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Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  3,725 ratings  ·  363 reviews
A compulsively readable account of a journey to the Congo — a country virtually inaccessible to the outside world — vividly told by a daring and adventurous journalist.

Ever since Stanley first charted its mighty river in the 1870s, the Congo has epitomized the dark and turbulent history of a failed continent. However, its troubles only served to increase the interest of Da
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 3rd 2008 by Vintage (first published July 3rd 2007)
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Blood River by Tim ButcherThings Fall Apart by Chinua AchebeThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara KingsolverHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieHeart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
1st out of 1,057 books — 1,006 voters
A Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertInto the Wild by Jon KrakauerInto Thin Air by Jon KrakauerIn a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Favourite Travel Books
6th out of 1,172 books — 2,491 voters

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Community Reviews

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Paul Bryant
Note :

Tim Butcher is officially a diamond geezer. He's just joined Goodreads and read my review below and still sent me a thank you message today. Rereading the below review, I think some authors could have taken umbrage because, well, it's actually quite cheeky. The word pompous is used. Some fun is poked. Given some of the frankly unsavoury, if not downright ugly, author/reviewer encounters there have been on this site, I therefore salute Tim.


Dec 12, 2013 Caroline rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Caroline by: Mikey B
In 2004 Tim Butcher realised his dream of crossing the Congo from side to side. It’s an enormous country with hugely challenging terrain. He was following in the footsteps of his hero, Henry Stanley – he of “Dr. Livingstone I presume” fame. They shared a link. Both Butcher and Stanley were journalists working for The Telegraph newspaper in London.

Tim Butcher
Tim Butcher

In some way his trip was every bit as difficult as that experienced by Stanley. Exhaustingly high levels of humidity and heat, matted rainf
Jul 31, 2008 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: DRC workers
Recommended to Sarah by: Noel
I read this book on the airplane during my epic 42 hour flight from Papua New Guinea to South Carolina. It kept my attention despite my incredible fatigue and anxiety. But I had mixed feelings about it.

At first, it annoyed the hell out of me. He kept going on and on about his fear and how scary the Congo is. The Congo is scary. However, the people in the Congo are amongst some of the most amazingly friendly, hospital, and cheerful helpful people in Africa. While he gradually did give some shout
I love travelogues. And I am very interested in Africa and its history. Therefore, I was very curious for this book which describes one of the most challenging travels in contemporary Africa: Starting at Lake Tanganjika and ending at the Atlantic Ocean where the river Congo completes his journey of thousands of kilometers. I was very impressed by the speed the author managed to finish his journey. It took him about six weeks – a real sprint compared to the man who went this way first, Henry Mort ...more
What is it with me and muggy, hot, equatorial places and rivers? Like the book The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann, Blood River recounts the tale of Tim Butcher's crazy obsession to the trace the routes of a great explorer, Stanley in this case, through the Congo. While the rest of the world has become more accessible in the past half century, these two equatorial locales on different continents show that winning a battle (finding a route, establishing a f ...more
Another Western journalist's account of his travels through a war-torn African country, this time, the Congo. For anyone who read and enjoyed King Leopold's Ghost, this book can almost serve as a sort of sequel. In it, Tim Butcher attempts to retrace Henry Morton Stanley's portentous journey through the Congo over a century before. A friend of the author ironically points out, it's probably more dangerous to trek across the Congolese bush now than it was in Stanley's day.

So, I admit the book's
Henna Paakkonen-Alvim
I love travel books in general and liked this one in particular as this is not simply cultural exposure but rather a combination of history, politics and adventure faced by the author.

Tim Butchers book was a very insightful and vivid writing about the authors promise to follow Stanleys footsteps and trek across the DRC. Great reading and learning about the history of this country and about the adventure that Butcher had there. His account shows the backward spiral that this country, full of natu
I was surprised by the lack of blood in the book to be honest. Despite the author's continual expressions of fear and terror on his journey, he somehow fails to convey it other than by just saying so. The dreaded Mau Mau are glimpsed but not engaged with, and the massacres that often happened in the past aren't rendered in a way that makes much of an impact. I also became a bit tired with the subtext that seemed to say all the Congo's problems are rooted in the problems laid by the Belgian Empir ...more
Wendy Unsworth
This is the story of the re-tracing of Henry Morton Stanley's crossing of Africa; it makes for fascinating reading. The journey is interspersed with sections going back to Stanley's epic journey, so it is part history, part travelogue.
There is no doubt about the dangers of undertaking such a journey and this is very evident in the account. It tells of the Congo's history of colonialism, dictatorship and war and a country in horrifying present-day decline.
I particularly enjoyed the encounters wi
Journalist Tim Butcher makes the improbable journey overland from the Great Lakes to the Congo River and down to the coast in 2004, as the various wars in the Congo continued sporadically despite the formal end to hostilities. If you want to understand IRC's recent figure of 5.4 million excess deaths in the Congo since 1997, read this book. Butcher stumbles onto dying villages stranded in the forest as roads built in the 1950s are reclaimed by the jungle, settlements freshly burned down by milit ...more
Aidan Williams
I really enjoyed this book, mainly because it dealt with a journey in a country that is a bit "off-limits" is that makes sense. It was a fascinating journey brought vividly to the reader by Tim Butcher. I generally envious of every travel book I read, wishing I was the one on the journey. I still got that from this book of course, but there were also other sections of Tim's journey that I was glad I was the reader and not the one finding a way through the remotest parts of that incredible countr ...more
Lisa Bryant
I LOVED this book. It makes me super happy when an author can weave history throughout a story to where I leave entertained and educated. It's weird to write that I loved this book because the subject matter and content was dark and disturbing but it was still a fascinating read. I felt like I was traveling down that river with the author. I did think the ending was a bit anti-climatic or I probably would have given it a 5th star. He also came to several conclusions about the people of the DRC t ...more
Brilliant; but so so sad.

