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on 5 March 2007
Stanley, a pretty dull man, has found the perfect biographer in Tim Jeal.

I really recommend it, especially if you wish to kick a sleeping-pill habit. Just one page of this should get you nodding, and one-and-a-half will have you........Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Needed to be edited down to about half its length, and jazzed up with more rhythmic, dynamic sentences. The "style" is roughly akin to the A-D section of the London Telephone Directory, except that it is a little more sexy.

It is the BBC-4 Book of the Month (Yawn) Need I say more?
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on 13 January 2013
Born an illegitimate child of a working class mother and abandoned by his family at a 19th century workhouse at the age of six, Henry Morton Stanley would grow up to be the greatest explorer of his generation - and, perhaps, since the Spanish Conquistadors. How did this fatherless man rise from the lowest rung of a class-obsessed society to achieve world fame? How is it that despite his achievement he has become the ugly face of European imperialism? These were some of the questions that led me to buy Tim Jeal's 'Stanley'. I was not disappointed.

This book is a sympathetic portrayal of Stanley. The book draws on Stanley's personal papers, which were purchased by the Belgian government from Stanley's descendants in 1982. The collection included letters, diaries, and correspondence on Stanley's explorations in Africa. Jeal's description of Stanley's early life, his sojourn in the United States, his early adventures in Turkey were pulled from Stanley's Autobiography. It is clear from the material that by his early twenties, Stanley had demonstrated that he was leader of men - he could keep his cool under immense pressure and provoke intense loyalty among his followers.

The best part of the book is the description of Stanley's journey from Zanzibar on the East African coast to the headwaters of the mighty Congo River and then on to the mouth of the Congo in Southwest Africa. After reading this chapter, my reaction was, 'wow'! Stanley's achievement was superhuman. He had traced the treacherous river for almost 5,000miles, circumnavigated Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika fought off hostile slavers, cannibals, rapids, starvation, and unimaginable tropical disease to trace the path of Africa's most enigmatic river. In the process, he had lost many members of his expedition or had seen them descend into savagery along the way.

Throughout the book, the author challenges modern-day portrayals of Stanley as the ogre of European imperialism. Jeal shows, instead, that in many ways, Stanley was ahead of his time: he had profound respect for the African tribes that he encountered during his explorations; he was loyal to his African companions whose company he often preferred to those of fellow Europeans; and he used violence as a last result (unlike the supposedly saintly David Livingstone). In other ways, Stanley was a man of his time: he genuinely thought European colonisation would save Africa from the debilitating effects of the Arab slave trade. He also he thought European civilization superior to Africans' and that colonisation was the only way to bring Africa into the modern world.

Jeal overstretches this contrarian analysis. For example, he infers that Stanley's role in setting up the Congo Free State as a personal fiefdom for the Belgian King, Leopold II, was benign. Stanley had agreed to work for the now notorious Belgian king out of sense of duty to the natives of the Congo. This suggestion contradicts Stanley's character as portrayed in the book. Stanley was no fool. He knew that the cunning Leopold wanted a personal colony. Yet, given the absence of law and government along the Congo, Jeal suggests that Stanley believed Leopold's state would somehow provoke men's gentle nature. I played along with Jeal, but I was unconvinced.

This biography is a story about a victor. It is told essentially from British perspectives. I sorely missed the perspectives of Stanley's faithful Zanzibari servants. What might they have said about Stanley? Tim Jeal, by relying on Stanley's papers, excludes the Zanzibari perspectives. Indeed, it might be impossible to obtain Zanzibari. This biography, therefore, is not an objective portrayal of Stanley. Tim Jeal should not pretend that it is. He omitted the voices of the Stanley's most trusted lieutenants - his porters, servants and loyal Zanzibari men who accompanied him on his expeditions. Apparently, no one in nineteenth century Britain thought to record these mens' stories. Jeal continues cheerfully in this tradition. Sadly, Jeal does not reflect on this omission and how it may have biased his portrait of the man.

Despite pleading (in the introduction and in the afterword of the book) that he wanted to portray Stanley as objectively as possible and redeem Stanley's reputation from being a 'scapegoat for postcolonial guilt' (pg. 475), Jeal's politics is apparent throughout the book. For instance, Jeal's judgment of the hypocrisy of the British society - especially of the press - colours the narrative. He reminds readers, for instance, that while the press had criticised Stanley for flogging his sub-ordinates and decimating entire villages during his expeditions, the press conveniently ignored worse massacres committed by subjects of the Crown such as Gordon and Lord Kitchener. True, but that neither makes Stanley's antics more palatable nor the account more objective.

Furthemore, Stanley's role in history is more sinister than Jeal lets on. Stanley served Belgium's King Leopold in plundering the Congo. (For those interested in this history, I recommend Adam Hothschild's excellent book, King Leopold's Ghost, Mariner Books.) It is difficult to whitewash that history. Why not confront it head on and accept it for what it is, instead of contorting history in the name of "objectivity" and contrarian journalism?

