The River of Doubt, is the story of Theodore Roosevelt’s journey into South America, in order to map the river of the same name, in a previously uncharted region of the Amazon. The expedition seemed ill-fated from the beginning. Early on, it became apparent that the person chosen to head up the planning and organizing was ill prepared to do the job. Venturing into that part of the world, in the early part of the 20th century was dangerous to begin with, but to go into unexplored territory with inadequate supplies and unprepared, unqualified participants, was tantamount to suicide. Although it is non-fiction, the documentation of the trip reads like a novel. The dreadful details that are expressed will sometimes horrify the reader. It chronicles one of the most arduous adventures anyone could encounter, real or imagined. It debilitated Roosevelt’s normally healthy, vigorous constitution. It left a permanent mark on every member of his team.
There were man-eating fish, hostile Indian tribes that were known to be cannibals, insects that invaded the body through its orifices and even a kind of fish that could do that, which lived in the waters they explored. As they traveled in the uncharted, untamed territory, mapping their path, naming their discoveries, they encountered plants, reptiles, insects, birds, animals and fish they had never seen before. This was not a benign environment. Malaria was a constant threat and there was no viable treatment at that time. As time passed and their canoes were destroyed, medical and food supplies dwindled dangerously low, ammunition was lost, equipment disappeared and they were tracked by enemies, and suffered betrayals and witnessed a murder by a member of their own party, their situation worsened and became dire. By the end of their trip, their numbers had dwindled and their vigor was diminished.
Nevertheless, although it sometimes seemed like a foolhardy endeavor, this group of men was made up of some of the most courageous in history. Roosevelt was a strong, seemingly fearless man who expected the same disciplined behavior of which he was capable, from all of the men with whom he was surrounded, and he, himself, never shirked his duty or pretended to a higher station than the others. This was the fascinating tale of the exploration of a region that still remains largely unexplored.
There were times when the tale became tedious with too much information. The description of their surroundings seemed better suited to a scientist. Perhaps a naturalist, zoologist, botanist, etc., would have had a greater appreciation of the details described and a better understanding of the finer points of their observations about the peculiar things they witnessed. Also, at times it was repetitious and I felt it could have easily been much shorter. Still, this book is worth the effort in spite of its few faults.