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Travels in West Africa

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  344 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Unique perspective: Until 1893, Mary Kingsley led a secluded life in Victorian England. At age 30 however, Kingsley defied convention and arranged a trip to west Africa to collect botanical samples for a book left unfinished by her father. Such a daring adventure was unheard of for women at the time. Kingsley traveled through western and equatorial Africa and became the fi...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 15th 2002 by National Geographic (first published 1897)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,601)
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Kathy
Just came across a lovely bit, as Kingsley laments people's over-reliance on water filters to protect them from the many diseases rampant in Africa:

"A good filter is a very fine thing for clearing drinking water of hippopotami, crocodiles, water snakes, catfish, etc., and I dare say it will stop back sixty per cent. of the live or dead African natives that may be in it; but if you think it is going to stop back the microbe of marsh fever--my good sir, you are mistaken."

Roughly contemporary with...more
Joanne
It's not that this book isn't interesting or well written - it is both. It gets its low rating because I simply couldn't get past the period references to Africans. In Kingsley's defence, she was very pro-African and much concerned with promoting a positive view of African peoples in an era when they were viewed as exotic and absurd. Nonetheless, her language and description betray her social context and are so outrageously racist when read from a 21st century perspective that I just couldn't en...more
Daniel Apatiga
After reading Mary Kingsley's "Travels in West Africa," I have learned about the various tribes in West Africa. The story attempts to recount all of Mary Kingsley's anthropologic and scientific interests in the African cultures, geography, and its animals to a limited extent. I highly recommend it to anyone who is dying to learn about West Africa especially if one hasn't been there. Her style and diction is also excellent, being humorous, and at times inappropriate for a woman of her time.
Claudia
Read this book as an arm chair traveler. I have wanted to go to African and see the place where man first strode on two feet and left Africa at the horn in Yemen and spread across the globe. I wanted to see dawn over the Serengeti Plain and lions, giraffes and elephants in the wild. I wanted to see the Great Rift Family which is splitting Africa in two and see Mt. Kilimanjaro. Alas, stage 4 cancer precludes international travel with its concomitant risk of disease that my compromised immune syst...more
Carol Wakefield
Marvelous woman. If the book had only recounted Mary's travels ,that would have been enough. In the late 1890s Mary, with a small inheritance took herself , a mind with a scientific bent, a fortunate constitution and amazing energy and visited the English colonies of west africa. Her treks, accompanied by local tribal members took her by foot through jungles, swamps and up a 13000ft peak, plus along rivers by native canoe. Wading through chest deep swamps? Well one does have to wring out ones sk...more
Laura McDonald
What a long book, but Kingsley's excellent sense of humor makes the dry parts bearable. She's at her best when writing in travel journal style. Can you believe this woman went alone, in 1893, to remote areas in West Africa crawling with cannibal tribes? Some areas had never been visited by a white man, much less a white woman. Her views on African problems and issues at the time are very sensible and logical to the modern reader; she never falls into the trap of basing her opinions on prejudice....more
Bruce Hesselbach
A remarkably fearless explorer and scientist, Mary Kingsley traveled to areas where the mortality rate among Europeans was extremely high, to cannibal villages, and to rivers full of crocodiles. One of her amazing feats was to climb Mount Cameroon (13,255') by a new route through constant rain. When her native guides gave out, she made the final ascent by herself in heavy, cumbersome Victorian dress.
Her writing style is a bit uneven. At her best she can be enormously witty and entertaining, as...more
Gerald Sinstadt
Mary Kingsley was a truly astonishing woman. She was a Cambridge graduate with a genuine desire to contribute to the store of man;s knowledge. In this book she writes about her trave;s in the 1890s to fulfil a passionate desire to get to know West Africa.

