Saturday, October 16, 2010

Through the Brazilian Wilderness



In two chapters Edmund Morris managed to size up the incredible Expedicao Scientifica Roosevelt- Rondon (some incredible footage in the site) better than Candice Millard did in a whole book.  For starters, Morris explained why the mission was initially so heavily laden with foods and supplies.  Roosevelt had never planned such a mission.  Instead,  Father Zahm had imagined a much less formidable collecting trip along the Orinoco providing more stuffed animals for the Smithsonian.  Roosevelt had been intent on bagging a jaguar, a dream since childhood.  But, the Brazilian government saw a golden opportunity in Roosevelt to advertise its interior lands to the highest bidder, by tempting him into an exploration mission with Colonel Rondon, mapping out a relatively unknown river.

Morris also describes how Rondon and his officers similarly had a large haul of tents and chairs and other paraphenilia which was even more weighty than all the tins of food, jars of spices, candies and other delicacies the Roosevelt team had brought along.  Eventually, they each agreed to lighten their respective loads, including shedding Father Zahm, who seemed more intent on saving souls along the uncharted river than in collecting specimens.

In the end Rondon and Roosevelt became great friends enduring an incredible journey of discovery that in many ways rivaled that of Lewis and Clark.  Fortunately, Roosevelt survived to finish his travelogue, as he was felled by a wound to the leg that became deeply infected.

5 comments:

  1. I remember that we read the earlier book in the old forum. And a good read it was, too!

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  2. Great subject, it just wasn't a very good book. There is this tendency to romanticize Roosevelt, as we saw in Brinkley's Wilderness Warrior. Morris obviously has great respect for the man, but points out his many shortcomings as well, especially in his latter years.

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  3. I read RIVER OF DOUBT way bak in hard cover and it was one of the best TR books out then.

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  4. A companion book to either the Cooper book and more particularly the Morris book is Joseph GARDNERS' DEPARTING GLORY, covering 1909 to 1919--part of the thesis is that TR got more radical than ever after his presidency--defying the usual tendency of older people to become more conservative in their aging process. I remember it to be an interesting study.

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  5. Robert, I enjoyed River of Doubt as well. I know this is history light, but it was a heck of an adventure story.

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