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Stanley: The Impossible Life Of Africa's Greatest Explorer
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Stanley: The Impossible Life Of Africa's Greatest Explorer

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  589 Ratings  ·  75 Reviews
Henry Morton Stanley was a cruel imperialist, who connived with King Leopold II of Belgium in horrific crimes against the people of the Congo - or so we think. But as Tim Jeal shows, this perception is not true. Now, abundant new documentary evidence allows Jeal to show just how misunderstood Stanley's life has been.
Published March 1st 2007 by Faber & Faber
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Paul Bryant
He was John Rowlands, a Welsh workhouse bastard, rejected by his mother and father, lowest of the low, poorest of the poor. And yet, when he got married – finally, at the age of 49 – it was in Westminster Abbey by a bishop in the presence of the prime minister Mr Gladstone and the painters Sir John Millais and Sir Frederick Leighton and a fragrant potpourri of dukes & peers of the realm.
These days people have careers, but in them days, people could invent themselves completely. There were no
Mikey B.
Nov 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exhilarating look at the explorer Stanley. He is indeed an individual who overcame adversity – he was born in poverty, abandoned to an orphanage and successfully re-invented himself in the U.S. (where he changed his name)! He then became the famous explorer we all know - think of the immortal expression – ‘Dr. Livingstone I presume’.

As the author points out Stanley was constantly trying to prove himself. In the U.S. he fought on both sides of the Civil War. He was also given to exaggeration.

Benjamin Thomas
Henry Morton Stanley, most famous for the line, “Dr. Livingston, I presume” can arguably be said to have been the greatest land explorer/adventurer who ever lived. He led numerous expeditions through central Africa in the 1870s/80s building much of the world’s knowledge of “The Lost Continent”, including the ultimate source of the Nile. He was the first to circumnavigate Lake Victoria (in a small boat with only 11 men), proving that it was a single body of water, not several. Similarly he led ex ...more
Morgan Scorpion
I'm finding this really hard going. Stanley seems to have been an extraordinary man, and to have had thrilling adventures, but this writer just sucks all the life out of it. I will try and finish it, but only because I'm interested in Stanley himself.

A year later -I just couldn't finish it. Every time the writer related an interesting event in Stanley's life, he then went on to convince us it didn't happen. How can anyone make exploring Africa boring?

Later still - I tried, I really tried. Then,
"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 Ea ...more
Jill Hutchinson
The reputation of Henry Stanley has suffered because of his involvement as an agent of King Leopold and his participation in opening the Congo to Imperialist land-grabbing resulting in horrible crimes against the population. The author attempts to rectify the situation with this biography. It is an in-depth and scholarly work based on information from Stanley's personal papers and diarys that were previously unavailable to Stanley's other biographers. The author, however,tries too hard to justif ...more
I only lasted through 1/4 of Jeal's book (I stopped right after Stanley "found" Livingstone). While the title is accurate - the circumstances of Stanley's life are amazingly unlikely - this account is written too academically to be enjoyable. Jeal spends far too much ink defending his sources and disputing the findings of other authors. These digressions from the actual story, sometimes three pages long on their own, are far too distracting. I look forward to reading someone else's teling of the ...more
Richard Wu
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There was a certain contingent of children in my elementary school who, when the librarians were explaining the Dewey Decimal System, raised their hands upon hearing the word “Biography.” The librarians had asked us about our preferred genres, and I couldn’t possibly fathom what these individuals (mostly girls, in my small New York suburb) found fascinating about people – real people – who died long ago. Superior, clearly, were works that explained the stars and planets with colorful illustratio ...more
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. A major work on a man much more complex than he was perhaps remembered. And perhaps not as evil, pompous or racist as he was largely seen. Jeal has delivered what is probably the definitive biography, with access to all Stanley's official and private letters that were only really released by the family in time for Jeal to access.

This is a fascinating, readable, but also rigorously researched book. Jeal delves into Stanley's upbringing in a Welsh workhouse as effectively an abandoned
Andrew Conry-Murray
Tim Jeal's biography of the explorer Henry Morton Stanley is amazing. I don't know if Jeal would appreciate this comparison, but Stanley is like the Forrest Gump of the mid-1800s. The man keeps popping up in momentous historical events (for instance, he fought on both sides of the American Civil War).

Jeal offers a balanced, sympathetic view of a complicated man; one who was both bold and timid, cruel and generous. In Jeal's hands, the life of H.M. Stanley is almost like a Dickens novel. Stanley
Roy Kenagy
Nov 14, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
NYT review by Paul Theroux:

“'We went into the heart of Africa self-invited — therein lies our fault,' Stanley confided to his diary. The words are quoted in this magnificent new life of the man, by Tim Jeal, a biography that has many echoes for our own time."

