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Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  11,718 ratings  ·  737 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, 363 pages
Published January 3rd 2008 by Vintage (first published July 3rd 2007)
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Tim Butcher It is a biography of a nation, region, a continent. It uses a non-fiction travel narrative to tell both the history and actuality of the Congo, Africa…moreIt is a biography of a nation, region, a continent. It uses a non-fiction travel narrative to tell both the history and actuality of the Congo, Africa's most turbulent nation, capturing a story that is shared with many other African nations.(less)

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Paul Bryant
Dec 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa
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.


Jul 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Caroline by: Mikey B
Shelves: world, 4-star-reads
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 ra
Mar 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
The author reads the audio version of this book. The book is very good and definitely worth reading but choose the paper format. Tim Butcher is an English-born broadcaster, journalist and author of travel books with a slant toward adventure. He narrates quickly, very quickly. The rapid speed diminishes the listening experience. It is not pleasant to listen to a book read this fast. I am giving the audiobook performance one star. This is my way of letting it be known that I do not want audiobooks ...more
Jan 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jim by: Mike
By rights, the Congo should be a world power in its own right. The vast resources of minerals and timber should ensure an affluent lifestyle for every citizen in the country. Instead, the country is regressing instead of progressing. Armed gangs and militias roam the countryside, killing and looting. Dissident forces from neighbouring countries rob, rape, and kill as well. The Congo has been on a constant downhill slide since gaining independence in the sixties and is, at least at the time this ...more
Mikey B.
Nov 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
In 2004 journalist and historian Tim Butcher set out to retrace the 1874-77 route of legendary explorer Henry Morton Stanley (of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume" fame) across the Congo to the mouth of the river on Africa's west coast. A few years ago I read King Leopold's Ghost which spells out the horrifying years of King Leopold of Belgium's rape of the region. The history presented in this book largely picks up where that one left off, with the 1908 Belgian annexation of the region which was prec ...more
Joy D
In 2004, British journalist Tim Butcher took his life in his hands and traveled the interior of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He followed the approximate path of Henry Morton Stanley, the explorer that found David Livingstone in 1871 and went back in 1874 to map the Congo River. Between descriptions of his journey, Butcher tells the history of the country, including Stanley’s expedition, colonial rule by the Belgians, post-colonial political upheaval, and uprisings that have brought re ...more
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Inspired by Stanley, in 2004 journalist Tim Butcher decided to retrace his steps and follow the River Congo through the heart of Africa. The resulting book is part travelogue, part history, and completely riveting. Along the way he meets some fascinating people and has some quite scary adventures (Mr Butcher is clearly a lot braver than I am!!). He also writes about the Congo’s history, and how its violent colonial past has impacted on its present state: corruption, lawlessness, poverty, a count ...more
Oct 10, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, africa
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
Nov 02, 2019 rated it liked it
At the outset, you have to admire his gutsiness in attempting this journey across Africa at the Equator. His mom did a trip along the Congo River back when the Congo was under Belgian rule. Now he was attempting the trip in 2004 just after the end of a brutal civil war (not all parties were maintaining peace as he starts). A brief review of history and geography leads off his book:

(view spoiler)
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Hussain Motiwala
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Adorning my Book shelf for couple of years, I finally picked this up before my first journey to Africa. Partly Travelogue and Partly Journalistic, this is a must read for anyone interested in Congo History and its troubled present.

Writer follows 18 Century Adventurer Stanley's path of charting through Africa's second longest river, Congo and that too overland. The idea itself draws lots of gasps, astonishment and disbelief among many with whom the author shares his maniac idea with.

Anyhow, witho
Maru Kun
I have a theory which is that politicians often cannot do much to help a country but can certainly ruin one.

Tim Butcher's Blood River provides ample evidence for this theory and also poses two more questions: How can people live like this and how can a country fall so far?

Blood River tells us the recent history of the Congo and its descent from a wealthy and functioning country into a failed state. In the Congo the law is no more than another excuse for one group of people to arbitrarily extract
Yogi Travelling
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Gripping, intense, adventurous!

