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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 24 September 2011
What makes this book so memorable is the way the individual stories of these insanely brave explorers are told in dramatic episodes which combine to give a panoramic picture of the whole far-flung search for the Nile's source. Jeal has found out more about these extraordinary people than has been revealed before. Speke was no prim, cold fish but fell head over heals in love with a former wife of the King of Uganda and helped the Queen Mother cope with her period pains, her grief for her dead husband, and her excessive drinking. Burton was jealous and untruthful and so ill he had to be carried for months at a time, though later claiming he did most of the exploring during his time with Speke. Livingstone was egotistical and vain but also amazingly self-sacrificing and able to endure awful pain while travelling. The horrifying illnesses and privations suffered by the explorers as they struggled through jungles and along rivers are graphically described in this marvellously detailed account of one of the greatest feats of exploration ever attempted. There is humor too, as when Livingstone washes his hair with foaming soap and the watching Africans (who have never seen soap lather before) think he has taken out his brain. Speke often found that his shoes were of particular interest to people who always went barefoot. The vivid details in this book are as enjoyable as the wide sweep of it.
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on 27 November 2011
Explorers of the Nile.

After reading the very entertaining correspondence on the book which followed William Boyd's review in the TLS, I downloaded the free sample onto my Kindle too see for myself what the fuss was about. I soon realised after the first few pages that this was a book I actually wanted to own, so went on to buy it in hardback. This is indeed Tim Jeal's magnum opus; the book is exceptionally well researched and the writing makes for a compelling read. Both my son and husband started the book and were quickly hooked before I managed to claim it back. The stories of Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Stanley, and Baker et al are woven into an honest narrative, which includes much new information and a reappraisal of Speke since the last book on the Nile explorers was published in 1960. The Burton publicity machine had made Speke out to be a bounder and a cad, (and a sexless one at that) which Tim Jeal's researches have proved to be patently untrue.

That any of the Victorian explorers made it out of Africa alive is a remarkable feat in itself, as their journeys relied on political quick-thinking - as well as extreme physical endurance - due to the Arab slave-traders and their treaties with local kingdoms. Jeal extends the time-frame from the 1850s into the present with Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda. He explains how the boundary set by the British cut in half natural genetic ties between peoples which has gone on to create political instability in the two countries.

My only teeny complaint with the book is the paucity of information on the maps - publisher please note - it would have been more convenient to have them printed as endpapers inside the cover, (Stanley and Livingstone one side, Burton and Speke the other) where they could be found more easily - and (oh And!) they could have been printed larger. It would also have helped if the pre-colonial kingdoms so often mentioned in the text could have shown on the maps too.

Jeal manages to sum up the story of Kenya in a few pages, and in one of his few un-referenced facts says that "the Masai and Kikuyu would be dispossessed of about 60 percent of their land". Well, er-herm, you can't be an expert on everything, and when it comes to Kenya, Jeal is wandering into uncharted territory (for him). I hope his next book will be on Lord Delamere - Elspeth Huxley's volumes have become far too expensive for the general reader now they are so collectible.
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Having the ability to write definitive non-fiction that reads fluently and easily as a good novel, so comfortably carried off here, is a rare skill. Necessarily dense with facts and place names it was reassuring to find myself interested in David Livingstone from the start; we get to know him as he endures lonely, frustrating months in a hut while trying to heal his "irritable, eating ulcers fastening on both feet"; without his full team and the equipment required; feeling abandoned by his supporters. Stanley of course later takes up his quest, after their fabled meeting. Perhaps, unless you are already familiar with 1850-1870's, you will quickly need to latch on to the individuals in order to be swept up into the story. In the past, books have fixed on the geography and re-creation of this adventure rather than the characters. `Explorers of the Nile' is delivered fully-grown and well rounded. It is the many human and even some animal encounters that flesh out the narrative. I'll never look at my (inherited) ivory backed hair- brush in the same light. I now know what it cost.

The author owns his Victorians as intimate friends; he really is the authority on these fired up chaps. Are you already fascinated by this period? Then Tim Jeal is your man - you are safe in his hands. His impressive back catalogue is already stacked with the well-received Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer Livingstone (Yale Nota Bene) and Baden-Powell: Founder of the Boy Scoutsbooks. Their substance, scholarship, intense focus, depth of research; the obvious time and trouble taken to get to the root of the story, makes these volumes stand tall and proud.

Early, pre publication date, accolade was bestowed on `Explorers of The Nile' when it was chosen as the Radio 4 Book of The Week. Neatly, considerably and efficiently abridged by Libby Spurrier, beautifully read by Alex Jennings; this enjoyable presentation indicated the expectation of a general appeal across the genres.

A straw poll across the dinner table reveals that many men profess to only enjoy `books that are true'. Women are more often interested in people, relationships, domestic family sagas and drama; plus we always love a good story. So Explorers of the Nile could tick both boxes...