As an African raised on a rich diet of anti- and post-colonial literature, I regarded men like Stanley, Livingstone, and Cecil Rhodes--the great and the good of the British colonial enterprise--as scoundrels from the 'bad old days' of empire. I could not even bring myself to read the book; 'Stanley' sat on my bookshelf for nearly four years. Yet, as I read 'Stanley' I began to admire Henry Morton Stanley for his courage, capacity for reinvention, grace, and leadership qualities. Tim Jeal tells a vivid and compelling story of a shy man who challenged the stifling strictures of British society, embarked on the greatest expedition of the nineteenth century, and made history. The mark of good literature is its ability create empathy between reader and its characters, regardless of temporal or spatial barriers between them. Tim Jeal's biography of the great explorer reaches that high mark.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 January 2014
"Dr Livingstone, I presume?" That, in a nutshell, sums up almost everything I knew about Henry Morton Stanley - he was an American journalist who set out to discover the missing Dr Livingstone in the wilds of Africa. This this is almost all most people know of him does him a grave disservice. In his day Stanley was probably the greatest explorer alive, renowned not just for his discovery of the missing Dr Livingstone whilst on assignment for a New York newspaper, but for charting the wilds of East Africa and the Congo, confirming the truth about the source of the Nile, his rescue mission of Emin Pasha, his role in the creation of the Congo Free State for King Leopold of Belgium.

Much of what we know to be 'true' of Stanley is in reality very far from the truth. For a start, his real name wasn't Henry Morton Stanley and he wasn't American. That two such basic facts can have been subject to so much confusion over the years only serves to highlight how much the real Stanley has been shadowed by his undeserved reputation in his role as the 'dark shadow' to the saintly Dr Livingstone. That Livingstone was very far from saintly and that Stanley himself played a large part in the creation of the Livingstone legend, only serves to deepen the irony. In effect, as Jeal argues, Stanley has come to be 'a scapegoat for the post-colonial guilt of successive generations'.

In his day Stanley genuinely believed that bringing European trade and civilisation to Africa would benefit all who lived there, that European colonies could serve to enhance and enrich the lives of the African tribes and that colonisation was the only way to destroy the Arab-Swahili slave trade that was devastating so much of East Africa at the time. That much of his explorations only served to pave the way for the atrocities of Leopold's Belgian Congo is surely something the man himself would have been horrified at.

