The River of Doubt

Suggested by Brad Nelson • After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt (accompanied by his son and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Rondon) set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon.
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3 Responses to The River of Doubt

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Some of the discussion of this book can be found here in a listing of a good companion book, The Lost City of Z.

    One Amazon reviewer made an interesting point:

    The science and history lessons are so integral to the story (or the story is so inherent in the science and history) that you’ll likely find yourself smarter and wiser and more emotionally attuned to both nature and human nature for having read this book.

    That is, this isn’t just a drive-by adventure. You do learn a few details of the jungle here and there. Nothing on the level of the diversions of Moby Dick (thank goodness). But enough so that the expedition itself isn’t disembodied from the jungle it is venturing into and through.

    Also, if you haven’t the time or desire to read a full biography of Theodore Roosevelt, this book will do in a pinch. I’m not interested enough in the man to do a full biography. But I think Candice Millard gives an excellent overview of TR. You leave this book knowing TR well, the basics of what makes him tick, even if his entire life is full of so much more detail.

    A couple interesting points. Call them spoilers is you like. I agree with one reviewer that this book reads a bit like a novel. You don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s half the fun. So I recommend not reading further to get full satisfaction from the book.

    Millard points out in the epilogue that, despite the heroic struggles of the expedition, it was the Cinta Larga Indians who ultimately decided the success or failure of the expedition. The author explains that (how they found this out, I don’t know) the Indians were debating amongst themselves during the entire expedition whether to attack or stay clear.

    Millard explains that it is standard operating procedure for most Amazon tribes to stay hidden. That mirrors most of the life in the jungle. It’s all around you but everything is so well camouflaged, you don’t see it. The natives know that concealment as a rule is absolutely essential so they don’t just automatically attack.

    It probably helped that Rondon had left gifts along the way. It also helped that the Indians saw that the party was just passing through (although a later party that tried to follow the same route went missing). Still, apparently the debate continue all up and down the river as this tribe (who apparently inhabited the entire region) decided what to do about them. And there’s no doubt they could have easily dispatched the expedition at any time.

    TR himself would never have survived without his son looking out after him. He was heroic in this regard. And when his father died a few years later, it’s clear he had lost his purpose in life. I think the father-son dynamic (always proving yourself to your father) was what drove Kermit. And when TR died, there was suddenly no purpose to his life despite the fact he had a job, a wife, and kids.

    TR had a strong personality and those on the trip with him (and likely elsewhere) love him. TR himself is interesting in that he’s not a character made up of propaganda and marketing. Lincoln really did split rails and TR was a Rough Rider, in more ways than one. Despite his family being at the very upper crust of society, it was a different sort of crust. While the children of other social elites were doing dainty things, Roosevelt and his children were typically off hiking or doing some rugged thing.

    There was probably no namby-pamby in Roosevelt. Zero. It doesn’t even register on the scale. Only Washington, Lincoln, and Andrew Jackson come to mind as people who (whether as president or before or after office) were hardy men. TR tops them all, and by a wide margin.

    It was interesting to read a hysterical article this morning about how the new Brazilian president is a racist and homophobe for one reason or another. Apparently he is dismounting some of the Rondon-style agencies and such that dealt with the natives. My guess is that reform is needed, although I have no idea of the details. But that he is upsetting the kind of hysterical Snowflake whom Trump upsets is probably a sign that he is doing the right thing. It will interesting to keep an eye on this.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Here is a quote from the article you linked to. It is by some asshole Brazilian ecologist professor.

      “I have a lot of privilege being a professor and white, but I don’t want anyone to be killed just because they’re Indian or black or gay. It’s brutal, and we should not accept that.”

      Again, the left is the party of Intellectuals and Idiots.

      The new Brazilian president ran on a law-and-order platform. Something like 64,000 people were murdered in Brazil in 2016. By contrast about 17,000 murders took place in the USA. For a comparison, the rate in Brazil is about 30-35 murders per 100,000 population. In the USA it is about 4-5 per 100,000. In Singapore it is about 0.3-0.5 per 100,000.

      How sorry was the idiot professor about those 64,000 deaths? This is another trait of the left. They talk in identity groups, generalities, in theories, but neglect the actual facts. One wonders what it might take for the professor to get into contact with reality.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        In many ways, Rondon was the epitome of these idiots. He caused one man’s death by overlooking the bad apple in their midst.

        The Left is morally crazy. They are hysterical. We see time after time their deep professed care for “humanity” even while overlooking the slaughter in their midst.

        These guys are kooks, plain and simple. I don’t know thing-one about the new Brazilian president. But it’s a very good guess he’s instituting some much-needed reform gauging by the hissy fits of the monstrous Snowflakes. Like Trump, he could gain the benefit of having such crazy enemies.

        As for the natives, there is no perfect answers. But my guess (in hindsight) is that all of them should be forced to integrate. Indian reservations have been disastrous for our own Indian population. I don’t know that the Brazilian president plans to do, but the article said he was disbanding some of the agencies that were set up to deal with the natives. From the one documentary I noted recently, perhaps people are being tired of having to die without fighting back. If some natives want to live and be left alone, fine. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t kill people and then just shrink back into the forest.

        The difficulty of the Amazon jungle is that it is a remarkable place but a completely inhospitable place. I hope they are able to reserve large sections of it, but it’s hard to go against people’s wishes to improve their lives by farming or ranching. In the end, progress moves on. It just does. It’s not always fair. But it’s best to adapt if one can.

        Again, I don’t really know what’s going on down there now. But we can suspect similar themes to what is going on up here.

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