of the more exciting years in Theodore Roosevelt's life, bookstore clerks ought not to shelve it under biography. In her debut book, Millard, a former writer and editor for National Geographic, combines high adventure well told with dazzling passages of nature writing that illuminate the darkest, steamiest sections of the Amazon forest.
— The New York Times Sunday Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Ferrone's gravelly, stentorian, hushed voice sounds downright presidential in reading the story of this little-known event from ex-Commander-in-Chief Theodore Roosevelt's postpolitical life. After losing his third-party run for the 1912 presidential election, Roosevelt agreed to accompany a Brazilian explorer on a trip along the Amazon, hoping to map the river's uncharted path. Expecting an uneventful trip, Roosevelt and his party barely managed to escape with their lives. Ferrone adopts a strange tone when providing Roosevelt's voice, attempting to echo his famously brusque boom and sounding oddly strangled in the process. His reading is on steadier ground in conveying the sweep of Millard's prose, uniting the personal drama of the Roosevelt family with the naturalist investigations of the voyage. Ferrone carries the narrative along on the waves of his own raspy, gruff instrument, shuttling readers through Millard's book with a steely self-assurance reminiscent of its subject. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday hardcover (Reviews, July 11). (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Whenever fate dealt him a blow, Theodore Roosevelt struck back by taking on a new physical challenge. Millard, formerly with National Geographic, charts how TR dealt with his "third term" loss for the White House in 1912: he accepted a lecture invation to Buenos Aires and followed it with a dangerous expedition deep into the Amazon in search of a remote tributary known as the River of Doubt. Millard's book has four central characters, each vividly brought to life: the 55-year-old ex-president; the celebrated Brazilian explorer Col. Candido Rondon; TR's 24-year-old second son, Kermit; and the Amazon rain forest itself, which nearly doomed the two dozen members of the expedition. From the outset, the three men had different goals. For TR it was his "last chance to be a boy" and to become a genuine explorer, for Rondo it was an opportunity to survey properly the river he had discovered in 1909, and for Kermit it was a duty to his mother, who worried about her aging husband. The expedition encompassed miles of impassable rapids, loss of canoes and supplies, malaria, near-starvation, cannibalistic Indians, deadly snakes and insects, and a murderous porter. Millard turns this incredible story into one that easily matches an Indiana Jones screen adventure. Essential.-William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The 26th U.S. president, failing re-election, has an adventure that nearly kills him. In an admirable debut, historian Millard records Theodore Roosevelt's exploration of a hitherto uncharted river in the heart of the Mato Grosso. A confluence of circumstances, including a South American speaking tour and the eagerness of others to investigate the Amazonian headwaters, brought Teddy, aged 55 and still bold and plucky, to Brazil, then largely unmapped and unknown. When the opportunity came to change a planned route to follow the uncharted course of the ominously named River of Doubt, the former chief executive seized it eagerly. And so, with devoted son Kermit and truly intrepid Brazilian co-commander Candido Rondon, along with a band of hardy recruits, the party plunged into the fierce, fecund jungle and its unknown dangers. (It's an exploit that standard TR biographies generally treat lightly, if at all). With heavy, useless equipment and inappropriate provisions, the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition ventured into the luxuriant wilderness where every life form threatened. There were pit vipers, piranhas and tiny fish that attack where a man is most vulnerable. There were poisonous plants, malevolent insect swarms and native warriors, ever present and never seen. The beefy former president must have embodied some prime cuts for the cannibals as he sat in his canoe. Eventually Colonel Roosevelt was downed by injury and fever. He ended his journey emaciated at three-quarters of the weight he started with on the watercourse now found in atlases as the Roosevelt River. Millard tells the story wonderfully, marshaling ecology, geography, human and natural history to tell the tale of the jungleprimeval, of bravery and privation, determination and murder in the ranks as cowboy Roosevelt survived the Indians of the Amazon. Teddy Roosevelt's tropical adventure, splendidly related.
From the Publisher
“A rich, dramatic tale that ranges from the personal to the literally earth-shaking.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“[A] fine account . . . There are far too many books in which a travel writer follows in the footsteps of his or her hero—and there are far too few books like this, in which an author who has spent time and energy ferreting out material from archival sources weaves it into a gripping tale.” —The Washington Post

