This review will contain spoilers!
In many sentences:
I don't read a lot of nonfiction books, so when I received this as a gift over 18 months ago, I thought it sounded neat, but I had no driving interest in reading it. Recently, however, I realized that my experience with nonfiction was grossly lacking so I decided to actually read it. I was, from the very beginning, enthralled. To start, the story is by itself very interesting. The fact that people were exploring an extremely dangerous part of the Amazon rainforest to discover a new river is inherently a fascinating subject. However, when you throw in the fact that one of the members of the expedition is a former president of the United States and it gets even better.
Part of the reason I enjoyed reading this book so much was because Roosevelt was an amazing man. It makes me sad that, in modern politics, there aren't people as profoundly committed and stubborn in their ideals as Roosevelt was. When he decided something was correct, he would fight for that thing with all his heart, body, and mind. People just don't act that way anymore, and it is sad. While this book would have been good without Roosevelt in it, the strength of his character made it much more enjoyable.
It's also fascinating to realize how ill-prepared they were for this journey. How can you take a former President halfway across the United States and not know what is in store for you? How can you put a man in charge of order supplies whose failure to correctly plan for a trip to the North Pole nearly resulted in the death of all his men? And don't forget that he didn't have any South American exploring experience. It's just utterly ridiculous that people could be so clueless as to endanger Roosevelt's life this way. And it's just as ridiculous and fascinating that Roosevelt would just let these things happen without paying the slightest attention to the preparations for the expedition until it was too late to do anything about it.
The one moment that really stands out to me was when Roosevelt, having brought a lethal dose of morphine, was prepared to kill himself to ensure that the others in the expedition would not risk their own lives to save him. However, instead of being selfish, Cherrie and Kermit (and Kermit in particularly) patently refused to leave him behind, and vowed to get him out of the jungle no matter the cost. This was a moving and beautiful moment between a father and son, and the fact that it actually happened makes it even more amazing.
Finally, the skill with which Millard weaves this tale together cannot be understated. Looking through the notes at the end of the book, it is clear that she went to great lengths to reveal to the reader everything that occurred on this trip, even going so far as to interview Cinta Larga Indians to discover why they did not attack the expedition. This is dedication, and the book really shines for it. I would be happy to read other works by her if she handles them as lovingly as she did this book.
I would, without hesitation, recommend this book to anyone who loves a good story, fiction or nonfiction. The writing is very good and the research that supports it appears to be even better. I have not read many nonfiction works such as this, but if there are others that take an event, and delve into it so deeply that you really get a sense that you understand all the people involved, I will definitely be reading more in the future.
"They were stealthy hunters, crack shots, and experienced survivalists, and, given the right tools, they believed that they would never find themselves in a situation in the wild that they could not control. But as they struggled to make their way along the shores of the River of Doubt, any basis for such confidence was quickly slipping away. Compared with the creatures of the Amazon, including the Indians whose territory they were invading, they were all - from the lowliest camarada to the former president of the United States - clumsy, conspicuous prey."Candice Millard in The River of Doubt
Candice Millard the Last Line of in The River of Doubt