Saturday, June 24, 2017

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard: Audio Book Review

My attempts to get the names down of people and places in this adventure tale pretty much failed. That's the downside of audio books! So, to give you a brief overview of this historical tale I turn to Kirkus Reviews:


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 C├óndido 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.
So now, for my review of the audio book.  I really did want to actually read the book, and spend time looking at the photos included in the book.  But, I had a chance to listen to the audio and decided the 11 discs were worth two weeks of commuting time.  The narrator was great; his different voices for Teddy, his son Kermit, Rondon, and others on the trip were fine.  I did get a bit distracted on occasion, and it seemed to drag a bit from time to time.  But, overall, it is an interesting adventure story to read, especially if you're a fan of The Lost City of Z by David Gran.  I'm a big fan of Amazon adventure stories; mostly because I'd never have the guts to do it.  After listening to the litany of bugs, plants, animals, reptiles, trees, and natives that could kill you in an instant, well, I came close to having nightmares!  
I was very interested in learning about Teddy Roosevelt and his relationship with his son, Kermit.  I am still, a week after finishing this audio book, astounded that these men survived. It really did take immense skill, willpower, and sheer luck.  The number of times the group were faced with rapids that required hauling everything up from the river and portaging through the rainforest was just exhausting.  I don't know how they didn't just sit down and give up.  Poor food planning (who brings mustard and chutney on a rainforest trek?!) on the part of one of the early organizers (he was blinded by the fact that an ex-president was on the trek) left the crew with the very real possibility of starvation.  The rainforest may look lush, bountiful and fruitful, but is the farthest thing from it.  Injuries, exhaustion, fear of attack by natives; being reduced to wearing rags as clothes were ripped, torn, and worn out by the sheer physicality of every day survival. They survived it all. Amazing. 
This book has been out for a number of years, and is still stocked in bookstores and libraries for a reason. It's a tale of survival, a quest, relationships, the changing tides caused by empires and greed, and one man's desire to have one last great adventure. 
Read the book, listen to the audio.  I will probably buy the book just to have it on my bookcase and to look at the pictures.  I would recommend it to anyone; teen boys may find it interesting, and anyone who loves to be an armchair traveler.  
Rating:  5/6 for a spectacular adventure into the Amazon.  Teddy Roosevelt was a pretty cool man.  This tale is colorful, nail-biting, and astounding considering it took place in 1914.  
Available in paperback, audio, and ebook.  

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