Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard
- 340 pages (316 pages without the Notes and Index)
- Beautifully paced narrative features short sections and chapters, just right for your stopover at a coffeehouse or a quick read on your lunch break
I never knew to whom the famous sentence “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” was directed or attributed, and now I do. Dr. David Livingstone, a commoner who became a famous explorer and the toast of Britain, set out to find the source of the Nile in the mid-1800s. He’d already accomplished much to further European knowledge of the African interior, and he was also known to harbor anti-slavery sentiments not popular at home (the British textile industry at the time depended on cheap cotton from the Americas).
In sub-Saharan Africa, both Livingstone’s expedition and his health failed. Arab slave traders discovered the explorer in this condition along one of their caravan routes, took him in and cared for him until moving on. Recognizing him as a famous anti-slavery activist in Europe, however, they destroyed all the letters back to Britain he had entrusted to them. Consequently, no one in the British Empire knew Livingstone to be alive but stranded in the sub-Saharan trading center, Ujiji.
Meanwhile, Henry Morton Stanley, a New York Herald reporter and Civil War veteran with a colorful past was assigned the task of finding him. His story of African exploration shares much in common with Livingstone’s own: lofty goals, internal troubles, and physical suffering. Both men changed through the course of their African travels, although in different respects.
There is definitely some element of “skip-ability” with recurring themes of fever, starvation, struggles with porters and interactions with the Arab traders. Don’t skim along too quickly, though, or you’ll miss some milestone moments that crystallized some aspects of the men’s characters.
While this synopsis makes the book sound terribly grim, I didn’t find it depressing in any respect. The dire circumstances are offset by the strength of spirit and resolution each man showed. Their personal flaws and significant mistakes lend authenticity to them as heroes and suggest that we, too, have some measure of greatness within.
Time to leave Africa for now. The next book isn’t so much a chronicle as a way of viewing history: Swerve by Pullitzer Prize-winner Stephen Greenblatt.