By 1913, former President Theodore Roosevelt had been out of the White House for four long years, his bid for an unprecedented third term ended in a demoralizing defeat to Woodrow Wilson when he is forced to run as a third party candidate, he is uninspired, a bit depressed, and lacking a sense of purpose. He jumps at the opportunity to journey to Brazil as part of a scientific journey of discovery sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. During the planning stages, the trip undergoes changes from one that would be mostly ceremonial in nature for the still greatly admired former President to one of only moderate difficulty, finally becoming an ambitious but arduous exploration of nearly one thousand miles of uncharted Amazonian jungle wilderness. The planning of the trip goes very badly with unnecessary and impractical supplies and various useless modes of transportation due to the many evolutions the trip has undertaken. And yet the selection of members of the expedition may have been even worse than the requisitioning of provisions. One ill-suited but well-meaning individual expected porters to carry him on a chair through the rugged terrain!
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Once in South America, Roosevelt, his son Kermit, Brazilian expedition leader Colonel Rondon, and the others realize many of the supplies are burdensome and frivolous, therefore much is discarded along the overland trek to the headwaters of the Rio da Duvida (River of Doubt) which lies far inland in the most remote and, at the time, unexplored part of Brazil. Plagued by predatory insects, scarcity of fish or game for food, un-navigable rapids, the threat of attack by hostile indigenous tribes, and no means of communication to other parties of the expedition, Roosevelt and the others face certain death if they don't make it to an outpost of civilization before illness and starvation overtake the group. When the charismatic, former leader of the US is stricken with malaria and a bacterial infection that is untreatable without hospitalization, he is near death with fever and delusions. He has determined to end his own life rather than allow the group to risk their lives for his own. Mortified that he would lose his father and be forced to abandon the body in the wilds of Brazil, Kermit with the help of Colonel Rondon manage to haul Roosevelt for many days as his strength all but vanishes.
Through perseverance, sheer strength of will to survive, and a lot of good fortune they find a remote colonist and family along the river and Roosevelt is returned but barely alive. The explorers paid a heavy price losing 3 men and each suffering injury and illness. Roosevelt finally makes his way back to America to a heroes welcome, at times having to convince skeptics that the story of the expedition is not fiction. This most strenuous of Roosevelt's many larger than life exploits is the one that has been hardest on the elder statesmen as he sheds more than 55 pounds. His legendary robust health never does return and it is believed his death five years later at age 60 was hastened by this ordeal.
The review of this Book prepared by David Fletcher