Not only did she succeed in that objective, she made many friends among people she frequently refers to as "savages," she learned to master a canoe made from a hollowed-out tree trunk (falling out of it on a number of occasions), she collected p...more
Clivemichael Justice
This was one plucky lady. Mostly excellent narrative of her adventures in locations from a time long past. Her observations and opinions from extensive visits into the interior and along the coast remain a record of the attitudes, beliefs and expectations of an imperialist culture convinced of it's own superiority. Her scathingly pithy, sometimes complimentary reflections on the local characters she met give good insight into the person she was and the folks who lived and visited west Africa. Mu...more
Katherine
Dec 02, 2012 Katherine rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: All fans of jungle thrillers
Recommended to Katherine by: Michelle
I had never heard of Mary Henrietta Kingsley before, and I'm really glad that I have now read her book and know about this courageous woman.

It is a little slow at the beginning. The preface is a good introduction (so don't skip it!), which leads you to Mary's life and circumstances that leads her to start traveling in West Africa in the late 1800s at the age of 30. In those days, where no single woman traveled to West Africa for the sake of it, Mary was one of a kind and when you read this book...more
Kay
Aug 01, 2007 Kay rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Armchair adventurers
(From my Amazon.com review):

A most remarkable woman

If you enjoyed Katherine Hepburn's spunky performance in "The African Queen" or delight when Elizabeth Peters' fictional Amelia Peabody prods a villain with her trusty umbrella, you will undoubtedly enjoy the real adventures of Mary Kingsley in Africa. At thirty years of age, her parents having both died, the sheltered Miss Kingsley set off for the continent that had for so long ruled her imagination. Setting herself up as a trader in West Afric...more
Amerynth
What Mary Kingsley did was pretty incredible.... in 1893, she decided -- skirts and all-- to travel to West Africa to explore, collect fish and learn more about the religion of native people. Her account "Travels in West Africa" follows her adventures as she traipses through the jungle, paddles down rivers in canoes, and hikes up a mountain in the Cameroons in a storm. Her spirit of adventure and pluck is incredibly admirable and pulls together a wide ranging story, as she travels across the cou...more
Kathryn Raphael
This is one of my all time favorite books.

It was written in the 1890s, so it takes a few pages to get into the period English, but I was fascinated right away.

This is a hilarious, well written, thought provoking autobiography filled with adventure and touching accounts of humanity at it's finest.
Sarahandus
This is an absolutely delightful telling of Mary Kingsley's adventures among the tribes of west Africa. She doesn't go into detail about the disasters and tribulations as you will find in other travel books. But with more wit and humor she still tells of the difficulties in getting about and dealing with the Africans as well as the whites she meets.

If you are somewhat squeamish, you might want to skip the 4 chapters on African religion, spirits and gods. I wish I had.

To get about in that type of...more
Jim Corson
Mary Kingsley was quite a woman! She had a very astute mind and she was an extremely tough traveler in a part of Africa which killed more people from disease then some wars do. I would have loved to meet her!
Janene
Mary Kingsley wrote this book as an account of her travels through the West African bush as a thirty year old Englishwoman traveling alone in 1895. She had lived an extremely sheltered life until her parents died, then she decided to continue her father's study of fetishes in Africa and also was commissioned collect fish and lizards for the British Museum.

