11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Compelling Read,
This review is from: Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure (Hardcover)
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.