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Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  368 ratings  ·  59 reviews
When the First World War breaks out, the British navy is committed to engaging the enemy wherever there is water to float a ship—even if the body of water in question is a remote African lake and the enemy an intimidating fleet of German steamers. The leader of this improbable mission is Geoffrey Spicer-Simson whose navy career thus far had been distinguished by two sinkin ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published March 14th 2006 by Vintage (first published September 30th 2004)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Once, after reading a complicated article on Marine Corps logistics, I asked an officer of said service and branch, "How the hell do guys ever actually get from point A to point B?"

With a weary shake of his head, he responded, "Most of the time, only by sheer force of will."

That sentiment covers a large portion of the action of this book- a very well written and intriguing history of one of the least known naval actions in WWI, in it's least known theater, East Africa.

What lies in these pages is
Tim Mercer
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book for several reasons. Primarily it is about Spicer-Simpson who was the leader of the British expedition that transported the 2 gunboats overland to Lake Tanganyika and subsequently commanded them in their luckily successful encounters. Unfortunately he is a classic example of incompetence saved by hard working subordinates. With officers like Spicer-Simpson, the British empire was doomed. In my opinion his only redeeming feature is that he was also responsible for nam ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
You just can't make up stuff like this--during WWI, the British Navy sent the most incompetent pack of idiots ever assembled to defeat a German battleship on a lake in the heart of Africa. Sarong-wearing, ship-wrecking, pathologically-lying man saves the day and proves that it is far better to be lucky than smart. ...more
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As I have myself crossed Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika and am a huge fan of Huston's African Queen I read Foden's book with great interest. Mimi and Toutou were two armed motorboats transported by rail and on foot from Cape Town to near Kigoma to take on a formidable German naval presence. The Belgians, allies of the British also make an appearance.This very well-written, densely researched book is worth buying alone for the portrait of the vainglorious Geoffrey Spice-Simpson, inveterate liar, i ...more
AJ Payne
3.5 stars.

I am not a big reader of military history (or small reader for that matter).
It just doesn't excite me, so books about military history are typically not
at the top of my list - and even when I add them, I tend to avoid reading
them. It's probably an unfounded bias since I wouldn't say I have read
enough of them to have a real opinion on the genre. But, that's how it's
been. Then, a coworker gave me this one to read, and since I was actually
handed the book and given an in person positive r
Dan Ragsdale
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The truly weird and wholly true story that inspired the novel, and the all-time great movie, The African Queen!
Susan Mudambi
Jun 03, 2019 rated it liked it
This made it to my “to read” list only because of a planned trip to Tanzania. I wanted to find a novel set in Tanzania but settled for this odd mixture of military history and romanticizing British colonialism and not sure what else. How many books have dialogue interspersed with footnotes to obscure histories, Joseph Conrad, Evelyn Waugh and the African Queen? The main character, Commander Spicer was, well, a character, a farcical, too odd to be believed historical figure that just can’t be rea ...more
Jul 18, 2012 rated it did not like it
Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure was a book with potential. Set in Africa during World War I, I was intrigued, especially having read Running the Rift, Purple Hibiscus and The Thing Around Your Neck earlier this year. I had hoped Mimi and Toutou would help me understand how events in the early twentieth century shaped the experiences of the fictional late twentieth century/early twenty-first century characters in these books. Instead, it was the story of a specific battle between the British and ...more
Jan 13, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, war
The supposedly Great War, WWI, had numerous sideshows. Little forgotten battles. Often triggered by left field strategic thinking and carried out with lack lustre intent in some forgotten corner of the globe that generally slipped in to a diminutive satire of the larger European play.

Mimi and Toutou Go Forth covers one such campaign in East Africa. The British plan to engage German forces on Lake Tanganyika, which is the longest Lake in the world and was of great strategic advantage in Central A
Edward Sullivan
The little-known true story of the Battle of Lake Tanganyika during World War I that served as the inspiration for C. S. Forester's The African Queen and great film adaptation. An engrossing, entertaining tale of swashbuckling action and adventure, and comical ineptitude. ...more
Nov 02, 2017 rated it liked it
This was an unusual read for me. The storytelling was fun, but I’m not sure how historically accurate it was.

