Most of us know something about the career of Theodore Roosevelt: cowboy, hunter, Rough Rider, statesman, president. But few of us know of his brief but dangerous sojourn in the Amazonian jungles of Brazil in 1914, where he came very close to meeting a rather inglorious and untimely end.
What started out as something of a lark for the former President (after an unsuccessful bid for a third oval office term) quickly turned into a race for survival. The expedition made up of a handful of Americans, including Roosevelt and his son Kermit, and a contingent of Brazilians, set out to map the little known Rio da Duvida, a major tributary of the mighty Amazon. The river twisted its way through a virtually pathless jungle, brimming with dangerous wildlife and hostile Indians. Unfortunately, the effort was plagued, almost from the outset, by poor planning, inadequate supplies, starvation, disease and accidents, even murder.
This story is not a biography, however, and is about much more than its headline name. Millard does an excellent job of bringing to life a diverse cast of characters, from the Americans who accompanied Roosevelt to the virtually invisible Indians who tracked the expedition for most of its journey. The story is also about a place, rendered as both fascinating and oppressive at once, as well as a time, when mystery still beckoned both the educated and the ignorant, powerful and poor alike, into her dark embrace.