The European Exploration of Africa
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 An eye-opening safari into the history and psychobiography of African exploration. McLynn (Burton, 1991, etc.) begins with a brightly colored sketch of the European canvassing of Africa, from Mungo Park's quest in the late 1700's for the source of the Niger to the successful penetration nearly a century later of the last blank spots on the map by German, French, and English adventurers. In between came a host of pith-helmeted derring-doers, most notably Burton, Livingstone, Speke, and Stanley. As McLynn sees it, all were driven by demons, from Stanley's sadomasochism to Burton's hatred of blacks to Livingstone's misanthropy. Upon this historical framework, the author builds his most unusual contribution: a thematic, transhistorical analysis of African exploration, covering in depth such topics as transport, the ivory trade, and the influence of imperialism. The impression grows of a nightmare continent of disease, warfare, and slavery into which Europeans brought their own cruelties and manias, at great peril and for little profit. McLynn provides fascinating, little-found information about everything from favored apparel (umbrellas, dark glasses) to porterage styles (because of the tsetse fly, domesticated animals couldn't survive in the African interior, so the human foot became the main means of exploration) to the eating habits of the black mamba. A close scrutiny of a few months in Stanley's 1874-75 transverse of Tanzania provides a case study of typical obstacles faced by the explorers. The blemish on this peach of a book comes at the end, when McLynn attempts--as did Fawn M. Brodie and others before him--to psychoanalyze the great explorers: Talk of mother fixation and other libidinous undercurrents sounds sadly reductionist in the face of these explorers' extraordinary feats. Except for those Freudian shadows, much bright light on the Dark Continent.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1993
ISBN: 0-88184-926-X
Page count: 390pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1993


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