"There have been many biographies of Stanley, but Jeal’s is the most felicitous, the best informed, the most complete and readable and exhaustive, profiting from his access to an immense new trove of Stanley material."
I felt really badly about this book. Since I didn't finish the non-fiction history I had out, I made an effort on this one...and still didn't manage to finish it. It's not that Stanley didn't have an interesting story, but the book wasn't gripping. At all. Had I had a long stretch (say, on a plane) with nothing else, or maybe even if I was still commuting in the vanpool, I might have finished it,
Oct 23, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008, unfinished
This was a pretty disappointing read. Jeal had unprecedented access to Stanley's papers and has an excellent command of the period, yet he works so hard to redeem Stanley's reputation that he loses sight of the big picture. Entertaining, but far from enlightening.
Oct 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Een interessante biografie van Stanley, de Afrika ontdekkingsreiziger. Ik had al veel over hem gelezen in andere boeken over Afrika en daarin kwam hij er niet zo goed vanaf. Deze schrijver corrigeert veel van die meningen. Of dat terecht is kan ik niet beoordelen. Het is een boeiend boek, maar wel af en toe wat saai gechreven. Wel is voor de zoveelste keer duidelikj, dat en de Europeanen en de Arabieren in dat continent veel voor goed hebben vernield.
Oct 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I studied History, we didn't take much notice of explorers because they just weren't relevant. Why search for something that the locals already knew was there. Plus there is all that pious stuff about Livingstone, which is deadly dull if you don't think spreading Christianity is necessary. So, this biography didn't seem like one I'd be interested in. Especially as it was about the American who found Livingstone (yet another example of Brits needing American help) and somehow involved in the ...more
Drew McCutchen
Aug 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tim Jeal has amassed an astounding amount of research and information on Henry Stanley that could only stem from a lifetime of fascination and resolve to uncover and understand a long list of important historical figures, heroes, victims, villains, and regions, all colliding and leading directly up to this present moment. Having complete access to this wealth of information Jeal could leap ahead of himself and reveal Stanley blockily, casting the shadows of his later years erroneously over his y ...more
May 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“The impossible life of Africa’s greatest explorer.” No kidding! Quite an amazing life indeed. Courage, toughness, grit, and defying the odds – that’s my impression of Stanley after reading this book.

Young Stanley wanted adventure. Inspired by the likes of Richard Burton, he and some friends traveled to Turkey, intent on exploring, adventuring, and then writing about their experiences afterward to get rich and famous back home. Things did not turn out – their supplies and horses were captured an
Educational and informative Biography of British explorer Henry Morton Stanley and his four main expeditions in Africa
1) Discovery of Dr. Livingstone in eastern/central Africa
2) Trans Continental Journey to discover source of Nile River and complete Livingstone’s work tracing the Lualaba River into either the Nile (incorrect) or the Congo River (correct)
3) Opening of Lower and Upper Congo River to trading/missionaries and subsequent usurpation by Leopold of Belgium
4) Relief of Emin Pasha in Suda
David Sparvero
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I am so very grateful that this book was written. It is the first boo, in my opinion, that gives Stanley's whole life a decent tone of coverage. Being forever defined by his colonial acts of exploration and barbaric tactics in achieving success, writings on the man have forever been handled in a black and white mindset. Everyone has written on Stanley's savage tactics in the bush, his falsities in his published works and his connection to Leopold II. He has been secured as the icon of the ignora ...more
An amazingly detailed and thoroughly researched biography of one of the world's greatest explorers. The detail of Stanley's early life certainly shed light on his later feats. His personal life was also dealt with in some detail during his years as an explorer. By the time I reached the end of the book and the end of Stanley's life, I felt I had somewhat gotten to know the man. This book shows a side of the explorer never seen before in any previous biography.

Big niggle: The author writes as if
Louise Miller
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Currently there are two reviews/ratings for this book on here (that I can immediately see) and the ratings for it cannot be more different. On the whole, I enjoyed it. It is written in a clear way that keeps the reader engaged. It is a little one sided and the author portrays Stanley as the hero he (the author) thinks Stanley should be remembered as, not as he is currently perceived. That being said he does make his points well using a considerable variety of sources - often conflicting though, ...more
Jacqueline Kelly
Jul 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adventurers
If you are a fan of Victorian exploration, then this book is for you. You will love it. It contains much new original research by the author, all meticulously documented. If, however, you picked it up out of curiosity, and because it was on sale for half-price, then there is probably way more information in this book about Stanley than you need. Although it was fascinating to find out that he almost certainly did not say, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume." And he was born a Welshman, but was abandone ...more
Oct 05, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In interesting story for sure, but for me not as successful as other biographies, including my favorites Rise of Theodore Roosevelt or Team of Rivals. Where those are written with a sense of humor and whole appreciation for the eccentricities of their subjects, this one was all about two things: 1) the author's publishing various things about Stanley "for the first time ever" or "contrary to what has been accepted by all previous historians" and 2) how Stanley overcame is troubled childhood. The ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa

