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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Problem With Presumption, 21 May 2003
This review is from: Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingston (Hardcover)
Here's what I knew (or thought I knew) before I read this book: David Livingstone was a missionary who, after many years of trying, converted almost no Africans to Christianity. He got sidetracked into trying his luck at exploration...and didn't have much luck. He mainly wandered around, not accomplishing much. Henry Morton Stanley went looking for Livingstone as a newspaper "publicity stunt." He had a lot of money behind him and found Livingstone without too much trouble. Later on in life he went back to Africa and debased himself by working for the notorious King Leopold of Belgium, helping to set up the infamous slave-labor colony in the Congo. He was, even before he went to the Congo, a cruel racist. Although maybe I shouldn't admit to my ignorance, that's pretty much what I "knew." Some of the above turned out to be true, some of it didn't, as I discovered after reading this book. It is true Livingstone didn't have much luck with conversions, even though he spent a good portion of the last 30 years of his life in Africa. He was, however, a better explorer than I realized. He was the first white man to walk across Africa, doing so from east to west. From 1841-1851 he explored the deserts, rivers and lakes of Southern Africa. From 1858-1863 he explored the Zambezi river and the area to the north of the river. It is true that he didn't accomplish two of the main goals he had set for himself. He hoped, by his explorations, to open up the African interior to economic development which would eliminate the slave trade. This didn't happen during his lifetime. He even compromised his principles and accepted food and hospitality from Arab slave traders as his second goal became his primary goal, and even an obsession- to find (or to confirm or disprove what previous explorers thought to be) the source of the Nile. He was about 600 miles too far to the south, and never found what he was looking for. Indeed, after being found by Stanley, Livingstone remained in Africa and died in pursuit of his obsession. Despite these failures, Livingstone did map quite a bit of Africa and measured the height of, and gave the English name to, Victoria Falls. Stanley, while undoubtedly a racist and clearly cruel- he beat his porters for little or no reason- did not have an easy time working his way to Livingstone. As Mr. Dugard makes clear, Stanley was relentless in making his way through jungle, swamp and across the savannah, having to deal with crocodiles, lions, hyenas, and tsetse flies along the way. He survived bouts of malaria and dysentery, encounters with cannibals, an attempted rebellion by his men, and porters running off with essential supplies. He also wound up in the middle of a war between Arab slave traders and various African tribes. He was genuinely fond of Livingstone and didn't just stick around to utter the famous sound-bite, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" He spent five months with Livingstone, bringing essential supplies so that Livingstone could go on with his explorations. Stanley later, in 1874, returned to Africa and circumnavigated both Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika and followed the Congo river all the way to the Atlantic. These were remarkable achievements. Do they absolve Stanley of the sin of helping to establish Leopold's nightmarish Belgian Congo? No they don't....but they were still remarkable achievements. This book works well as an adventure story, but it is more than that. The author didn't just look at the books that Stanley and Livingstone wrote for public consumption. He also looked at the private journals of the two men. Thus, we are privy to their most inner thoughts and disappointments. Livingstone was guilty about not having spent more time at home in England with his wife and children. (His wife was so lonely she came to Africa to join him in 1861. She died of malaria in 1862.) He also, however, despite his reputation as a "saintlike" missionary, was very sexually active with African women. He himself estimated that he had enjoyed the favors of 300 natives. Stanley was the result of a liaison between his prostitute mother and one of her customers. He was dumped in a workhouse by uncaring relatives and was sexually abused by his fellow inmates. His journals, unsurprisingly, show a man wracked by insecurity and depression, warding off thoughts of suicide by keeping himself constantly busy. Mr. Dugard speculates that part of the appeal for Stanley in finding Livingstone (and his affection for Livingstone once they met) was his desperate need for a father figure. (Livingstone was about 30 years older than Stanley.) Considering Stanley's upbringing, this speculation does not seem far-fetched. One problem this otherwise fine book does have is that it suffers from a lack of maps. The only map in the book is printed on the inside cover. It is ok but not very detailed, and it is awkward to get to while you are trying to keep your place as you read. As most of the chapters go into considerable depth concerning where Stanley and Livingstone are at any particular moment, it would have been much better to have more maps scattered throughout the book. In any event, after reading this excellent combination of adventure tale/ dual biography, I feel a little less ignorant than before. Not a bad thing!
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Location: Ogdensburg, NY USA

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