In World War 1, Belgian and British troops fought against German forces in Africa. British big-game hunter, John Lee, noticed that the Germans had control of Africa’s Lake Tanganyika and he traveled to London to report this fact to the Royal Navy, and to suggest a plan for the Admiralty to send motorboats to challenge the three German steamships that patrolled the lake. This would requir
Harry Buckle
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Simply a 'must read.' A true story featuring a number of remarkable English eccentrics and their battle to retain control over an almost ocean sized lake in central Africa. I just re-read this having found my copy (originally called Mimi and Toutou Go Forth ) propping up the corner of an old copper rum still in my office: Don't ask! If you have even a vague liking for Alexander McCall Smiths series of African/Botswana stories then this real world adventure-will make you smile. Despite this being ...more
Ruthanne Taylor
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a delightful telling of one of the strangest, unlikely battles in WWI. It is believed to be, loosely, the basis for the C.S. Forester book The African Queen. I don’t normally like war stories, but I thoroughly enjoyed this well written romp thru a piece of the war. If you are a WWI enthusiast, this is a book for you. If you, like me, adore The African Queen, book & movie, read this for some fascinating background.
Apr 05, 2021 rated it liked it
Entertaining, the actual British military part was good, the book ended with an explanation of how the movie the African Queen was made and not really worth reading. Glad I got the book for or small money from a used book seller. It was barely worth the $4
Jun 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
An eccentric, cross dressing British Naval Officer, Geoffrey Spice-Simson, was the improbable choice of the British Admiralty to clear Lake Tanganyika of a rag tag German Squadron during World War One. Transporting two motor gunboats over rails, roads and jungle trails, Commander Spice proved himself a braggart and a bully but did persevere when other men might have thrown in their skirts (no, it wasn't a kilt). He did so by reluctantly relying on the help of more talented subordinates and of co ...more
Jeroen Van de Crommenacker
I thought I would enjoy this book more. It’s a fun telling of a minor historic episode in Africa, but probably the subject is a bit too thin.
Thoroughly absurd.
Jansie Both
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
May 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun read, insane patch of history.
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This should have been a fascinating book. However it was badly written and dull. I kept getting lost as to what was happening and didn’t care it was so boring.
Justin Bergman
The timeless tale of incompetent leadership and men in kilts.
Howard Rose
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good but last few chapters focus on the making of The African Queen.
Arno Rohwedder
Sep 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting read, discussion on WWI naval campaign on Lake Tanganyika. i'm probably biased in my interest as I've lived in the direct area for 5 years. ...more
D.J. Cockburn
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Foden is better known for novels like The Last King of Scotland and Zanzibar, but this book shows that he is equally adept at non-fiction. The Mimi and Toutou of the title were a pair of British motor launches sent to gain control of Lake Tanganyika during the First World War. The commanding officer's first choice of names, Dog and Cat, was rejected by the Admiralty as being too frivolous. He retaliated by naming them with the French equivalents of 'Miaow' and 'Woof-woof', adopting a hint of the ...more
Rob and Liz
Oct 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rob and Liz by: a friend here in Mwanza
I really loved this book. It's my favorite sort of combination of history, personal interest, humor and a good story. It's also about Tanzania, at least partly, and there are very few decent books written about Tanzania.

"Mimi and Toutou Go Forth" is the story of a fascinating battle that took place in Lake Tanganyika, in western Tanzania, during World War I. Mimi and Toutou were 2 British warships that were carried all of the away across the inhospitable rain forests of the Democratic Republic o
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-global
I'm not a reader of much military history, but this one had a lot going for it: the events themselves (two small motorboats shipped from England in 1915 then carried by train, traction engine and people to the shores of Lake Tangyanika to attack the German fleet on the lake), an absurdly pompous commanding officer (the oldest Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy), Giles Foden as the author, and a story the provided the basis and inspiration for The African Queen (the Bogart/Hepburn movie). All ...more
Stephanie Jane
Mar 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, travel
Reading this account of British First World War adventure and 'heroics', I am amazed that we ever won anything at all! Foden describes the mad expedition from inception to completion and introduces its leader, Spicer-Simson, an eccentric of the truly English variety. I would have liked to read more description of the land through which the expedition passed as I found it difficult to picture sometimes due to the lack of detail. Foden has obviously researched extensively although contradictions i ...more
Kris McCracken
A really good example of an accessible history text by the author of The Last King of Scotland, Ladysmith, and Zanzibar. Foden has a good local knowledge of Africa, and has done a fair bit of research here. Supporting this, the author's personal accounts of his visits to the area nicely supplement the lesson, and put the events that transpired into proper historical context. Reconstructing a bright and colourful historical account of a forgotten episode in the East Africa theatre during World Wa ...more
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
An interesting narrative of a little remembered theater during the "War to End All Wars". As luck would have it, the oldest lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy at that time was chosen (because he was the only on be available) to lead an expedition to the center of Africa. The expedition was transporting across land and then utilizing two boats in an effort to claim Lake Tanganyika as Allied territory. The bombastic martinet, Geoffrey Spicer-Simpson took credit for much of what those under him ...more
Nov 09, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: military history fans, interest in africa
Shelves: history
This was a highly entertaining history of a relatively obscure battle in Africa during World War I. An unfortunate and eccentric British officer is given command of a small expedition whose purpose is to transport two small gunboats to an African lake on the Belgian side, and sink the German boats that defended German ownership of the lake. This would give the British access to the German side and potentially allow the retaking of a large swath of Africa. I enjoyed the meticulous detail, the abs ...more
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Giles Foden was born in Warwickshire in 1967. His family moved to Malawi in 1971 where he was brought up. He was educated at Yarlet Hall and Malvern College boarding schools, then at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he read English. He worked as a journalist for Media Week magazine, then became an assistant editor on the Times Literary Supplement. He was deputy literary editor of The Guardian ...more

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