The River of Doubt Book Summary - The River of Doubt Book explained in key points
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The River of Doubt summary

Candice Millard

Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

4 (11 ratings)
16 mins

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The River of Doubt by Candice Millard is a gripping account of Theodore Roosevelt's perilous journey through the uncharted Amazon rainforest. It delves into the physical and mental challenges faced by the expedition team and the profound impact it had on Roosevelt's life.

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    The River of Doubt
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    From political despair to Amazonian quest: Roosevelt's pursuit of redemption

    Theodore Roosevelt. Once a formidable figure in American politics, he encountered a bitter blow in the 1912 presidential election. Defeated by Woodrow Wilson, he felt a deep sense of betrayal from his own Republican Party – his ambitious move to establish the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party had unintentionally facilitated Wilson's ascent to power. 

    This setback was more than just a professional loss for Roosevelt; it left him with a personal void inside. In the past, he’d always responded to adversity by seeking refuge in physical challenges. And this time was no different. After his political defeat, a physical challenge was exactly what he needed.

    In the midst of this turmoil, an opportunity emerged. In February 1913, an Argentinean museum extended an invitation for Roosevelt to deliver a series of lectures – for a lucrative fee of $13,000. This wasn't just a chance for academic discourse; it was a ticket to adventure. On top of that, it was also a way to rekindle his relationship with his son, Kermit, in Brazil as well as rekindle Roosevelt's passion for natural science. The Amazon, with its sprawling, untamed wilderness, called out to him. It promised uncharted territories and, for Roosevelt, potentially a shot at personal redemption.

    However, for an expedition of this magnitude, Roosevelt's personal involvement in its planning seemed unusually restrained. He delegated the logistical intricacies to Father Zahm, a priest from Notre Dame University with a budding explorer's ambition. But some of Zahm's decisions were questionable. The inclusion of Anthony Fiala, an explorer previously embroiled in a disastrous Arctic mission, raised many eyebrows. Preparations became further strained with disputes – particularly over the choice of boats – with camps divided between the merits of nimble canoes and robust motorboats.

    Recognizing the inherent dangers of the journey and valuing Roosevelt's stature, the sponsoring museum took proactive measures. They inducted experienced explorers, George Cherrie and Leo Miller, into the team. This strategic move aimed to bolster the expedition's credibility and enhance its safety profile. The museum's firm directive was adherence to a predetermined route. As the plans solidified, the vast and mysterious Amazon loomed ahead, teeming with both promise and potential threats.

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    What is The River of Doubt about?

    The River of Doubt (2005) is about former US President Theodore Roosevelt's perilous 1913–1914 expedition into the Amazon rainforest alongside Brazilian explorer Cândido Rondon. It chronicles the challenges they faced, from disease and dangerous wildlife to potential mutiny, as they navigated an uncharted river. The journey pushed every member to their limits and nearly cost Roosevelt his life.

    Who should read The River of Doubt?

    • History buffs interested in Roosevelt's post-presidential adventures
    • Explorers fascinated by the Amazon
    • Anyone looking for tales of human endurance

    About the Author

    Candice Millard is an American author known for her meticulously researched and engaging historical narratives. Her other works include Destiny of the Republic, which delves into the assassination of President James A. Garfield, and Hero of the Empire, which chronicles Winston Churchill's adventures during the Boer War.

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