August 22, 2009
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River of Doubt

by Candice Millard

Theodore Roosevelt probably expected to lose his third-party bid for the presidency in 1912, but nonetheless found the electoral trouncing a bitter disappointment and 1913 a grim, grey time. To make some money for his children, he accepted a lucrative speaking offer in Brazil. To amuse himself, he planned a pleasant country excursion to the rain forest.

The excursion ramified and expanded until it became an expedition. Why go to someplace everyone had been when you might easily go someplace more remote? Why go to someplace anyone has been, when you might just as easily make a contribution to Science?

The result was more adventure than anyone would have desired, as Roosevelt and his companions descended the Rio Duvida (Doubtful River) despite disease, rapids, hostile Indians who remained unseen, and ever-dwindling food supplies. The story makes compelling reading, especially regarding the interplay of the heroic Roosevent and the fascinating Brazilian pioneer, Candido Rondon, who insisted that surveys be accurate, aborigines respected, and that under no circumstances whatsoever was anyone to shoot an Indian — even if the Indians decided to attack.