“[N]o frills, high-adventure writing . . . Millard’s sober account is as claustrophobic as a walk through the densest jungle, and as full of vigor as Roosevelt himself.”
Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307575081
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/16/2009
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 16,231
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

CANDICE MILLARD is a former writer and editor at National Geographic magazine. She lives in Kansas City.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Defeat

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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Introduction

The introduction, discussion questions, and author bio that follow are intended to enhance your group’s discussion about Candice Millard’s The River of Doubt. We hope that they will provide useful ways of thinking and talking about the book. For more information, visit BroadwayBooks.com.

For free supplementary materials including information on book groups, suggestions for further reading, chances to win books, phone-in author appearances, and much more, e-mail BroadwayReads@RandomHouse.com.

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Foreword

1. Chapter one, “Defeat,” depicts dramatic scenes from Roosevelt’s final election. What parallels exist between a risky political career and a risky Rain Forest expedition? What enabled him to survive both?

2. Compare Rondon’s and Roosevelt’s leadership styles. In what ways did these co-commanders complement each other? In what ways were they at odds?

3. Discuss the very concept of survival as it shapes The River of Doubt. In choosing provisions, what items did Roosevelt’s team consider necessary for survival? What aspects of survival (greater quantities of dry, mildew-free clothes, for example) did they overlook? What intangibles (especially in terms of emotions) are also necessary for such an expedition?

4. What aspects of humanity were represented by the various personalities in the group, ranging from exploitive Father Zahm and the rational Cherrie to the volatile Julio? Can such varied people coexist? How did you react to Roosevelt’s belief that it was necessary for Julio to be found and shot after he murdered one of the team members?

5. Do any contemporary American politicians possess Roosevelt’s public-speaking style? Why did he believe it was important to debate the former Chilean ambassador and deliver speeches refuting the protestors there?

6. Discuss the extraordinary medical history included in The River of Doubt. How was Roosevelt able to survive so much in his lifetime–from gunshot and disease to a train wreck–with only rudimentary medical care? What aspects of modern medicine would have made his expedition safer? Would safer conditions have undermined thethrill?

7. What did you discover about the intricate, sometimes surreal ecology and geography of the Rain Forest itself? What is the significance of the ancient history of South America’s formation, such as the plate tectonics that sculpted the Andes Mountains? What was it like to read descriptions of a region where few humans have adapted to the environment? Why is it important to preserve rather than develop these ecosystems?

8. In the end, what do you believe Roosevelt’s true missions were in this expedition? What was revealed about the nature of some geographic explorers when his success was met with deep skepticism? What motivates any explorer–from ancient nomads to NASA scientists? What separates Roosevelt’s brand of adventurousness from that of contestants on television shows such as “Survivor”?

9. Share your observations about the Cinta Larga, ranging from nutrition and family life to warfare. Does their self-sufficiency make them noble?

10. What did you discover about Roosevelt’s parenting style? Is his approach–particularly his insistence that his children learn to conquer rather than avoid obstacles–prevalent in many American schools today?

11. Do you believe that Kermit’s later despondency, which eventually drove him to suicide, was related more to genetics or to his life’s circumstances? Did his father expect too much of him? How did their relationship shift throughout this father-son expedition? How would you have fared on a similar mission with your mother or father?

12. How might Roosevelt respond to current concerns about the environment and climate change? How might he and his Progressive “Bull Moose” Party have fared in recent elections?

13. What separates The River of Doubt from other presidential narratives you have read? What writing techniques enabled the author to weave together science, travelogue, and history? What do the Notes and Acknowledgments sections reveal about her research techniques? If someone were to write a biography of you, what narratives could be constructed from your collection of letters and other memorabilia?

