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 Cândido 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 jungle primeval, 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.