Her descriptions of her relations with the various tribes, including her favorite cannibals, is fascinating. I enjoyed her descriptions of the...more
Gary Land
This was a delightful and informative book. Kingsley was an intrepid Victorian English woman who traveled alone to West Africa in the late 19th century and made her way through swamps, jungles, and mountains, fending off snakes, hippos, crocadiles, and mosquitoes, among other wildlife. She made friends with missionaries, traders, and natives, most of whom were pretty skeptical about her travel plans. She tells her story with bravura and humor, much of it directed at herself. Although many of her...more
Sharon
It's a sneak peak into another place and time, West Africa in the 1890's. Mary Kingsley tells all about her adventurous travels in a 700+ page memoir. She was a British lady geographer, biologist and ethnologist who always wore a skirt--in lion pits, in swamps, climbing mountains and paddling canoes. Put Kingsley's honky British colonialist perspective on the back burner of your mind because she can say outrageous crap typical of her time. Then enjoy gorgeous close-up and zoom shots of West Afri...more
Deborah Schwartz Jacobs
Fascinating, revealing, inspiring. Mary Kingsley deserves our attention.
Diane
I wanted to like this book and at a different point in my life I would probably have enjoyed it. I actually did enjoy what I read - about 60 pages, but I simply did not want to read anymore. Mary Kingsley is a fascinating person but her comments are very late 19th century colonial comments for the most part. I think I would prefer a biography of Kingsley. And one gift to myself in retirement is not reading what I don't want to (most of the time)
Websterdavid3
Mary tells an incredible story of a 19th century brit woman freed to explore w. africa by confluence of money and male relative's deaths.
Distaff stiff upper lip-- how did she portage canoes while holding up her long dress?

It is written in Victorian (?) language; first third of the book i hardly could keep reading; then my mind transformed and i clicked in, the language gap disappeared. Curious about your experience of that.
Abby
I am a little bit fraudulent in marking this book as "read," but I read as much of it as I'm going to for a while. I am thoroughly impressed. Mary Kingsley is one smart, strong, scientific girl, and she does not make a big deal about herself. You become gradually impressed as her life is in peril and she finds herself equal to the situation over and over. I would like to come back to this book eventually, but it is so very long...
Timothy Ferguson
I enjoyed this a great deal.

The author, Kinglsey, is an excellent study in contradictions. A scholar, but not in favor of the equality of women, and horrifed by trousers. In favor of native rights, and yet in favor of slavery if pracitsed by natives. Such a complex and odd character, and so widely traveled (in search of freshwater fish?) Truly an amazing story. I listened ot the Librivox recording.

Lynn
I have the feeling I read the abridged version of Kingsley's book. It went rather quickly from traveling down rivers and discussing tribes. Kingsley went by herself with some African guides and spent time with the people there. She tried to est the same food and learn their gods. She does call them savages at one point but is much better than other writers at pronouncing Europeans as the civilized race.
Melissa
We need an official DNF category on Goodreads, lol.

This was a Literature by Women selection for September 2007, I would never have picked it because travel memoir is not my bag (usually) and this is definitely not my bag. As courageous as Mary Kingsley was, I just have no inclination to finish this (that's right, I'm the group moderator and I couldn't finish...says a lot - it wasn't the most popular group).
Andrea
Kingsley is possibly unique in her perspective as a single white woman traveling alone in Africa in the late 19th century. While her views on race and culture are more narrow than ours, I think she conveys considerably more respect for the Africans she works with and considerably less Victorian judgmentalism than most of her contemporaries. Her style is witty and often self-deprecating.
Emily
Nov 22, 2009 Emily marked it as to-read
So far, I'm really enjoying this book...the only thing I can say is that if they really want people to WANT to read this hilarious book, they should really change the book cover, because it looks 'boring'... Not really what a 'most adventurous book rated so because of its high adrenaline content...' should look like. But maybe that's just me.
Kimberly N
It's so crazy it has to be true: a woman with no particular outdoor experience goes exploring in West Africa in 1895. She describes witchcraft, cannibals, canoeing up rapids, swamp crossing, mountain climbing... in a petticoat, dress, and hat. It was slow going at times but overall this is an amazing story.
Michelle
Well, I finally finished this, reading bits and pieces between other books. I enjoyed Mary Kingsley's writing style and wit, but the endless jungle descriptions wore on me and I could not read a lot at a time while sustaining interest. I think Kingsley is more interesting than the West African jungle. :-)
Karen
Feb 11, 2011 Karen marked it as to-read
Mary Kingsley is a 30 something late-Victorian woman who inherits money on her parent's death and decides to head off to West Africa. There, never changing out of her petticoats, but without an English escort, she tells a witty tale of her adventures.
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