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The Gates of Africa: Death, Discovery and the Search for Timbuktu Paperback – 4 Oct 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; New Ed edition (4 Oct. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007122349
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007122349
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 168,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘Enthralling. One of the most fascinating accounts of exploration that I’ve read in a long time.’ Jim Blackburn, Wanderlust

‘In “The Gates of Africa”, Anthony Sattin has excelled himself’.’ Conde Nast Traveller

‘Absorbing, highly readable and in places ironically humorous, a well-rounded and definitive study.’ Martin Booth, Sunday Times

‘An extraordinary panorama of adventure, scholarship, intellectual enterprise and ideological conviction, enlivened by frequent splashes of eccentricity and beautifully written throughout.’ Jan Morris

About the Author

Anthony Sattin is the author of several books, including the highly acclaimed The Pharaoh’s Shadow. He reviews regularly for the Sunday Times and also writes stories for the travel section of that newspaper. He contributes to a number of other newspapers and magazines including the Telegraph, the Guardian, Conde Nast Traveller and Marie Claire.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By James Shelby Tucker Jr. on 11 Oct. 2004
Format: Paperback
Africa was the last continent to yield its secrets for two reasons. It was deadly. Few who ventured beyond the coasts returned. (Malaria was not understood until 1897.) And Europeans could extract Africa's riches without incurring the risk of proceeding beyond the coasts. Those few who accepted that risk and returned to report what they found gave us books that will never be equalled. It is this uniquely rich literature that Sattin has tapped into. As Alan Moorehead framed his books about African explorers around the story of resolving the 'riddle of the Nile' and Charles Miller his account of European engagement with Kenya around the building of the Uganda Railway, Sattin has used for his narrative theme the story of the African Association that sponsored explorers. Its founding members' names are unknown to us today. In Georgian London they were a band of dilettanti dedicated to nothing other than geography, who met in spacious drawing rooms to debate the implications of the letter just received from Mungo Park, who explored the Gambia, Senegal and Niger Rivers in 1795-6 and 1805-6, or John Ludwig Burckhardt, who was the first European to see Abu Simbel in modern times. As we read of the proceedings of the African Association we wonder how many participated because they sensed that they were contributing to something that would endure. Sattin has given us the entire picture. We relive their lives, their times and, above all, the adventures of the brave men they sponsored in this well researched and wonderfully written and informative book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "keithparker5" on 11 Aug. 2004
Format: Hardcover
What an incredible read. I started it on my 5-hour journey by train from Moscow to St Petersburg expecting to spend more time gazing out of the window at the passing scenery (my first time to Russia)and yet I found myself completely immersed in tales of almost fictional proportion but, as the old adage goes, truth is literally stranger than fiction. Mr Sattin has certainly done his homework and yet manages to take us on a journey of epic dimension without it being a history lesson. The new craze for adventure travel or extreme travel isn't new. Pioneering men and women beat us to it centuries ago. Mr Sattin allows us to meet them almost as if we were their benefactors anxious for their success. Read this book. Vicarious living it is.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By VPman on 27 Nov. 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book tells the story of the search for Timbuktu, flow of the Niger and legendary fields of gold by impulse of Sir Joseph Banks founder of the African Association. History books can get quite tedious but in this case the writer succeeds in building a suspense al the way to the end. It is very well researched and written. The author must have spent years wading through archives to write this book. He manages not to indulge in facts and figures and tells us just what we want/need to know. Maps are crucial and this book doesn't lack maps, very nice maps as a matter of fact. So if you want to find out why Mungo Park made a 180 an returned to England just 2 weeks short of his goal. Or what the Suisse, Scots, Irish and Germans had to do with British exploration then there is only one thing to do... read this book.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 16 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
The discovery of the interior of Africa is a good story. Timbuktu is a fascinating, almost mythical place. Sattin has done his research and it shows: no fact, however mundane, is excluded. The result is a wordy, portentous effort, worthy but dull. Like many an adventurer before me, I gave up long before reaching Timbuktu.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
cannot recommend highly enough 18 Jun. 2005
By Anthony Havens - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A truly compelling and rivetting tale of the early exploration of Africa. By "early" I mean the previously little documented period of 1788-1830, prior to which virtually nothing was known of Africa's interior probably because almost all earlier travellers perished from thirst, starvation, disease, and hostile natives - most dangerous of all were the dreaded "Moors", whose self-proclaimed desert hospitality was invariably suspended whenever helpless and starving white explorers sought their compassion.

Virtually all the explorers sponsored by the African Association died on their journeys but decadent 21st century man must surely marvel at the incredible degree of honour and sense of duty possessed by these intrepid late 18th/early 19th century gentleman explorers.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A lively and engrossing atmosphere of adventure & discovery 11 May 2005
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In 1899 in London a group of geographers, scholars, and traders decided it was time to solve Africa's mysteries: they formed the African Association, the world's first geographical society, and several over decades sent adventurers to explore the 'dark continent'. These early adventurers were to change the image and shape of Africa, and Anthony Sattin describes their journeys of adventure in The Gates Of Africa, lending a lively and engrossing atmosphere of adventure and discovery to the account. Sattin is a journalist and broadcaster who himself has traveled extensively over the region in which the early African Association operated: his personal familiarity with the area lends Gates Of Africa an additional air of authority.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Exploration of Africa in the late 18th and early 19th century 26 July 2009
By Utah Blaine - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It may be surprising to some (it was certainly surprising to me) that less was known about the interior of Africa at the turn of the 18th century than was known about the New World or the South Pacific. The coast around Africa had been heavily explored (and exploited) by Europeans, but virtually nothing was known about the interior. This book details the attempts by individuals and small groups to penetrate, map, and detail truth from reality about the interior of Africa during the late 18th and early 18th century. Various scholars, adventure seekers, and glory hunters tried to cross the Sahara and penetrate northern Africa to find the legendary city of Timbuktu, the source of the Niger, and new possibilities for trade to bypass the Moorish middlemen. Some tried by starting in Egypt and heading west, others by starting in (or around) Gambia and trekking east. Virtually all of them died in the attempt.

