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on 24 November 2013
I heard of Mary Kingsley when reading The Book of The Dead, from the QI researchers, and decided to have a look at her book.
This book is a delight to read, being written in a humorous style including asides and anecdotes that can often be reread without palling. Even today a 30 year old woman would hesitate to go wandering alone in West Africa, collecting fish specimens from dangerous rivers, accompanied only by local natives, many of whom at the time were still cannibals. Mary learned to handle native canoes by herself.
Her descriptions of the country and it's people are superb, bringing them to life in a way lacking in most narrators. She had no illusions about the dangers, yet trusted men from local tribes to guide her through jungles and swamps, past friendly and unfriendly inhabitants.
Get past the rather wordy introduction and you will love this book, from the first river steamer journey onwards.
I'm sorry for anyone who finds racism in this work; there isn't any. This is a book of it's time, there's class and race separation everywhere, but Mary clearly considers all men equal, and generally superior to women! That's a fault in her Victorian upbringing.
She died in South Africa during the Boer war, helping in a hospital. Otherwise she may have become a famous authoress of her time.
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on 29 March 2014
I totally agree with the other 5star reviewers: this is a book full of wonders! And I too found it following a lead from the book "QI the book of the dead". Seeing the total approval from the other reviewers, I will only add a couple of the points I most admire.

For instance, her take, in the final chapters, on the political aspects of colonialism. Or the urgency for finding preventive cures for malaria - still attributed merely to "bad air", and not yet understood as a mosquito borne parasite. Or her rubbishing of the then prevalent thought that native africans could never become reliable labour: she took the view that only by understanding them and winning their respect could you hope to make progress, and understanding and respecting their beliefs and traditions is more effective than trying to steamroller over all obstacles. How true, still, today, in all human relationships.

In terms of value for money, it is infinite (kindle price: £0.00!). But it does require an investment - of your time (at the first page my Kindle White told me it would take me 9 hours and 8 minutes to complete). 425 pages most of which are replete with information and well thought out opinion on many matters.

I do hope Ken Horton has got around to reading it and will raise his rating to five stars - he is missing an enriching experience. As you are if you don't try it
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on 9 April 2017
What an amazing woman Miss Kingsley was. To go alone to West Africa was adventurous enough, but her journeys upriver and the ascent of Peak Mountain were truly awesome. Her observations on the different tribes were sometimes condescending, but reflected the typical British bias of the time. The chapters on fetish I had to give up on as altogether too gruesome; the treatment of unwanted babies was particularly upsetting. How sad that just 3 years after writing this plucky lady died while nursing in South Africa.
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on 26 August 2013
Written by an amazingly brave woman who came from an unlikely, sheltered Victorian background. At the age of 30, with no experience she embarked on an epic journey to West Africa
Although I found the introduction a little pedantic, as the story unfolds it is wonderfully descriptive and very funny in places.
Mary Kingsley re-creates the sights, sounds and smells of her journey with great charm and humour.
She describes some quite hair-raising adventures in an almost matter of fact attitude.
I might never had found this book if I had not been reading "The QI Book of the Dead" and was fascinated by the chapter on Mary Kingsley.
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on 15 May 2013
Mary Kingsley is the most amazing, travelling alone to West Africa at a time when a woman travelling on her own was not the "done thing". She had a very good understanding of the whole way of life out there and a mixture of admiration, sympathy and exasperation for the local way of life. She is also rather witty and not at all old fashioned or stuffy.
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on 8 May 2018
Puts Bear Grylls and her modern explorers to shame
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on 1 November 2016
Great book, I wish I could have met this intrepid lady scientist. Radical views for her day but a true lover of West Africa
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on 14 January 2014
An amazing woman who went off to the African rainforest dressed in Victorian long skirts and blouses. She is self effacing, writes with great humour and shows a complete lack of superior racist attitudes. She betrays a great understanding of, and curiosity in, the members of the various tribes with which she has contact.
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on 30 November 2015
A treasury of detail about the feared, unhealthy European colonies of west Africa in the late Victorian period. She presents gazetteer quality information with a light touch and an eye for the humorous. It becomes apparent that she was a very brave and adventurous lady.
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on 3 June 2015
Excellent read! I love true stories, especially those in Africa, and especially memoirs of strong women, like Mary. This is an beautifully written (in the grammar of the day, 1890s), beautifully told, and often very witty tale that left me wanting to read her other works.
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