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Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  328 ratings  ·  73 reviews
Nothing obsessed explorers of the mid-nineteenth century more than the quest to discover the source of the White Nile. It was the planet's most elusive secret, the prize coveted above all others. Between 1856 and 1876, six larger-than-life men and one extraordinary woman accepted the challenge. Showing extreme courage and resilience, Richard Burton, John Hanning Speke, Jam ...more
Hardcover, 437 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Yale University Press (first published January 1st 2011)
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Africa
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Brook Bakay
An excellent book, it would have received five stars if it weren't for the author's fanatical hatred of Richard Burton. According to Jeal, Burton did nothing that wasn't utterly despicable. Jeal will bring out the same quotes multiple times to prove his point. When talking about Burton, his writing devolves into rhetorical questions and reads like a high-school essay. I understand that he is reacting to the sensationalized portrayals by other biographers, and Burton himself, who was certainly on ...more
Mikey B.
This book describes the lives of various explorers of the source of the Nile. They were an intrepid group – they had to be – the search was more than arduous through a vast terrain infested with multiple parasites (mosquitoes, tsetse flies...). They would have to bargain for rights of passage with the different indigenous peoples they encountered who were also fighting with slave dealers.

As the author points out these individuals (David Livingstone, Richard Burton, Samuel Baker and his to be spo
...more
Eliz
I had one complaint about this book, there is no real good map of the region so you're able to orient yourself. It was very interesting in describing their present through today.
Laura
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John
I read Explorers of the Nile in part because I enjoyed Tim Jeal’s book on Stanley, and this in many ways takes up that story where it left off. The tale gets quite complicated, not least because what might be the common-sense assumption, that explorers of the Nile started off by sailing up the river from its estuary, is largely wrong. The key discoveries were made by those who entered the interior of Africa from the Indian Ocean coast, notably from Zanzibar. Unless you have an atlas open – and e ...more
William
I read the Moorhead book many years ago and thought it better, but this book was more detailed and up-to-date. I had just read a book about Kit Carson's exploring in the West. He travelled in a morning what took these explorers over a month. Of course very different conditions and purpose, but with hundreds of porters and luxuries of a British gentlemen provided, I thought they would do better. Many of them were sick and had to be carried. The author describes the vicious backbiting and pettines ...more
Phil Meyer
For anyone who has read the Alan Moorhead books, this is an interesting fleshing out of the history. Thanks to exhaustive research on the Burton and Speke explorations, the author is able to reveal the deeper truths behind their antagonism of their relationship including Burton's treachery and Speke's frustration with Burton's pettiness. Other interesting updates were also made to the Livingstone & Stanley histories. The book focuses its narrative in great detail both within the African cont ...more
Chris
There isn’t much new here in terms of Stanley and Livingston. The focus, however, is on the effects of such exploration as well as the disagreements that resulted among the explorers. The narrator’s voice does grow on you some what. ...more
Rebecca
A book about some remarkable men (and one woman) who put their lives at stake to explore the (to the Europeans) unknown areas of central Africa in the search for the source(s) of the Nile - but also the consequences it would have well into modern times for the land and its people and how something that started out as good intentions somewhere along the line went horribly wrong (as in the cases of Uganda and southern Sudan).

Detailed, well informed, well written and presented. (I actually thought
...more
Dee Meyer
The Blue Nile and The White Nile are two of my All time favorites. They are so beautifully written that I often wished the author would write about all of history. That being said, this recent book didn't reflect that literary competence, but I was very pleased to see the objective research in this book which clarified some of the previous misconceptions. I solved the map problem by enlarging the maps in the book so I could refer to them easily without turning back to search for them. It is alwa ...more
David
Tim Butcher's enjoyable book "Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart", which traces Stanley's journey down the Congo, was the only book I had previously read that relates to the area, and that was some time ago.

Jeal focuses on some pretty remarkable men, who disappeared into the African bush for years at a time. All of them were looking to establish the ultimate source of the Nile, but were motivated by very different things: God, country, or personal glory, or a combination of them al
...more
Kenny
Excellent. Well researched, well paced, and accessibly and entertainly written. A fascinating account, with quite a number of new bits of research - Burton & Speke in particular. The writing is both punchy, informative, and often evocative without ever coming near flowery. The chapters on Livingston and Stanley - both of whom the author has written individual biographies of, are particularly good (I suspect these were the 'edited highlights'. He gives the political background well too, a nua ...more
Carey Combe
What an extraordinary bunch of people - fascinating to know what drove them on.
Doug
I had been looking forward to getting my hands on this book for months and REALLY wanted to like it-but I had some problems. If you are a history buff and have spent any time studying the early exploration of the Nile River, chances are you are either a Burton fan or a Speke fan. I think it's pretty safe to say that both were competant, intrepid explorers who added greatly to the geographical and ethnological knowledge of their time. Having said that, both were hard-headed, egocentric and had a ...more
Sheri
"Livingstone, I presume?" You finally reach this point about half way through the book, when explorer Stanley (not who he seems) finally succeeds in locating the long lost legendary explorer Livingstone. Before that, the physical dangers & travails of the many British explorers of the Nile headwaters are already pretty amazing. Coupled with the remarkable hardships experienced by the explorers themselves are the usually brutal treatment they give their African porters. Besides the beatings t ...more
Gary Sedivy
A fascinating read. I love reading history books. The trials and troubles these explorers endured is amazing. The wealth of information in this book is amazing. I learned although the Europeans were relatively ignorant of the inner continent of Africa, the Arab slave traders were quite familiar. It was not stated in the text, but slavery in the U.S. ended before slave trading in Africa ended. To Britain's credit, slavery was brought to an end. The leaders of Britain understood that the culture o ...more
Jon Kalb
The author notes that it’s been 50 years since publication of The White Nile, the bestseller by AlanMoorehead. Picking up where he left off, Teal concentrates on the explorationsand consequences of the work of the “Victorian Five”: David Livingstone, HenryStanley, Richard Burton, John Speke, and Samuel Baker. Among the highlights, welearn of the relentless character bashing of Speke by Burton (and his wifeIsabel) stemming from Speke’s solo discovery of Lake Victoria—which he claimedto be the sou ...more
Stuart
A history of the exploration involved in white men finding the source of the Nile. Really enjoyed it, the amount of trails and troubles the explorers had is incredible. It also delves into the political implications, like how this led to the Sudan being comprised of two countries that didn’t belong together in the slightest, and how Uganda still has a similar issue, and how the Nile discovery merged with opening up the Congo to Leopold II, but I mainly read this for tales of adventure.

