An action-packed recounting of one of the most famous incidents in the history of exploration.
Until well into the 19th century, European geography textbooks portrayed central Africa as a vast, uncharted wasteland, almost certainly a graveyard for any outsider unwise enough to enter it. The Scottish explorer David Livingstone almost single-handedly rewrote the record with his travels between 1841 and 1863, when “he saw for himself that Africa’s interior was a marvelous mosaic of highlands, light woodlands, tropical rain forest, plateaus, mountain ranges, coastal wetlands, river deltas, deserts, and thick forests.” Through Livingstone’s expedition reports, armchair travelers were able to gain knowledge of the 20 million or so tribal people who lived in this huge area and of their “hidden civilizations,” while would-be colonizers searched through Livingstone’s pages to determine where to land their invasion forces. All well and good, until, in the late 1860s, Livingstone and a large entourage disappeared somewhere between Zanzibar and Lake Tanganyika while poking around for the source of the Nile. Enter New York Herald correspondent Henry Morton Stanley, who, “charging through life with a massive chip on his shoulder,” as explorer and popular historian Dugard (Farther Than Any Man, 2001, etc.) writes, was no mean adventurer himself. Braving disease, difficult terrain, and all manner of deprivation, Stanley toddled around southeastern Africa for three years on Livingstone’s trail, despairing of ever finding the senior explorer: “The Apostle of Africa is always on my mind. And as day after day passes without starting to find him, I find myself subject to fits of depression. Indeed, I have many things to depress me.” In one of the first great instances of a wag-the-dog story, Stanley’s quest became more famous than Livingstone’s, with the words he uttered on finally encountering the Scotsman—“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”—being far better remembered than Livingstone’s reply. (“ ‘Yes,’ Livingstone answered simply. He was relieved that the man wasn’t French.”)
Fine entertainment for adventure buffs, solidly researched and fluently told.