Tim sums it up well:
"The normal laws of development are inverted here in the Congo. The forest, not the town, offers the safest sanctuary and it is grandfathers who have been exposed to modernity rather than their grandchildren. I can think of nowhere else on the planet where the same can be true".

He attempts to follow H.M. Stanley's (he of "Dr Livingston, I presume?" fame) expedition down the length of the Congo River, whilst also retelling the horrific and brutal histo
After several days of reflection, I will increase this rating to four stars. I read this book as I was reading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild . It proved to be an interesting comparison and contrast, which I hadn't expected. This book is about a man's obsession to recreate Stanley's 19th century expedition through the Congo's interior.

As for comparisons: both books were written by journalists, and reinforced my belief that journalists do not make good writers. Tom Wolfe may be an exception to th
Tom Collin
Awesome yarn that combines the fantastic account of the author's trek down the Congo river, and a brief history of Congo free state/Congo/Zaire/DRC. The historical anecdotes are effortless weaved into the narrative, making this an extremely enjoyable and informative read.

I read this whilst in-country, which added to the experience, as I continuously sought to find aspects of Butcher's tale in what I saw myself, 6 years after the publishing of the book. Things have somewhat improved, but I don't
Norbert Mbu-mputu
A century after the memorable journey of his Daily Telegraph colleague Henry Morton Stanley who mapped the Congo basin and then the now Congo country from its source to its mouth at Boma, Tim Butcher made the same journey, from Lubumbashi to Boma. This time, he chose the after war period. It was a real challenge and this book is in fact the celebration of such achievement. The journalist, like his former fellow, become the voice of the voiceless (what about those millions of the Rwandese refugee ...more
I read this book on an excellent recommendation: I’d once heard Michael Palin say it was his favourite travel book, and I can see why. It’s a gripping read and an epic adventure that, all things considered, I’m happier to enjoy vicariously. Even the author describes his Congo River trip as ‘ordeal travel’ but it’s also an informative and often affectionate portrait of a place.
Ali Oates
I read this book about 3 years ago and found it a compelling story of a country that had had so much potential in the past but now was in ruins and was dangerous. It left me feeling sad and not hopeful for the future for the people of Congo. I have since lent it to several friends who have all enjoyed it.
Raja Sekhar
one of the best books I have read. lot of my favorite topics: History, colonialism, resource curse, travel journalism with a touch of adventure and daredevilry. kudos to butcher :)
Ramona Liberoff
The Congo is, as the author points out, the darkest heart of Africa-sequentially brutalised, once functional in some ways and now given over to the madness of jungles and wars. A really interesting book-the author followed in the footsteps of Livingstone and Stanley, and takes the Congo river in the face of all (significant) obstacles down to its end, at no little risk to himself. Very worth reading if you are interested in Africa-my only frustration was that it was about a dozen things at once: ...more
This is another book I read because I figured, "Why all the fuss?" It was well worth it. it didn't blow my mind, but I was astounded with how many parts of it resonated with my own experience in Malawi. Accounts such as these give some credit to the supposition that "Africa is a country". Some of the politics that occurs as far north as Cairo are replicated further south of the continent. They just differ in degree.
In some of the worst cases of travel writing, descriptions of the environment can
Julian Walker
An outrageously simple concept of a journey - to follow in the African footsteps of HM Stanley, he of "Dr Livingstone, I presume?" fame? Not really.

Political intrigue, guerrilla warfare, starvation, poverty, unparalleled mob brutality and wanton violence now provide the backdrop antithesis to Mr Butcher's journey through some of the most beautiful jungles as he follows the Congo River. Along the way he meets hope in seemingly hopeless situations, he encounters peace amid terror and good among ba
A superb book! Not just a thrilling travelogue through one of the worlds most dangerous regions, but a fascinating socio-political history of the area too. Recommended!
Tom Elder
Tim Butcher. Brilliant.
Blood River.
This is a true story from Tim Butcher who is a journalist, and he wants to travel across the Congo, some 3000 kilometres. If like me you love Africa and all things African you will love this book.
Don't moan the next time you walk to the shops 1/2 a mile away, these folks had to walk for days on end to get anything.
One of the things I liked most of this book was the authors ability to describe all the areas in which you travel. So well described that you actuall
Trine Villemann
A Fantastic book. So full of colours. It was like doing the walk yourself.
Mikey B.
This is a very engaging, but at the same time, disturbing story of this man’s journey on the Congo River.