14. Discuss the historical context of Roosevelt’s trip, in terms not only of South American history but other aspects of world history from this time period, such as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912? Would World War I have unfolded differently if Roosevelt had defeated Wilson?

15. How were the first chapters of Roosevelt’s life, which were marked by poor health, resolved by this final South American chapter? Do his triumphs of endurance, from boxing at Harvard to valiant service during the Spanish-American War, form a timeline of progressively more dangerous challenges throughout his life? If so, did he finally meet his match with The River of Doubt? Why do you believe this expedition was, until now, less well known than his other triumphs?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Chapter one, “Defeat,” depicts dramatic scenes from Roosevelt’s final election. What parallels exist between a risky political career and a risky Rain Forest expedition? What enabled him to survive both?

2. Compare Rondon’s and Roosevelt’s leadership styles. In what ways did these co-commanders complement each other? In what ways were they at odds?

3. Discuss the very concept of survival as it shapes The River of Doubt. In choosing provisions, what items did Roosevelt’s team consider necessary for survival? What aspects of survival (greater quantities of dry, mildew-free clothes, for example) did they overlook? What intangibles (especially in terms of emotions) are also necessary for such an expedition?

4. What aspects of humanity were represented by the various personalities in the group, ranging from exploitive Father Zahm and the rational Cherrie to the volatile Julio? Can such varied people coexist? How did you react to Roosevelt’s belief that it was necessary for Julio to be found and shot after he murdered one of the team members?

5. Do any contemporary American politicians possess Roosevelt’s public-speaking style? Why did he believe it was important to debate the former Chilean ambassador and deliver speeches refuting the protestors there?

6. Discuss the extraordinary medical history included in The River of Doubt. How was Roosevelt able to survive so much in his lifetime–from gunshot and disease to a train wreck–with only rudimentary medical care? What aspects of modern medicine would have made his expedition safer? Would safer conditions have undermined the thrill?

7. What did you discover about the intricate, sometimes surreal ecology and geography of the Rain Forest itself? What is the significance of the ancient history of South America’s formation, such as the plate tectonics that sculpted the Andes Mountains? What was it like to read descriptions of a region where few humans have adapted to the environment? Why is it important to preserve rather than develop these ecosystems?

8. In the end, what do you believe Roosevelt’s true missions were in this expedition? What was revealed about the nature of some geographic explorers when his success was met with deep skepticism? What motivates any explorer–from ancient nomads to NASA scientists? What separates Roosevelt’s brand of adventurousness from that of contestants on television shows such as “Survivor”?

9. Share your observations about the Cinta Larga, ranging from nutrition and family life to warfare. Does their self-sufficiency make them noble?

10. What did you discover about Roosevelt’s parenting style? Is his approach–particularly his insistence that his children learn to conquer rather than avoid obstacles–prevalent in many American schools today?

11. Do you believe that Kermit’s later despondency, which eventually drove him to suicide, was related more to genetics or to his life’s circumstances? Did his father expect too much of him? How did their relationship shift throughout this father-son expedition? How would you have fared on a similar mission with your mother or father?

12. How might Roosevelt respond to current concerns about the environment and climate change? How might he and his Progressive “Bull Moose” Party have fared in recent elections?

13. What separates The River of Doubt from other presidential narratives you have read? What writing techniques enabled the author to weave together science, travelogue, and history? What do the Notes and Acknowledgments sections reveal about her research techniques? If someone were to write a biography of you, what narratives could be constructed from your collection of letters and other memorabilia?

14. Discuss the historical context of Roosevelt’s trip, in terms not only of South American history but other aspects of world history from this time period, such as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912? Would World War I have unfolded differently if Roosevelt had defeated Wilson?

