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The Pale Abyssinian: The Life of James Bruce, African Explorer and Adventurer Paperback – 5 Mar 2001
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How is it that James Bruce is not better known? His is the most extraordinary life story, a tale of adventure and derring-do in the grand old tradition. We think of the 19th-century David Livingstone as a great African explorer but Livingstone himself called Bruce "a greater traveller than any of us", a man who explored the sources of the River Nile a hundred years earlier. Near the beginning of this marvellous biography Bredin summarises his subject's travels: "Bruce had crossed the Nubian Desert, climbed the bandit-bedevilled mountains of Abyssinia, been shipwrecked off the North African coast and sentenced to death in Sudan. He had lived with the rulers of undiscovered kingdoms and slept with their daughters, been granted titles and lands by barbarian warlords and had then returned--more or less intact--to the place of his birth, a small town near the Firth of Forth. So extraordinary were Bruce's adventures that he was widely disbelieved by polite British society on his return and stigmatised as a liar. Yet Bredin has been able, by travelling Bruce's way, to demonstrate just how much of this fantastical adventure story is actually true.
Bredin's wonderful enthusiasm for his subject and his subject's odyssey shines on every page of this biography. Some of the emphases perhaps stray a little into the realm of the cranky. His chapter 5, for instance, speculates about the lost Ark of the Covenant, believed by some to be in Abyssinia (Bredin concedes that he has drawn heavily on Graham Hancock's The Sign and the Seal: A Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant for this section). But in general the reader is swept along by Bruce's overpowering personality and his amazing adventures. --Adam Roberts --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
’A wonderful story, splendidly retold’ Anthony Daniels, Sunday Telegraph
’Bruce emerges from this penetrating and original study as one of the toughest, bravest, most effective and learned of British African pioneers’ Robert Carver, Times Literary Supplement
’An excellent account of the man and his travels… James Bruce was a larger-than-life character whose exploits deserved retelling and whose reputation sorely demanded rehabilitation. The Pale Abyssinian does both of them proud’ Michael Thompson-Noel, Financial Times
’The purpose of Bredin’s book is to restore Bruce’s reputation, but he does much more than that. He allows us to glimpse the barbarous splendour of a still-medieval Ethiopia’ Giles Milton, Mail on Sunday
’An interesting story dashingly told’ Philip Hensher, SpectatorSee all Product description
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He was following in the steps of a Spanish Jesuit, Pedro Páez, who had been there two centuries earlier. Discoveries not being the primary purpose of Páez's mission, the Jesuits had not given much publicity to the feat (although Bruce knew about it).
The book is a thrilling account of Bruce's travels; of his lengthy stay in Northern Ethiopia, then (as almost always) in the throes of civil war, never knowing whether he'd live to see the next day; and of his return to Europe by the difficult and bandit-infested Nubian desert. Whilst in Ethiopia, among other things he was appointed governor of a border state and later given the command of an Ethiopian cavalry squadron.
Bruce had discovered the source of the Blue Nile, which carries most of the water. The world would have to wait another hundred years for Speke and Burton to discover the source of the White Nile. The two make junction in present day Khartoum.
When Bruce returned to England and Scotland, his accomplishments had been so extraordinary that they were not believed! He was only fully vindicated many years later.
Unless you want to read first-hand the lengthy account of his travels in his book "Travels", this one is highly recommended!
As the subject it little known to us in the 'modern era' (he was a well known cad at the time) the author spends alot of time justifying his personal interest and why more light should be shed upon this adventurous Scot. The book is a basic narrative of both his journey to Abyssinia and the general events that created and subsequently destroyed his reputation. Why Bruce is not better known and put in the ranks of Livingstone and Burton I do not know, but the author proved here that he is a worthwhile subject for what is a literary tail of Bruce's own work.
I recommend this book to anybody interested in eccentric explorer types, mysterious travel literature and most importantly to anyone interested in the history of Ethiopia. With this last fact in mind it is worth noting that few Europeans had been to this exotic and enchanted corner of Africa so this man and this book should be treasured.
As far as the Ark of the Covenant debate goes I think the author clearly believes that Bruce either saw the site or discovered something of value, however, he does not let this detract from the rest of the book.
Bruce, ostensibly in search of the source of the Nile seems to have had a more secret purpose which Bredin’s strictly scholarly account can only guess at. As a freemason, Bruce’s overriding interest was probably in tracking the whereabouts of the fabulous Ark of the Covenant, which supposedly contained the original stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments.
This is a tale of battles and intrigue, survival, mystery and romance. Bruce is shipwrecked in the Red Sea, leads a troop of cavalry in a medieval battle, finds the lost Book of Enoch, spends passionate nights with the beautiful Ozoro Esther, the love of his life, and finally tears himself away to return to Europe. All the while he humps along an enormous quadrant and a quantity of other scientific equipment, and records observations of such meticulous accuracy they are useful even today. On the last lap home he once again almost loses his life and all his equipment in the Nubian Desert.
By frequent use of Bruce’s journal and by meticulous following up of all obscurities, Bredin makes this book both enthrallingly immediate and convincingly authoritative. Read it.
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