Re visiting and refreshing misconceptions, and busily rights long-standing wrongs, this attractively presented, substantial volume sets out to put the record straight as to who actually achieved what, where and when - perhaps not a scenario that many readers will initially be very worked up about. To guide you in there are a series of hooks - the blatant rivalries and subterfuge, dastardly cover ups and self serving lies that founded a dynasty of hero worship based on some misinformation. The facts surrounding the slave trade, still a thriving business then are the most alarming. Accommodation has to be made with this despised activity, while planning to get it eventually outlawed. Cannibalism also abounds. The horrible consequences of the introduction of European guns to the continent; also some scandalous, immoral behaviour makes for a shameful record. X-rated, blood-chilling grisly anecdotes are scattered throughout. Forensic, painstaking detective work by Tim Jeal carefully untangles some very sticky webs. Bodies may not be spinning in their graves but they will certainly be sitting up and taking notice. Their descendants too, I imagine.

Happily, lively, quirky humour luckily lifts the mix; you can imagine that our genial raconteur sometimes has one eyebrow raised in amusement at what he has discovered. Wry understatement is his forte.

Generous illustrations, colour plates, photographs, black and white contemporary drawings, keep up the immersion process. My favourite was the matter of factly portrayed ` Royal wife led to execution'. I also enjoyed the language of the journals - the use of phrases I have heard from the lips of the previous century generations - "I was laid up" "people plaguing her" "Such rot about a rotten person" "don't intend to miss the spectacle". Here we have history lessons as we might wish they always been taught. My old school, founded by Lord Rosebery, had, in the sixties, houses named Livingstone, Stanley, Faraday, Raleigh and Nightingale; these names meant little then but are certainly coming alive to me now. Having been to Egypt and seen the Nile flowing through Luxor helped me engage more fully with the dream of understanding all its secrets.

The sheer scale of the expeditions, the glittering prizes dangled before them, sadly less rewarding than promised, general and reasonable hope for their names to go down in history, all beckoned the great men who we get to know so personally, `warts and all'. Perhaps surprisingly their ambitions were also really massive - they feared that the whole of the African race might be wiped out - imagining that introduction of European agricultural methods could save this nation. Missionaries were also appealed for, again with unforeseen consequences.

Uncovering the motivations for such determination, the author treats us to an in depth recreation of the contemporary mood that transports the reader magically back to the era of Empire; the days before instant communications, google street maps; when there were still so many places to discover; cleverly reproducing the colourful theatre that went with that atmosphere. `Different Times' have never been so enthusiastically nailed down. With long sight we can then more easily understand the roots of present day problems.

Reading this kept me going for many days as I became more and more fascinated. The gruelling illnesses, terrible dangers and impressive sense of purpose demonstrated seemed almost super human. Having the book on the shelf as a reference work will be useful in the future. A vast amount of research together with enormous effort to get things absolutely as right, as humanly possible, have created the text book anyone wishing to know more about the era will appreciate. Not all determination and single-mindedness leads to undertaking trips to challenging, dangerous and far- flung foreign environments - some of it leads to libraries, family archives, days spent painstakingly working through journals and papers, endless hours in solitary studies.

As a wife and mother of fishermen I was intrigued to read of the oystermen from the Medway who accompanied Stanley on his trip in the Lady Alice, these fishermen never having been abroad before. Then the group of villagers who shouted "Meat! Meat!" as the canoes went by, attempting to catch a whole crew with a huge net... You couldn't make it up!

Exhaustively annotated, with Contents, Illustrations, List of Plates, List of Maps, Introduction, and at the end, Fifty Years of Books on the Search for the Nile's Source, Acknowledgements, Sources, Notes to Pages and Index, never detracting from the accessibility of text which is left clear and straightforward. Offering adventures to keep you involved and excited throughout; rewarding, enlightening, thought provoking; here we do have `Triumph and Tragedy' in spades. In his thoughtful conclusion Tim Jeal carefully gathers up the strands; writing constructively about the value of such marvellous endeavours. He outlines their immeasurable contribution to the way we live today. Altogether this is an outstandingly worthwhile publication that deserves the high acclaim it will no doubt receive.
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At an early stage in my reading of this book , like another reviewer , I did begin to doubt my will to live . Having written two successful , seperate , works on Livingstone and Stanley frankly Tim Jeal should have stuck with that proven format . The first third , at least , of this book is at times an unintelligible mess as Teal attempts to superimpose the tales of Burton , Speke , Grant and the Petericks upon one another , combined with an attempt to summarise their thoughts and motives on virtually every page . This and an endless array of place and incidential character names makes for going as heavy as on any nineteenth century trek across central Africa . Only when Jeal begins to tell the tale of Samuel and 'Florence' Baker does his perplexing narrative sort itself out . Jeal should have set his sights purely on telling the tale of the Bakers in isolation and contented himself with making a success of just that . Having dealt with the Bakers , Jeal then gives himself the task of going further with extended discussion of the colonisation and subsequent decolonisation of Africa by European nations from an early twenty-first century perspective with contemporary politically-correct bias . Less is frequently more satisfactory . A simple ,extended , account of the Bakers would have been quite sufficient and ultimately more rewarding .
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on 22 October 2011
Tim Jeal gives more than an account of the tribulations of exploration in Africa. He brings you closer to the nature of the men, and a few women, both Europeans and their porters and guides who dared their lives in establishing on record the geographical locations of the great lakes and rivers of Central Africa. Driven mainly by the enquiring mind tempered in some by egotism and in the case of Richard Burton by lack of magnanimity in accepting others achievements when his theories of the source of the Nile where proven incorrect. The disasters in recent Africa history, as in the Middle East has been the failure of the European powers not listening to the 'on the ground' experts of the political and cultural make-up of the various regions and tribes. As Arnold Toynbee said, sadly, 'we learn from history that we never learn from history'.
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on 20 December 2015
The Victorian Explorers who ventured into central Africa in search of the source of the White Nile were a driven bunch. Jeal has been back to the sources to update the information we have about Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Baker and Stanley, and has reassessed their roles. In particular he has exonerated Speke from a lot of the attacks upon him following the quarrel with Burton.

