Book recommendation: River of Doubt

Christmas gift idea: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, a new-to-me 2005 book by Candice Millard. I listened to this as an Audible book so I can’t include excerpts. The story is about an exploration and mapping journey down what was then the Rio da Dúvida and is today the Roosevelt River. Teddy Roosevelt and one of his sons went down the river in 1913-14, whose course and rapids were unknown. The co-leader was Cândido Rondon, Brazil’s greatest explorer and friend to the indigenous (after a lifetime spent under hazardous conditions, he died in 1958, age 92).

I couldn’t help thinking about the unnecessary nature of the hardships that the men endured (no expedition member identifying with any other gender is identified by the author). By 1924 or so, the river could have been surveyed without risk via airplane, e.g., the mass-produced Bréguet 19 (presumably with ferry tanks, flown in 1925 on a non-stop 2,800 nm. flight). Being on the surface might have been useful for diplomacy with the Cinta Larga, but these people were not interested in interacting with the former U.S. president or his Brazilian partners.

The story combines adventure, conflict, family loyalty and sacrifice, tragedy, and a reminder that there are a lot of diseases far worse than COVID-19.

A 2021 journey down part of the river by whitewater nerds with modern equipment who nonetheless had to do some portaging:

I’m now interested to read the author’s 2022 book, River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile. Of course, during the interval between 2005 and 2022, the standards of what has to go into a successful book have changed. Part of the Amazon description of the new book:

Yet there was a third man on both expeditions, his name obscured by imperial annals, whose exploits were even more extraordinary. This was Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who was enslaved and shipped from his home village in East Africa to India. When the man who purchased him died, he made his way into the local Sultan’s army, and eventually traveled back to Africa, where he used his resourcefulness, linguistic prowess and raw courage to forge a living as a guide. Without Bombay and men like him, who led, carried, and protected the expedition, neither Englishman would have come close to the headwaters of the Nile, or perhaps even survived.

In River of the Gods Candice Millard has written another peerless story of courage and adventure, set against the backdrop of the race to exploit Africa by the colonial powers.

The white exploiters are saved from their own greed and stupidity by a person of color, in other words.

Finally, River of Doubt might be a good name for a book about the Deplorables who reject Science, e.g., that cloth masks protect against an aerosol virus or that vaccinating 6-month-olds with a medicine that does not stop infection/transmission is the obvious answer to a virus that kills 80-year-olds. Titles can’t be copyrighted!

7 thoughts on “Book recommendation: River of Doubt

  1. Standards have indeed changed. What publisher today would dare print this –

    “A Zulu wife was a slave to her husband” whereas “[Boer] women enjoyed an equality that was rare in the Victorian Age.” – from The First Boer War by Joseph Lehman, published 1972.

    Or this: “Unity is the key to Louis’s policy … Therefore any image of France, or of Frenchmen, which showed them to be a unified whole was intrinsically more pleasing than one which showed diversity.” – from Louis XIV by Victor Cronin, published 1964.

    • Presumably all of them! A fuller quote to give the standard procedure:

      “A Zulu wife was a slave to her husband, treated as a chattel or a beast of burden. The day after she arrived at her husband’s hut, she was allowed, even encouraged, to tax her imagination in calling her new master every vile name she could think of. Having once delivered her most abusive and provoking insults, the wife was never again permitted to talk or act independently.”

    • @LP: At least we can all breathe a sigh of relief for Michele Obama, since she declared her Fashion Declaration of Independence!

      “After all, as she wrote in “The Light We Carry,” for eight years she had to remain “careful with my image,” conscious that, as what she called an “only” (the only Black first lady, the only Black first lady lawyer and so on), she was walking a fine line between tradition and the future; between what had come before and what could be. Every choice she made was seen as public property, and that extended to every item she wore and every styling decision she made.”

  2. I love it when actual authors and print editors erase the past and fill in the blanks with whatever social pressure claptrap they’re being force fed to print OR ELSE. Orwell wrote all about it and lots of other people have studied it. Now they are silent because Orwell is dead and the people who can do something about this have all committed themselves to the claptrap. OR ELSE.

    It’s easy to sum up: don’t trust a damn thing that has been written in the past ten years. Soon you won’t even be able to detect what’s wrong or missing. Changing the world, one book at a time.


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