Candice Millard, through her own struggle, finds her real story

November 6, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism.

When Candace Millard was researching and writing her best-selling River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, she had to navigate her own river of doubt, which eventually helped her better understand what her real story was

Millard was pregnant with her second child in 2005, she got a phone call from her doctor saying something odd had turned up on her latest sonogram. Within 24 hours, her life had been turned upside down. Her daughter was born by an emergency Caesarian section and had a rare form of cancer.

The child went through two years and eight rounds of chemotherapy, and eventually the cancer was declared in remission.

As I sat in a seemingly endless series of hospital rooms, surrounded by blinking lights and beeping machines while my daughter endured eight rounds of chemotherapy, I realized that I was less interested in Roosevelt’s accomplishments than in his struggles. 

Roosevelt’s struggle — particularly the point where, on this journey through the Amazon forest, he contemplated suicide as a means of saving his son and the rest of his traveling party — was the real story she was trying to tell.

Over the years I had spent writing “The River of Doubt,” Roosevelt’s story had taught me that no life is immune to tragedy. Well before he had traveled to the Amazon, he had experienced as much grief in his life as great achievement. He had endured the painful death of a father whom he adored; the deaths, on the same day, of his mother and first wife; and a stunning and deeply humiliating defeat in his attempt to regain the presidency in the election of 1912. Each time, he had responded by fighting back, throwing himself into extreme physical challenges that tested his strength and his courage and helped him forget. Source: Candice Millard on the writing life – The Washington Post

Millard’s book hit the best-seller list when it was published and has been widely acclaimed. She has continued her writing with two more books on famous people and their supreme struggles: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President about the assassination of James Garfield; and Hero of the Empire: the Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill.

Millard’s books are exciting, well-written, and deeply researched. Each has a unique and important story to tell. Millard won the 2017 BIO award from the Biographers International Organization for her “major contribution to the art and craft and biography.”

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