A great biography of Africa's greatest explorer. This book ignited a major interest in Stanley. Truly an extraordinary story, beautifully told with obvious commitment to the subject. Meticulously researched and persuasively presented, Tim Jeal makes a clear case debunking many of the myths about the man who emerges as the greatest of the African explorers, whose reputation has unfairly suffered because of the disgraceful exploitation of him by the Belgian Leopold. Both the humanity, and human an
Sean Yates
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating read. The difficulties of exploration at this time and the rate at which people died in the attempt is astounding. From disease and wild animals to being attacked with poisoned darts by natives, this was a very challenging place. Provisions were carried by humans because horses wouldn't survive in central Africa due to the tsetse fly. There was also no relationship drawn between being bitten by mosquitoes and suffering from malaria.
The other aspect of the book I found mos
Casey Mahon
Apr 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book that offers up a thorough reexamination on one of the more maligned African explorers. The point is not so much to demonstrate Stanley as a saint, though you can feel the author wanting to go that route at times, but rather to favorably compare him with his peers, especially David Livingstone. Less an apologetic biography as much as an apologetic work about an unapologizable profession. Though thoroughly researched and very analytical towards Stanley the man, I was a little disappoin ...more
David Robertson
Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: David Meredith!
Shelves: historical, africa
I picked this book up at my parents and was immediately hooked. This is history at its best. Tim Jeal deconstructs some of the myths about Stanley (most famous for 'discovering' Livingstone) and does so on the basis not of speculation but a wealth of research and information. He tells the story superbly and gives a tremendous insight into Victorian Britain, the US and Africa. It is an honest and vivid story of an incredible man which covers accusation of homosexuality and also sheds new light on ...more
missy jean
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Two stars because it was well-written and contained some interesting anecdotes and nuance... but on the balance this book made me rage. I can't even handle colonial apologetics. I can appreciate the idea that Stanley didn't have a full picture of Leopold's aims in the Congo, but Jeal explicitly aims to restore Stanley's reputation and ends up obscuring and minimizing the actual role--both structural and discursive--that Stanley played in helping to establish one of the most brutal colonial rules ...more
Apr 03, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The famous quote, "Dr Livingstone, I presume" is all that seems to be remembered about this great explorer who survived three major African expeditions in the late 1800s. He was later blamed as a colonialist and as someone who did not care for the native Africans. This book sets the record straight about Stanley, born Welsh and placed in a workhouse for children; American emigree who fought in the Civil War (for both sides!); and explorer who desired most to see an end to the slave trade in Afri ...more
Mar 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stanley lived a truly exceptional life. You could make like five blockbuster movies of his exploits. The author of this book, however, doesn't take the "blockbuster" approach. He adheres strictly to the facts and eschews sensationalism. For that reason, the book may drive away readers looking for more excitement. This book is probably best for those who already have some knowledge of Stanley and are looking for a bit more than a pure adventure story. I suggest that if you're unfamiliar with Stan ...more
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Tim Jeal is the author of acclaimed biographies of Livingstone and Baden-Powell. His memoir, Swimming with My Father, was published by Faber in 2004 and was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley Prize for Autobiography. He is also a novelist and a former winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.
More about Tim Jeal...
“He [Stanley] had stated that he longed to do something wonderful for the African tribes along the Congo, and instead, as would become all too apparent, had set them up for a terrible fate. In 1877 he came down the great river as the first European ever to do so, declaring his hope that the Congo should become like `a torch to those who sought to do good'." Instead, it became the torch that attracted the archexploiter King Leopold II of Belgium.” 0 likes
“Stanley must have realized that this postponement would probably be fatal. But while he did not give up, he never for a moment thought of abandoning his African quest [...] Yet Stanley still longed for the security of marriage, and hoped he could find Livingstone and marry Katie. [...] The romantic side of his nature told him that their story ought to end in marriage: the workhouse boy, having distinguished himself beyond all expectations, weds the daughter of the respectable local gentleman, and they live happily ever afterwards in a big house
[...] But Katie had never understood his inner conviction of being chosen for a great task.”
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