During their travels, they were all laid low for a large part of the time by various tropical ailments, and spent a lot of their journeys being carried around by their long-suffering escorts and porters (or not long-suffering; many sensibly ran away with as much loot as they could get rather than face the perils ahead). Arab slave and ivory traders were active in the region (who interestingly did not seem quite so prostrated by the environment), meaning that the local residents tended to be wary of, if not downright hostile to any strangers in the area. So attacks by stones, spears or arrows were all too frequent.

So, a good, well-researched history of the explorations. And a final chapter shows how the final colonisation and somewhat arbitrary land borders drawn up paved the way for some of the humanitarian tragedies of the late twentieth century. Well worth reading.
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on 15 June 2012
This fascinating book was marred for me by the poor quality maps; my copy is now covered in corrections as I attempted to make sense of the various expeditions. Unforgiveably, the actual source of the Nile is not explained coherently, and much resorting to wikepedia was necessary to sort out names of lakes and watersheds. I was not convinced by the new treatment of Speke, especially his death which if accidental came at a critical time in his career. I did enjoy the read very much and feel the general reader would find much of interest, although the later chapters seemed more suited to another book.
I was left humbled by the bravery and stoicism of these heroes who succeeded where many others fell by the wayside; maybe a bit more psychological depth would have helped. Despite the above, strongly recommended.
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on 14 December 2011
Tim Jeal is an expert on the subject having written biographies of Livingstone and Stanley and here covers some of the same material.

He updates the celebrated Moorhouse books on the search for the origin of the Nile, bringing in masses of recent research. The characters are an amazing array of adventurers, each risking life in Africa for a variety of reasons. The book is reminiscent of a recent book on Everest: none of the locals had any idea why the outsider white man wanted to carry out this exploration at such cost and risk to life.

Jeal's hero is Stanley. He reinstates Speake at the expense of Burton and presents Livingstone as unsaintlike. None of them seems likeable but immensely courageous and driven.The brutality, racism and snobbery of the time is quite nauseating. Deaths are recorded like the loss of chessmen rather than the extinction of real human lives.

If there is a fault in the book it is perhaps that it tries to cover too much ground, bringing the story up to date in a pacy way but sometimes reading like a history textbook, rather than creating, as it does at its best, a real sense of what this kind of exploration must really have been like.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 March 2012
This is a fascinating account of the incredible efforts made by a small number of explorers in the mid 19th century to discover the source of the Nile. The terrible hardships, dangers, illnesses, and complete exhaustion suffered by all of these remarkably brave people during their journeys into the then unknown are brought to life by Tim Neal in this engaging and and informative book.

The first two thirds or so of the book focuses on the explorers' journeys, characters and motivations, particularly Burton, who does not emerge in an attractive light, Speke, who does not get the credit he deserves for his work or character, Livingston, Stanley, Baker, and Baker's fiancee who was a former slave. All of them hated slavery and some, particularly Livingston and Baker, begged the British government to intervene to bring it to an end, but all had to make compromises with slave dealers in order to progress and to survive The relationships between the explorers and their parties with local rulers and their peoples are engrossing, and brought to life with numerous anecdotes. Neal has carried out extensive research from the writings of the main characters, both public and private, and has used this very effectively to shed new light on their actions, motivations and relationships.

The second part of the book deals with the effects of the explorations, and the subsequent 'scramble for africa', bringing the consequences up to the present day. Whilst very informative and enjoyable, this section of the book seems a little rushed, and could easily have been a book in its own right, rather than almost an addition to the main body of this book.

This is a small niggle though - Tim Neal has given us a highly readable account of these amazing journeys of exploration and the very brave people who undertook them.

Recommended
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on 8 October 2012
I found this book hard to get into but was worth the struggle in the end. I learned a lot from the in depth research by the author. There were a lot more explorers of the Nile than Just Livingston and Stanley. Well worth persevering through the early chapters.
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