Freelance journalist Kemper (A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, 2012, etc.) revives a legendary adventurer, "one of the only people who could turn [his] garrulous…friend Theodore Roosevelt into a listener."
All but forgotten today, at the turn of the last century the exploits of the American scout and prospector Frederick Russell Burnham (1861-1947) were front-page news. Burnham lived a life of astonishing adventure "almost too far-fetched for credibility, as if an old newsreel got mashed up with a Saturday matinee thriller." Often accompanied by his "intrepid wife Blanche, who could charm high society or handle a shotgun, depending on what was needed," Burnham prospected widely in North America and Africa and tracked Apaches in Arizona and Boers in South Africa, where he scouted behind enemy lines over 100 times. He joined the Yukon gold rush and protected President William Howard Taft from an assassin. Kemper portrays Burnham as exemplifying the adventurer's virtues of courage, sacrifice, self-discipline, self-reliance, and physical and mental toughness. He was possibly the best white tracker who ever lived. War correspondent Richard Harding Davis called him "the Sherlock Holmes of all out-of-doors,” and Lord Frederick Roberts, commander of British forces in South Africa, wrote, "any one of Major Burnham's adventures would provide an ordinary man with conversation for the rest of his life." In Kemper's sure and enthusiastic hands, Burnham storms through the pages of this rousing volume, outwitting determined foes and collecting mining and ranching interests on two continents that never seemed to pay off as expected. No two-dimensional action hero, the author deftly shows Burnham in the round as an embodiment of contradictions in his attitudes and actions regarding politics, wealth, nature, and family. Kemper also addresses with honesty and sensitivity attitudes about race and empire that Burnham's activities incidentally served and that he shared to some degree with many public men of the age.
Thrilling adventures presented with the flair they deserve.