River of Doubt

Millard, Candice. River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. Read by Paul Michael. Westminster, MD: Books on Tape, 2005.

Reason: Theodore Roosevelt was the first American to win a Nobel Prize.

Millard paints Roosevelt’s biography in broad strokes, reviewing his fragile health as a child, the loss of his mother and wife in the same 24 hours (Valentine’s Day of all days), and his need to push his physical limits when faced with tragedies or failures. It is this need that sets the stage for Millard’s true focus: Roosevelt’s South American expedition to an uncharted tributary of the Amazon. He refused to go where everyone else had trod and yet, he expected the excursion to be ho-hum and without incident. Silly man. Millard’s account of the expedition has it all, excitement, adventure, violence, death and madness.

As an aside, can I just say I loved the fact that packed among Roosevelt’s supplies was a bottle of Tabasco? Not just hot sauce, but Tabasco by name.

Author fact: Millard used to be the editor for National Geographic Magazine.

Book trivia: My favorite photograph in River of Doubt is one of Kermit. His piercing stare says it all.

Audio trivia: Paul Michael’s accents are great.

Nancy said: “fast paced, well written and difficult to put down” (p 17). I would definitely agree.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the obvious chapter called “Amazonia” (p 17).


Lost City of Z

Grann, David. The Lost City of Z: a tale of deadly obsession in the Amazon. New York: Vintage Departures, 2010.

Reason read: August is the driest month in the Amazon…or so they say.

I could have read this in January as part of national mystery month because there is one burning question to Lost City: what happened to the Percy Fawcett expedition? Fawcett, his son and his son’s friend all vanished without a trace. Were they murdered by jungle natives? Did they die of starvation or disease? All scenarios are possible and even likely. In 1925 all three went into the Amazon jungle in search of a legendary (imaginary?) lost civilization and were never see or heard from again. Lost City traces not only Fawcett’s repeat attempts to conquer the Amazon, but the author’s endeavors to follow his footsteps.

As an aside, I don’t know if I could visit the Amazon, tamed or not. The descriptions of ailments, insects and ever-devouring jungle was enough to keep my travel bug at bay. Grann’s description of the jungle swallowing up an entire village was awe inspiring. It’s easy to see how and why Fawcett was seemingly unsuccessful in conquering the jungle.

Author fact: at the time of Lost City’s publication David Grann write for “The New Yorker.”

Book trivia: The Lost City of Z includes some great photographs. I only wish there were more.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Amazonia” (p 9).


August Ahead

My obsession with moving rocks has come to an end now that the big boys are playing in the backyard. This hopefully means I’ll scale back to just two fanatical activities: running and reading. Or reading and running. I wonder who will win out? I am in the last month of training before the half marathon, but here are the books planned for August:

  • Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill – to continue the series started in May in honor of Laos Rocket Day. I have been able to read other books in the series in one to two days.
  • Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell – in honor of July being one of the best times to visit Sweden (listening as an audio book).
  • Lost City of Z: a tale of deadly obsession in the Amazon by David Grann in honor of August being the driest month in the Amazon.
  • The High and the Mighty by Ernest Gann in honor of August being Aviation month.
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin in honor of Baldwin’s birth month (print & AB).
  • Children in the Woods by Frederick Busch in honor of Busch’s birth month (short stories).
  • Flora’s Suitcase by Dalia Rabinovich in honor of Columbia’s independence.

PS – on the eve of posting this I ran 7.93 miles. Why the .93? My calf/Achilles started to give me grief so I had to stop. Now I wonder if the running has a chance to catch the books?


Fordlandia

Grandin, Greg. Fordlandia: the Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009.

This is the story of what happens when someone with a boatload of money gets a hair-brained idea: they can fund their outlandish dream but have no idea how to actually accomplish it. Henry Ford found success with his motor company and felt that this same success would translate well in a foreign country he knew little to nothing about. (After all, he had lots of advisers for that.) Suffice it to say, Ford started out with good intentions. He needed a new place to grow high quality rubber but that project quickly morphed and ended up growing into the more ambition dream of creating a civilized utopia in the wilds of an Amazonian jungle. Other well known companies set up the essentials of home away from home in places like Cuba and Mexico, but Ford wanted to create a brand new society. He envisioned shopping centers, ice cream parlors, sidewalks for the civilized townspeople to stroll upon, electricity, running water…all the comforts of middle America in a remote riverside section of Brazil. It’s ironic that Ford felt he was rescuing a vision of Americana so far from “home.” Of course, these visions were bound to fail. Ford ran into obstacles practically every step of the way. Clearing the land of massive tangle of jungle and vines wasn’t as easy as any of his advisors thought it would be. Engineers didn’t properly grade the roads causing washouts every time it rained….in a rainforest. The humidity would rust saw blades faster than the men could wear them out on the difficult bark of foreign trees. Keeping skilled labor on the job proved to be just as difficult. Diseases unfamiliar to mid westerners plagued the workforce. Prohibition wasn’t law in Brazil so those men who didn’t quit were often drunk thanks to rum boats moored on the river. Then there were the insects that plagued the crops. The list goes on. As you can imagine, all of this would lead to a breakdown. Of course this story can’t have a happy ending, but it is fascinating all the same.

Quotes I liked, “The Amazon is a temptress: its chroniclers can’t seem to resist invoking the jungle not as a ecological system but as a metaphysical testing ground; a place that seduces man to impose his will only to expose that will as impotent” (p 6),  and “At night vampire bats often worked their way past window screens to feed, and since their razor sharp incisors could painlessly pierce flesh, the Americans would sleep through an attack, awaking to find their toes and ankles bloodied” (p 197).

Reason read: Believe it or not, August is reported as the driest month in the Amazon. If you can imagine that.

Author fact: Grandin is a Guggenheim fellow.

Book trivia: Fordlandia has a bunch of really great photographs. My favorite is titled, “Making a High Cut on a Big Tree” (p 174).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Amazonian” (p 17).