There is a lot to like in this book. It uncovers a fascinating and totally unknown (to me at least, probably to many others) era of history. While Bonaparte was stomping around Europe, a small group of scholars was actively engaged in trying to learn more about their world, in spite of the upheaval in Europe. Joseph Banks and some of his wealthy comrades in England would regularly commission various individuals and groups to attempt to penetrate Africa to find Timbuktu and the source of the Niger. The goals were nominally scientific - to ascertain the position of various landmarks, rumored cities, etc., but as the expeditions failed and the situation in Europe changed, the goals evolved to become more economic and geo-political. Roughly 40% of this book is effectively a travelogue in which the exploits of the various explorers is recounted. In some cases the journals of these explorers has survived and Sattin has reconstructed the tales of their adventures. It would have taken some big cojones to attempt what some of these brave (foolish?) men did.

There are several reasons why I only give this work four stars. First, roughly 60% of the book covers the political machinations of Joseph Banks and his cronies. This is important to the story, but I wanted to read more about Africa, not about wealthy Londoners. Too much time is spent in London. I wanted to learn more about the explorers, the people and wildlife and terrain in Africa, etc. and less about Banks and crew. Second, this isn't the kind of book most people are going to need to add to their collection. It is now out of print as I write this review (26JUL09), but I wouldn't spend my money again to buy it. Definitely readable, but as a relatively expensive hardback, not really collectible. I won't be returning to it again and again. Third, the ending is really disappointing. Someone finally makes it across the country, and that's it. There were lots of loose threads that could really have been tied up together, and the narrative could have been taken a bit further. It was almost as if Sattin just got tired of writing and ended the story at a convenient point.

Bottom line is that this is a good read for anyone interested in Africa and the age of exploration, but not a uniquely outstanding book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
More death than discovery 21 Mar. 2009
By Roman Nies - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book makes a good compilation of the exploration efforts to find a way to Timbuktu, elucidate the geographic realities in Western Africa with the three big rivers Gambia, Senegal and first of all the Niger. This is also the story of the African Association and the biographies of some courageous and gifted men who did not fear death to make an achievement that must deem as under-ambitious today, but would have secured them imperishable fame and place in the annals of the discoveries of the world. Instead most of them didn`t even make it to a burial in Westminster Abbey, rather in an unknown sand pit.
The author knows to develop entertaining excitement, but apparently failed to keep to it all the end, loosing the last breath to write down what and who finally brought the knowledge the explorers in West Africa were out for. For the successful explorers the author has only a few pages left. Maybe he felt it was time to finish the report. Caillié, who was the first to make it to Timbuktu and back to tell his story, was not commissioned by the African Association. Notwithstanding he should have been honoured with a little more observance.
North Africa and the greatest part of the West was muslim country. The Arabs dominated the trade and kept the black Africans under the threat of their slavery marketing. Their manners were mostly not at all civilized which made travelling for western people, notably Christians a risky affair.
Interestingly the author states on the last pages as for the difficulties of the explorers in obtaining the aimed for goals in 30 and more years of trials, that the greatest obstacles over the course of several missions and several deaths had proved to be neither climate, nor black natives nor even disease, no, it were the Moors, Muslims all, and Arab intermediaries between Europe and black Africa. But this idea came to the reader already long before the author mentioned it. So long is the list of the mistreatments by the rulers and controllers of the area. Muslims treated foreign travellers, especially suspected Christians between the Atlantic ocean and the Red sea, between the Gulf of Benin and the Mediterranean Sea not friendly, as the legend often tells, but regularly hostile, with a few exceptions. Either their company could not be trusted, so that caravans must be avoided by the explorers or journeys postponed, or they started from the beginning of the encounter to show how they wanted to deal with the Christians. Not amusing or healthy. Thus this forced the later travellers to learn fluent Arabic, disguise themselves as muslim traders or pilgrims. But even then they lost their lives after a always bewildering long ordeal of travel or hold out. The hardships over years can not be relived, even not - I presume - in an Egyptian or west-African prison of today. The travelling conditions of the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century in Africa cannot in the least be compared to that what we find today, even if we prefer to do it the camel way.
This book is also a homage to the African Association which made great advances in geography, launched some of the first truly scientific geographical expeditions, established a model for the Romantic explorer, paved the way for new commercial ties and helped create what remains one of the world`s foremost societies for geography and exploration. The great age of African exploration may have peaked in the second half of the nineteenth century, but it began in June 1788, when Sir Joseph Banks and the other members of the Saturday`s Club sat down to dinner at the St. Alban`s Tavernt.
For all who want to revive imaginative the exploration of Western Africa and want to make their own special way to Timbuktu this book should be the right introduction.
Must read 8 Oct. 2014
By JJ - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very well researched non-fiction book that reads like a fictional story of heroic adventurers and their dangerous (often fatal) journeys to discover a new land.

I'm currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, so it was exciting to learn about the first adventurers in the region that I am currently living
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