15. How were the first chapters of Roosevelt’s life, which were marked by poor health, resolved by this final South American chapter? Do his triumphs of endurance, from boxing at Harvard to valiant service during the Spanish-American War, form a timeline of progressively more dangerous challenges throughout his life? If so, did he finally meet his match with The River of Doubt? Why do you believe this expedition was, until now, less well known than his other triumphs?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 163 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 21, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Read

    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.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 9, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    River Of Doubt book review

    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.<BR/>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.¿ <BR/>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.<BR/>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.<BR/>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.<BR/> 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.<BR/> 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.<BR/> 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.<BR/> 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.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2009

    An education course in history, geography, biology, exploration, team efforts, and unique balance.

    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.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2007

    A gripping, if somewhat melodramatic tale

    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!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I've been a longtime admirer of Teddy Roosevelt so when this boo

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

    Great, exciting read

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Read!

    A wonderful true adventure story - I never knew about this expedition - wha an amazing and courageous group of explorers

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent read

    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.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 21, 2010

    Don't bother

    There are some passages which are interesting here, but I find myself pulling my hair out as I read chapter after chapter about another portage, another loss of supplies, another description of despair. It feels like one is stuck in the back seat of a car and asking, "are we there yet??"
    I understand why other historians did not give this expedition much attention.

    2 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2007

    Amazing

    Amazingly detailed research and tightly written. A great portrait of Roosevelt and his son Kermit.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 15, 2011

    Great read!!! Candice Millard Brought History Alive in this Book!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Enjoyable story of advenure.

    Great book for anyone looking for a story of great adventure, some history and discovery.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2010

    GREAT BOOK

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Candice Millard, An Exceptional Writer

    The extraordinary life of Theodore Roosevelt is exceeded in this book solely by the excellent writing skills of the author. I've yet to finish the book and yet feel competent to report that the writing exceeds my greatest expectations for a knowledgeable, enthralling story of this exploratory adventure. The author weaves the most delicate web of intrigue and yet progresses effortlessly along the tale's path. Highest regards for and congratulations to the author.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2014

    Forestclan map and rules

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2014

    Riverclan rules

    NO INAPPROPIATE LANGUAGE OR ACTIONS NO GODMODDING RP LIKE THE WARRIORS SERIES FOLLOW THE WARRIOR CODE SUGGESTIONS AND OPINIONS ARE TO BE TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2014

    Something's not right

    I'll state right up front that I haven't read this yet although I have it in my library so I may be speaking out of turn. If I'm wrong, I'll gladly take this comment down.
    The premise of this book seems to be that T.R. goes on his Amazonian adventure as a result of a failed bid for a third term as President of the U.S. However, Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book "The Bully Pulpit" about the relationship between T.R. and William Howard Taft categorically states on numerous occasions that T.R. declined to run for a third term! He announced publicly after winning his second term that he would not run. He made another public announcement after he convinced his friend Taft to run in 1912. When it looked like public support might give T.R. the nomination over Taft, he made another announcement that if he were nominated, he would decline!
    This is not to say that he didn't have misgivings and regrets about not running. He believed that he had a lot more to accomplish and he LOVED being President. However, he thought that a third term would possibly destroy the Republican Party he loved so dearly due to the rift between the conservative and progressive factions of the party. He also believed that Taft was uniquely qualified to carry on the policies he had set in motion.
    Why is this important? If the stated motivation for this adventure is wrong, what else might be?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2014

    It was a fascinating book.  Good questions for discussion groups

    It was a fascinating book.  Good questions for discussion groups also.  4 stars

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2014

    Highly recommend

    This was a fascinating account of not only the expedition itself, but of the man Theodore Roosevelt. I was astonished at the man's endurance and character. We need more Americans like him.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 31, 2013

    2 people (HJW and Toby MK) gave it one star, but gave it a very

    2 people (HJW and Toby MK) gave it one star, but gave it a very positive review.
    1 person (Anonymous) gave it 1 star - 5 times - with no explanation. Clearly trying to lower the book's average.

    People are abusing the review process!!!!!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 163 Customer Reviews

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