This was a truly excellent biography of a man I knew almost nothing about. Jeal writes with real flair and verve, and Stanley as a character fairly springs off the page. I could hardly put this book down. Jeal had the benefit of access to many of Stanley's personal papers that have been unavailable to previous biographers, and I would feel no hesitation at all therefore in declaring that this will become the definitive book on Henry Morton Stanley.
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on 30 July 2013
I have just completed this fascinating book. I agree with many other reviewers that it corrects the "received" view about Stanley, and shows him to be a great leader and very sympathetic to Africa and Africans. I would have given the book 5 stars but I feel that in a few places Tim Jeal has perhaps pushed his own views too hard. For example, he takes great delight in trying to show that Stanley never said: "Dr Livingstone, I presume". But his evidence for denying this statement is very slight. I have read Stanley's own account of the meeting and I find it very convincing, as did most people in Stanley's lifetime, even though they were critical of him in other ways. Moreover, it is not contradicted in anything that Livingstone wrote about the encounter and Livingstone praised Stanley very highly and treated him like a son. In any case, on meeting Livingstone in such unusual circumstances Stanley must have said something. I think I might have said: "You must be Dr Livingstone?" Which is pretty much what Stanley said. On another issue, I have not read Jeal's biography of Livingstone, but he is wrong to say in this biography of Stanley that Livingstone only had one convert in all his missionary work. In the earlier part of Livingstone's work in Africa, and when he had a more settled ministry, he wrote to his father in 1842: "The work of God goes on here notwithstanding all our infirmities. Souls are gathered in continually, and sometimes from among those you would never have expected to see turning to the Lord.Twenty-four were added to the Church last month, and there are several inquirers." But in spite of these reservations I still think it is an outstanding book.
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VINE VOICEon 30 September 2016
This is a fascinating biography of Henry M. Stanley, one of the nineteenth century's most prolific and important explorers. It presents detailed accounts of his exploratory journeys in Africa and the impact they had throughout the world. In itself, this is fascinating history, and told in an engaging manner. More than this, though, it's a study of a remarkably complex human being; Stanley's rejection of his given name, his denials of his early life and family background, and his attempts to present himself as an American point to a deeply troubled mind that sought to negotiate the social context of his time. It's also a challenging read, dealing with violence, warfare, cannibalism, racism and the impact of colonialism. Through all this, Jeal is keen to rehabilitate Stanley's reputation, arguing that the image of him as a brutal, unfeeling leader, with no compassion for the African men and women who worked under him, is a distortion. The book certainly succeeds in showing that the reality is more complex than might have been assumed; however, Jeal's arguments comparing Stanley favourably to other more brutal colonial figures get a bit wearing, and skirt rather uncomfortably around some of the major ethical and moral issues of the colonial enterprises that Stanley was involved in. Jeal's text is easy to read, however, and the narrative is gripping. His occasional habit of following a numerical reference to an endnote with a parenthetical comment to indicate that the endnote contains evidence/more detail is a rather irritating distraction, and feels unnecessary and clunky. Overall, this is a fascinating read for anyone interested in nineteenth-century history.
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on 19 March 2018
A well written and sympathetic book that goes a long way to redeeming Stanley's reputation while at the same time rebuking the explorer (mildly) for painting a rose tinted picture of his hero Livingstone (which the author did much to dismantle in his excellent biography). Stanley was a flawed character. He lied about his background (to hide his illegitimacy and his awful childhood) and had a journalist's tendency for exaggeration; he, especially in his younger days, was hypersensitive, easy to take offence and criticize. Paradoxically he was also surprisingly naïve in many respects and this combination made him his own worst enemy. But the author, with access to new material, effectively proves that many of the criticisms of Stanley - about his brutality etc - were fabrications or gross exaggerations by his critics. Where possible Stanley avoided conflict with the local tribes and many of his actions ie raiding villages for food when they were starving and the villagers would not trade with them- were as a last resort. His fellow explorer Richard Burton actually killed more Africans but was wiser than Stanley in not mentioning these deaths in his books. Stanley appears to have been equally naive in his dealings with King Leopold of Belgium and was found guilty by association. But he remains by far the greatest of the Africa explorers of the Victorian era. Hopefully this biography will lead to a reassessment of an extraordinary individual.
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on 19 August 2013
An excellent read about a complex and fascinating man of history. In North Wales our local council has recently indulged itself in a bout of political correctness with regard to HMS without doing sufficient objective research. I am so pleased to have read this book. Thank you Tim Jeal.
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on 9 March 2007
I have rarely read such a riveting book as this one. The story of Stanley's life is extraordinary and dramatic enough in itself, and Tim Jeal tells it with the vividness that we are accustomed to from his earlier superb biographies of Livingstone and Baden-Powell. But the book is not just a gripping read, it is also an eye-opener. Having had access to previously unused documents, Jeal gives us for the first time a full picture of the real Stanley, who emerges as a towering figure of enormous significance in the history of Africa. Jeal's account of his involvement in the Congo, for example, vindicates Stanley from the charges that have often been levelled against him. While we are shown his warts, Stanley comes across as fundamentally decent and likeable human being. This is a book to which I shall return.
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on 18 May 2015
I read first Frank McLynn's 'Stanley: The Making of an African Explorer, 1841-1877' published in 1990. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/stanley-frank-mclynn/1103345755?ean=9780815411673

The story of Stanley is clearly difficult to make sense of and Tim Jeal's biography is a very different reading of the man than is Mr McLynn's. Jeal's Stanley is not the psyco brute that Mc Lynn claims him to be. Stanley was tougher than tough - that seems true, but was he really the heartless driver of men who tolerated no weakness and made no concessions to anyone? And did he view Africans as savages to be expended as necessary, or as intellectual equals to Europeans?

The fact is Stanley made astounding journeys of exploration across Africa and was undoubtedly a towering character and formidable leader of men - despite his short stature. He's certainly an enigma - and this book tries to unravel him in a more measured way than I think McLynn did in his 1990 work.

NB: Mc Lynn has more recently (in 2012) another Stanley biography. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stanley-Dark-Genius-African-Exploration-ebook/dp/B006X0M2CU/ref=la_B001H6V2OE_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431941668&sr=1-10
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on 7 April 2011
Like the author of this book I am also very pro H.M Stanley . The book is amazing in its detail and very fair to all involved. He was a great friend to those who those who really knew him . His life was indeed from rags to riches although duty rather than money was his guiding principal . In spite of a few long and uncommon words the author has presented us with a fascinating account based on intensive research . This book inspired me to buy Stanleys autobiography which is brilliant in detail and style and covers his early life so thoroughly.What Stanley did to end the slave trade and his ability to lead and relate to the black africans shows he was ready to judge people by thier character and not by thier social standing. I was aware of the statue of Stanley which lay uncared for in the Congo and feel the right place for this monument to the Worlds greatest explorer truly belongs on the plinth in Trafalgar square as his achievments dwarfed all others who share that special place . Although only Stanley knew the whole truth of that life so much must remain uncertain. I will seek to read other works by this author as he well deserves to award for this book. I wish everyone could read this book as it is an inspiration of what is possible in a life given the most arduous circumstances.
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