The River of Doubt

Name: Randy Wilson

Occupation: High School Counselor

Neighborhood: Encinitas

Where Interviewed: The Coffee Bean, Carlsbad

What book are you currently reading? What page are you on?

"It's called The River of Doubt. I'm about halfway through."

Tell me about the book.

"It's the fourth book on Theodore Roosevelt that I've read. I just finished another book called Mornings on Horseback, which is about his family history and early life. This is about an exploration that he did toward the end of his life, after he lost the 1912 presidential election (and basically ticked a whole lot of people off). It started out as kind of a benign scientific expedition; he had the support of the Natural History Museum in America -- his father had helped establish that years before. But once they got to Latin America, they decided to take a much more ambitious trip. And the "River of Doubt," which is what the river was called, was an unexplored tributary of the Amazon. So, it started off benign and became a very difficult voyage. A couple of people were killed, and they had to send some people back. I know [Roosevelt] survived because he died at about age 60 in his sleep. And he had his son Kermit with him [on the exploration]."

What do you make of the argument?

"It's really kind of breathtaking. But it's very good adventure and it's what Theodore always did when things went bad. When his wife died, he went out to the Dakotas and became a rancher, did a lot of physical activity. So, when he lost the election, it was his self-therapy. He would become involved in something -- if not dangerous, certainly very physical. This became physical and dangerous. He was almost killed by a snake, but he was wearing heavy boots and the snake bit his boot instead of his leg. It's a rousing adventure."

Any favorite characters?

"The thing I like most about [Roosevelt] -- he became president when McKinley was assassinated, which appalled a lot of people who thought that would never happen. They didn't want him as president -- he became the trust-buster. You know, he was born to money and yet he attacked the trusts. He had made a name for himself as a 25-year-old in Albany in the New York legislature. So, he was just independent, kind of a libertarian -- didn't fit a particular mold. In 1912 he really busted up the Republican and Democratic parties by forming a third party, which really ticked people off. And then of course he lost, and he was kind of abandoned. So, he goes to the River of Doubt."

What about the style?

"It is an adventure -- it's well written, like a lot of David McCullough's books are, like Seabiscuit was. One of my favorite recent books was Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln. These books are history but read like fiction."

Any favorite passages?

"No, not really."

Compare this with other books you've read.

"It's a high B. Certain books are just magic -- books like Longitude, like The Map That Changed the World, likeTeam of Rivals , like John Adams and Truman. This is very good. Maybe the content is not quite as stirring, but it's very well written. I highly recommend it."

What book was most life-changing for you?

"I think I've read too much. I read all the time, so there really hasn't been one. Although I will put a plug in (as a high school counselor) for the Harry Potter books. I can't believe we've got kids wanting to get in line to buy books rather than to go see a movie."

Who are your favorite authors?

"David McCullough is terrific. He's got two Pulitzers with John Adams and Truman, but I've read everything he's written. He wrote about the Johnstown flood; he wrote about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge (called The Great Bridge). But even his books -- some are fabulous: some are just very good. This is very good. But this got me back into Mark Twain -- my favorite author. And I've read everything he's written. I've been toggling back and forth between Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain. That's the fun thing about reading: one thing leads to another. Roosevelt loved him."

What magazines or newspapers do you read?

"I read some of the Union, a lot of online stuff. I read a lot of business stuff. Mostly the business stuff I read online."

Do you talk to your friends about reading?

"Oh, yeah, cyclists talk all the time. We exchange books. Not so much detail; typically we have those conversations when we're riding, so they're not lengthy conversations. And excerpts. My friend Richard's from Tennessee, and I just read a book on Andrew Jackson, who was from Tennessee, so I bought him a copy for his birthday."

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