THE EXPLORERS by Martin Dugard


A Story of Fearless Outcasts, Blundering Geniuses, and Impossible Success
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An account of the search for the source of the Nile River, mixed in with psychological and sociological lessons to be gleaned from the explorers’ story.

Dugard (To Be a Runner, 2011, etc.), who co-authored the Killing… books by Bill O’Reilly, gives gripping treatment to the mid-1800s Richard Francis Burton–John Hanning Speke African adventure, despite the intrusion of a warrantless theory of traits to explain the human urge to explore. It was a curious mingling—the outsized, egotistical personality of Burton with the introverted, disciplined Speke. But as Dugard presents in this enjoyable re-creation of their hellacious journey, they still made considerable discoveries in the wilds of Africa. Then, their very public post-expedition argument provided another angle of melodrama to the already highly colored world of exploration. A number of other explorers get drawn into Dugard’s picture—e.g., Christopher Columbus, Edmund Hillary, Alexander von Humboldt—and the author has a talent for making even the smallest appearance another gratifying ingredient to illustrate our human desire to explore the unknown. However, when Dugard tries to tie a bow around this company of misfits by advancing the notion that they all possess seven traits, the narrative gets forced into a straitjacket. There isn’t a single explorer, or even individual, who would not benefit from possessing curiosity, hope, passion, courage, independence, self-discipline and perseverance, and Dugard fails to make the case that “[t]ake away one—just one—and an expedition was doomed to failure.” Further, the author inflates his focus to include ambition, sacrifice, “ethics and morals,” creative intelligence and a host of other premium qualities—“Their trick was to be bold, even when they were cold, wet, tired, hungry, miserable, or sick”—while playing down or ignoring altogether the less savory grandiosity, simple commercialism or pure greed that certainly afflicted the explorers at various points throughout their journeys.

A fine adventure yarn nearly sapped by a gratuitous hook.

Pub Date: June 3rd, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4516-7757-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2014


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