DARK SAFARI: The Life Behind the Legend of Henry Morton Stanley by John Bierman
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DARK SAFARI: The Life Behind the Legend of Henry Morton Stanley

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Drawing on newly discovered letters by the 19th-century newsman/author/explorer as well as previously published material, including Stanley's own thoroughly unreliable memoirs, former BBC correspondent Bierman (Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire, 1988, etc.) has put together a perceptive, fast-paced biography. Sympathetic yet cleareyed, this portrait of the swaggering, boastful, contentious Stanley is convincing in its analyses of the sources of his prickly and puzzling personality. Stanley's illegitimacy and abandonment by his mother obviously played a central role in his later development into a misanthropic paranoid. A Welsh workhouse was his childhood ""home,"" and Stanley claimed in his self-dramatizing autobiography that he ran away at 15; recent research, however, indicates he was released. A stint as cabin boy aboard a cargo ship took him to the US, where he served with both sides in the Civil War and traveled throughout the West as a free-lance reporter. His work caught the attention of James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, who, as a circulation-boosting gimmick, financed an expedition headed by Stanley to find British explorer David Livingstone, missing in central Africa. Stanley's eventual ""Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"" became a sure-fire laugh-getter for vaudeville comedians of the period; despite the guffaws, however, Stanley achieved celebrity status. Later, he traced the Congo River from its source and, later still, headed an expedition to ""relieve"" a bizarre adventurer named Emin Pasha. The expeditions were invariably marked by enormous hardships, much cruelty, frequent deaths. Despite much public criticism of Stanley's obsessive behavior and lack of concern for human life, however, he was ultimately knighted, Bierman handles these complex matters with admirable clarity. A vividly written narrative of an action-filled life, told with candor and understanding--and far more rewarding than Frank McLynn's truncated Stanley, reviewed below.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1990
Publisher: Knopf