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Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey

A-RiverDoubtIn Millard’s hands, Teddy Roosevelt comes off as a presidential Indiana Jones or James Bond. Not only did his Rough-Rider days make him the envy of outdoorsmen everywhere, but his passion for politics and exotic adventures also helped cement his role as an endearing hero to a fragile nation. Millard, a former writer and editor for National Geographic, uses the 25th president’s hunger for exploration as a jumping-off point in River of Doubt—about the treacherous Amazonian journey that capped off the politico’s amazing life. After his defeat for a third-term as president in 1912, the burly politician intended to mend his wounds by trekking to South America with his son, Kermit. Unfortunately, what started out as a "delightful holiday" quickly evolved into a battle for survival when Roosevelt abandoned his itinerary for something more exciting—and dangerous.
Doubleday. 432 pages. $26. ISBN: 0385507968

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"If no one has yet optioned the film rights … call Jerry Bruckheimer—immediately. This is a book with all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster and then some. … Overall, this is a stranger-than-fiction tale that—be forewarned—many readers will feel compelled to devour in a single sitting." Marjorie Kehe

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Besides inadvertently introducing adolescent boys to native female anatomy, Geographic specializes in the no-frills, high-adventure writing at which Millard proves to be expert. … Millard’s sober account is as claustrophobic as a walk through the densest jungle, and as full of vigor as Roosevelt himself." Gilbert Cruz

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In her debut book, Millard, a former writer and editor for National Geographic, combines high adventure well told with dazzling passages of nature writing that illuminate the darkest, steamiest sections of the Amazon forest. Her analysis of the role that concealment plays in the lives and deaths of all creatures in the Amazon … answers the question of why Roosevelt, the famous hunter, went hungry." Bruce Barcott

Pittsburgh Trib-Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[If] Candice Millard’s The River of Doubt does anything, it shows that Roosevelt was incapable of settling for anything tame. Millard … appears to have researched scrupulously (to the extent of retracing Roosevelt’s journey). Her writing is brisk, and short chapters help move the story along, though it is so captivating it scarcely needs any help." Roger K. Miller

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"In her excellent first book, Candice Millard recalls a simpler time, when a retired commander in chief could disappear into the depths of the Amazon Basin without much fuss, much less a solid plan for getting back home alive. … With such wonderfully morbid details, this is a tale that requires no embellishment, and Millard is admirably restrained throughout." Dave Gilson

Critical Summary

Every critic enjoyed Millard’s yarn about an ex-president’s fervent desire for adventure and self-acceptance. By focusing on the vivid details of Roosevelt’s journey to the Amazon as well as his relationship with his son, Millard creates much more than your typical ho-hum adventure. The beauty of this story is not just that Roosevelt’s rich history could spawn a thousand adventure stories, but that Millard’s experience with National Geographic is evident in her beautiful scenic descriptions and grisly depictions of the Amazon’s man-eating catfish, ferocious piranhas, white-water rapids, and prospect of starvation. A story deep in symbolism and thick with research, Millard succeeds where many have not; she has managed to contain a little bit of Teddy Roosevelt’s energy and warm interactions between the covers of her wonderful new book.

Recently Reviewed

When Trumpets Call Theodore Roosevelt After the White House | Patricia O’Toole (2005): 3 of 5 Stars Jul/Aug 2005. O’Toole looks at Roosevelt’s first retirement after he decided not to seek reelection in 1908 and allowed William Howard Taft to succeed him. Though he distracted himself with long bloody safaris and behind-the-scenes political meddling, he resurfaced as an opponent to Taft in the heated 1912 election.