Mr. Butcher gives us many moving impressions of life in this part of the world – and it is for the most part not very pretty. He meets a wide array of characters, most of who have been deeply affected by the violence and poverty in the Congo. There are many enduring images from this book. The four Africans who took him by pirogue (a type of canoe) up a part of the Congo left a very forlorn fe
Uncovering the Heart of Darkness

To understand the essence of Africa and the wars he was covering, journalist and author, Tim Butcher conceived of a plan to follow in explorer and fellow journalist, Henry Morton Stanley’s footsteps through the Congo from Kalemie on Lake Tanganyika westward to Boma at the mouth of the Congo River. Butcher spent three years planning the trip and finally in 2004, it seemed as if the great war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had established a cease fire which
Libro che mi è piaciuto molto, ma che prima di iniziare guardavo con scarsa fiducia: copertina mediocre, titolo brutto, retorico, a effetto (il solito effetto che sfrutta Conrad e la tenebra) – il trionfo della banalità.

Invece, per fortuna, da subito si è rivelato il contrario delle mie basse aspettative: asciutto, senza enfasi, senza pregiudizio, molto documentato, sempre sul pezzo, divagazioni solo dove serve e tutte molto interessanti, avvincente, appassio
Tim Butcher is to be saluted for making and recording this extraordinary trip. It was every bit as dangerous as Stanley's, if not more. He faced the same diseases and supply problems as Stanley and his men. While armed enemies haunted Stanley, Mr. Butcher is vulnerable to more powerful weapons and is traveling essentially alone.

Descriptions of the former civilization are striking, especially coupled with the author's observations of time going backwards. Mr. Butcher describes hotels, roads, func
Christopher Rimmer
Tim Butcher makes a perilous journey into the heart of Africa and finds it broken.

The former Daily Telegraph scribe became fascinated by H.M Stanley's crossing of the middle of Africa in 1874 and made an audacious decision to attempt to retrace Stanley's epic journey, carrying with him little more than a packet of baby-wipes and a penknife.
In doing so, he encounters a destroyed country he memorably describes as being in a state of 'undeveloping' as opposed to being undeveloped. During the journ
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Goodreads Librari...: sorting out glitches in an author ppage 10 159 Jul 30, 2014 02:18AM  
  • Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness
  • In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo
  • No Mercy: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo
  • Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa
  • The Black Nile: One Man's Amazing Journey Through Peace and War on the World's Longest River
  • Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria
  • Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles To Timbuktu
  • The Zanzibar Chest
  • House of Stone: The True Story of a Family Divided in War-Torn Zimbabwe
  • Malaria Dreams: An African Adventure
  • Africa: A Biography of the Continent
  • Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe
  • The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda
  • The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari
  • The White Nile
  • A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa
  • The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe
  • The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence
Tim Butcher is a best-selling British author, journalist and broadcaster. Born in 1967, he was on the staff of The Daily Telegraph from 1990 to 2009, covering all major conflicts across the Balkans the Middle East and Africa. Recognised in 2010 with an honorary doctorate for services to journalism and writing, he is based with his family in the South African city of Cape Town.
More about Tim Butcher...
Chasing the Devil: The Search for Africa's Fighting Spirit The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War Because I am a Girl Rugby League Yearbook 2014-2015: A Comprehensive Account of the 2014 Rugby League Season League Express Rugby League Yearbook 2013-2014: A Comprehensive Account of the 2013 Rugby League Season

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“….So much crueller than any British colony, they say, so much more brutal towards the local Africans, so much more manipulative after begrudgingly granting independence. But the history of British colonialism in Africa, from Sierra Leone to Zimbabwe, Kenya to Botswana and else-where, is not fundamentally different from what Belgium did in the Congo. You can argue about degree, but both systems were predicated on the same assumption: that white outsiders knew best and Africans were to be treated not as partners, but as underlings. What the British did in Kenya to suppress the pro-independence mau-mau uprising in the 1950s, using murder, torture and mass imprisonment, was no more excusable than the mass arrests and political assassinations committed by Belgium when it was trying to cling on to the Congo. And the outside world's tolerance of a dictator in the Congo like Mobutu, whose corruption and venality were overlooked for strategic expedience, was no different from what happened in Zimbabwe, where the dictator Robert Mugabe was allowed to run his country and its people into the ground because Western powers gullibly accepted the way he presented himself as the only leader able to guarantee stability and an end to civil strife. Those sniffy British colonial types might not like to admit it, but the Congo represents the quintessence of the entire continent’s colonial experience. It might be extreme and it might be shocking, but what happened in the Congo is nothing but colonialism in its purest, basest form.” 12 likes
“the normal laws of development are inverted here in the Congo. The forest, not the town, offers the safest sanctuary and it is grandfathers who have been more exposed to modernity than their grandchildren. I can think of nowhere else on the planet where the same can be true.” p141” 4 likes
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