After consuming Candice Millard’s best-selling Destiny of the Republic, I thought going back and reading her first book was a can’t lose prospect, especially given its subject. Less than two years after his failed bid for a third term as President, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on a dangerous, unprecedented trip to South America, where he and the valiant men in his company faced deprivation, disease, and all the dangers nature has to offer as they tried to trace an unknown river to its end. Their poor planning and misadventures nearly cost Roosevelt and the others, including his second son Kermit, their lives.
While the material is compelling, Millard pads her manuscript with often tedious examinations of plant and animal life without making a strong enough connection to the narrative of the journey. These sections can feel unnecessary and indulgent after a while. As a history buff, I was more interested in the story of the expedition than I was in the evolutionary advantages possessed by a variety of rainforest trees.
Millard’s research is astounding in its extensiveness and comprehensiveness. From diaries and letters she has stitched together the entirety of Roosevelt’s perilous excursion. But unlike in Destiny of the Republic, she fails to establish the historical figures as lively, interesting characters in her narrative.