And those
...more
Alex Apffel
Once again, I recognize I was born in the wrong century.
I should have been a Victorian Explorer.
This was a fascinating book on a number of levels. It explored many of the famous explorers whose names I knew, but whose stories I did not - rectify many misunderstandings and myths along the way.

For example, I had always believed that in the great controversy between Richard Francis Burton and John Speke that Burton was in the right and Speke was the poser. It turns out (according to Jeal any way
...more
Valerie
This is an academic read since Jeal has researched his subject and unearthed new sources. He is at pains to point this out at the beginning and how Moorehead was inaccurate with some information. Is this necessary?

In the same tone, the emnity between Speke and Burton is described in detail and given inoodinate attention. Theri characters are black and white for Jeal who is determined to set the record straight about Seke and portray Burton as the arch villain. Burton is a schemer and Speke is c
...more
Bethany
"Most people are bad. If they are strong they take from the weak. The good people are all weak. They are good because they are not strong enough to be bad."

It was actually a really great book, though tough to listen to because there's a TON of geography. I had to stop and check Wikipedia and maps several times to get my bearings. It's the story of the brave men, who along their brave porters and guides, went in search of the source of the Nile. It's also the story of the Africans they encounter,
...more
Chris
I loved this book. My only criticism would be that I would have benefited from more maps but that's what your IPad is for, right? The author went out of his way to be objective and to let the history of the explorers and the aftermath of the opening of the middle of Africa speak for themselves. Riveting to read and it was one of those books that makes me say "Oh, no!" or "You've got to be kidding!" out loud sometimes.
Llew
Wow, what a simultaneously disturbing and enlightening history. So much on the topic I knew nothing about, and so much much horrible, violent death. Not for the lighthearted but heavily recommended all the same. Some of it is all to surreal and exotic and then once again, more tragedy. And then they get back and it's many pages on whether they actually found the source of the *true* Nile. Weren't they just talking about somebody being roasted alive after their arms were chopped off? Who cares ab ...more
Jwest87
I love this subject, but for some reason this book failed to consistently hold my attention. Maybe I would have preferred a few chapters on what life was like in the Nile area before the explorers. The strongest part of the book is the competition between Richard Burton and John Speke. The detail of some of the diseases/conditions of the people are gut wrenching. Nevertheless, the book can get very tiresome.
Ray
"Explorers of the Nile" provides a detailed description (an overly detailed description in my mind) of the explorers of the Nile and east Africa. Clearly well researched, but the details of names and places only other historians might recognize, and which the reader will most likely never come across again, made my eyes cross and my mind wander.

There's a lot to learn from the book about the explorers of the area, the geography, the history, and I enjoyed the analysis toward the end of the book
...more
Bill Dewalt
This book is a tough slog because it is filled with names and places -- and there is not a really good map to let you know the locations of African tribes and the places mentioned in the book. Having a good atlas by your side is essential.
That said, this book gives you an excellent sense about why East Africa is as it is today. The explorers were amazing in what they endured -- but the bureaucrats who made decisions were not as up to the task. If you want some background on why recent history ga
...more
Misterd11
A wild story of greed, money, power, missionary zeal, and unbelievable human perseverance. One thing that really struck me was the Old Testament aura behind those simple words "The Nile" that moves the soul of a Christian but made a 19th century native of (what is now) Uganda/Sudan/Burundi go "meh" - my only complaints were (1) this book could have used more editing. There were some sentences that left me scratching my head. And (2) there weren't enough maps, and the maps there were are too tiny ...more
Andrew
I really enjoyed this book. It's really almost two books in one because of how it is set up. The first two-thirds of the book is the story of the explorers and their search for the source of the Nile. All the big names (and rivalries) are here - Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Grant, Baker and Stanley. The writing is compelling as you understand the hardships these men faced in exploring this region. The last one-third of the book is a very objective look at what the "outcome" of these explorations ...more
Shannon Burrows
I had a difficult time getting used to the voice, it was a tad boring but I could not shut it off, had to finish the book by hardcover because the updating of info near the end got confusing with the mixing of tribes and leaders etc......but really interesting. This is more than just a story of adventure but a side history of people trying to conquer people because they think their way of life is better, incredible!
Mark
Between 1856 and 1876 several expeditions were launched in an effort to discover the source of the Nile River. This, at the time, was considered the worlds greatest undiscovered geographical mystery. Jeal covers the characters involved and corrects many of the misconceptions and false reports of the past (primarily those involving Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke). All these explorers experienced incredible hardships, as unfortunately so did the natives with whom they came into contact. It ...more
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