After losing his bid for the United States Presidency as a third party candidate, Theodore Roosevelt decided to take on the most dangerous adventure left on earth. He and his son, Kermit, accepted Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon’s invitation to help him plot the course of the River of Doubt. The River of Doubt could just as easily have been named the River of Death. The ri
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I found this book thanks to Douglas Fairbanks, whose book Laugh and Live I read recently. He wrote that keeping the mind active as well as the body was important, and mentioned a few books he thought of as worthwhile. Theodore Roosevelt’s four volume work The Winning of the West was a favorite on that list, and when I went to see if it was available at Gutenberg (yes, and the four volumes are now on my Someday List) I noticed this title about Brazil. It appealed to me because I needed a book set
In 1913-14 Roosevelt was part of an expedition through Paraguay and Brazil, with two main goals in mind. Partly the trip was to collect specimens of animals and birds for the Natural History Museum in New York City, but the Brazilian Government also became involved when it offered to combine Roosevelt’s trip with their own official one in order to survey a river that was not yet on the maps. How could any rough riding ex-president say no to such an opportunity?
So off they all went, and Roosevelt proved himself to be a capable journalist, providing a lot of detail about his surroundings (sometimes quite poetically) and proving himself to be a man full of wonder and curiosity about the world around him. And this is one reason I took what felt to me like a long time to read this book. TR’s comments about this, that, and the other kept sending me off to see either more details about his subject, or to learn how certain events had turned out in a future which he thought would be quite rosy ‘if’.
For example, early in the trip, when they are following the Paraguay river into Brazil and Roosevelt makes this comment (remember this was 1913) ~~ ” There is a great development ahead for Paraguay, as soon as they can definitely shake off the revolutionary habit and establish an orderly permanence of government.”
Naturally I wondered what happened so off I went on the first of many side trips that helped make this book fascinating. And Paraguay? Would Roosevelt have been disappointed or pleased? According to Wiki the country had years of unrest and holds the record for South America’s longest military dictatorship, which lasted from 1954 to 1989. I am not sure that is the type of permanent government TR had in mind, but perhaps he would have been happier with the general elections that finally began in 1993?
Anyway, Roosevelt had certain points he returned to quite often. He was very interested in the coloration of animals and what it might truly mean. Camouflage or advertisement or both or neither? He was thrilled with the vast variety of bird life in the country. And he frequently commented about how easily the people worked together, respected each other, and did not seem racially biased. Although of course in order to mention this he has to always mention the dusky, brown, black, copper, and so on skin tones of not only the men of the expedition but of all the people he came across in the country. I am not sure if he was surprised to see people accepting each other apparently without judging each other or if he thought that was the way the world should naturally work. I just noticed how often he mentioned something that in an ideal world would be accepted as a basic fact and not inspire the need to be commented on repeatedly. Obviously we have not yet arrived in that ideal world.
Of course it was disturbing to modern eyes to read about all the ‘collecting’ going on. The naturalists even shot hummingbirds! How could anyone do that? And what size bird shot would you have to use to have any kind of specimen left after you shoot it? So the whole expedition seems both brutal and destructive, but Roosevelt was trying to change attitudes. He mentioned more than once that what was truly necessary was scientific observation in the field by naturalists who had the ability to write about what they were observing; that the time for slaughter was past. Wouldn’t it have been nice if he had started talking like that years earlier?! And even nicer if people had listened?!
Another point he kept making was about how the country they were in would benefit from ‘progress’. The telegraph had gotten through, soon would come railroads, and then settlers and cities and industry and so on and so forth. I could never understand how Roosevelt could write so glowingly about Nature and then in practically the same breath condemn it to ‘progress’. I suppose I just wish that when it comes to the way we humans have handled the planet, we had spoken softly and left the big stick hidden away in the back of the closet.
I ended up with mixed feelings about this whole book. Loved the armchair travel to a place I will never be able to see in real life; hated the collecting, conquering attitude. Was impressed by Roosevelt’s writing ability; disappointed in much of his thought processes. Glad I read it; sorry to think what the area must be like now after many years of that horrid ‘progress’.
Do you ever wish you could turn back the clock and start the whole world over again? With changes somehow built in that would keep the planet from being turned into a mess? That is my mood after finishing this book. I’m not sure that is the mood Roosevelt had hoped to inspire in his readers, but there it is.