Book Look - River of Doubt by Candice Millard

This deftly related tale of TR's journey of exploration through the Amazon Basin has everything you could want in an adventure story: adventure, suspense, danger, exotic locales, good guys, bad guys, and a protagonist straight out of an H. Rider Haggard tale, TR himself.

The outline of the book is quickly told: after his last, unsuccessful run for the Presidency, a dejected TR grabs at a fortuitous offer from the Brazilian government to participate in a sightseeing journey through the Amazon Basin. Just the thing to take his mind off his disappointment.

Almost at once, however, circumstances conspire to transform the proposed pleasant sightseeing outing into something quite different - an exploratory journey down one of the most perilous Amazon tributaries imaginable. Ill-prepared, ill-equipped, and plagued by hardships that rapidly escalate from annoying (hilariously inappropriate provisions) to life-threatening (hunger, disease, ruinous rapids, tretchery, cannibalistic natives), TR and his team of intrepid companions - to include a Brazilian hero, intrepid naturalists, and his brooding son Kermit - struggle to survive, even the the odds against them continue to mount. How they emerge from their ordeal alive (filthy, starved, near death) is a testament to the determination, courage, and perserverence of a truly extraordinary company of individuals.

Along the way, the author treats us to a feast of fascinating information about TR's life and character, the history of Brazil, the science of naturalism and mapping, and the ferocious, exotic beauty of the Amazon region. (Folks who have read The Lost City of Z will be familiar with some of this material, but Millard adds plenty of chilling new insights.)

If Haggard were to read this, I'm betting he'd be envious he didn't write it himself, and all the more extraordinary because it's all true. Thanks to the diligent journaling of multiple members of the company, the author has ample source material and does a spectacular job of spinning it into a yarn that will leave the reader appreciating at least three things: (1) truth is often stranger - and infinitely more chilling - than fiction, (2) there are about 10,000 ways to die in the Amazon, every one of them gruesome, and (3) TR was a truly remarkable individual.

Definitely the most fun I've had reading a book in a long time!

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