As someone who loves adventure and travel, I absolutely loved this book!

People not familiar with travel may think the author may have exaggerated with his story but all you have to do is look at Congo today...

Today Congo is a lawless state. The author (for his own reasons) travelled across the country which seems pretty insane given the situation in the country... First overland to the Congo River then across it to its mouth at the Atlantic...

The Congo, deep in
Apratim Mukherjee
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book doesn't deserve less than five stars in my opinion because Mr.Butcher,while completing this dangerous assignment,never forgot he was a journalist too. He made me see DRC through his eyes.His writing style is awesome and often when you feel its too monotonous, he pauses and writes about the days when Stanley was there in his place.The only thing I missed were the photographs of his adventure.
It is sad to note that DRC is 'undeveloping'.The author also asks some serious questions to the
Gail Kirby
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. The text was clear and had enough reference material to give it serious credibility. It was compelling enough that I reread Heart of Darkness while reading Blood River, I rented the movies Blood Diamonds and Rawanda, pulled out my copy of Poisonwood Bible and bought a copy of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters.

Although billed as a travel book, it's also a political commentary by the author. His passion is sincere and mildly contagious. I don't think the answer is as simple as elections
Oct 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Huw Turner
Jun 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-paperback
For lovers of Africa, travel writing or sheer adventurism. Tim takes the reader on a vividly narrated journey into the heart of the Congo. Partly recreating Stanley's original expedition, and expertly intertwining that great undertaking with his own adventures, Tim takes on challenges, extreme adversity and genuinely uplifting experiences. Fast paced but with great attention to detail, this is a terrific read. ...more
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
I might have read it if I hadn't first encountered it being proselytized on Listopias first. That left a nasty first impression.

And most books don't get a second impression.
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Amazing read of Butcher's journey Westward to the mouth of the Congo River, following Dr. Stanley's trip from the 1870s. It starts with a 700km bike ride through footpaths to the Eastern starting point, and then follows him as uses canoes, UN ships, and cars to navigate to the starting point over several months.

Along the way he includes history about Dr. Stanley's journey, which he is tracing. Because of the 50 years of instability (more often chaos), in the Congo, Butcher may have been the fir
Jun 22, 2015 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
"And we fled into the bush."

Last night I finished Blood River. This morning I requested a dozen books on the History of the Congo at the library. Tim Butcher is an excellent introduction to a complicated place. What works so well in this book is that Butcher fashions the narrative of his own journey through the DRC around an elegantly retold history. The final sixty or so pages are the finest in the book and the end is surprisingly affecting.
Oct 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Tim Butcher set off in the footsteps of Henry Stanley to follow the Congo from Lake Tanganyika to the Atlantic Ocean, traversing the Democratic Republic of Congo a country two thirds the size of Western Europe. A couple of years ago I read a history of the 17c thirty years war which turned Germany into a desolate wasteland where marauding bands raped, killed and looted the place to ashes, exactly like the DRC today. The population is utterly at the mercy of the violent few with no end in sight t ...more
Nov 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
I am going to preface this review by stating that the most exotic place I've ever been is probably Hawaii, and so I should not cast stones. That being said, the book was kind of disappointing. I was expecting something akin to Lost City of Z but instead I got a story that should have been entitled "It's Really Hot and This Place Sucks". I get that maybe the Congo is one of the worst countries in the world, but I guess I wouldn't have expected an Africa correspondent to be so incredibly whiny. Ye ...more
Margaret Murray
Nov 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
""A masterpiece," John Le Carre writes about Tim Butcher's journalistic travel memoir and I agree. Prepare for your heart to be wrenched when you read Blood River, A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart. But you may not notice it in the excitement and danger of the ride. There's the magnificent and ominous Congo River landscape, the present terror, the valor of the victimized native people, the greed of the exploiters of the river's resources (native and colonizers alike) and the intrepid European e ...more
Henna Pääkkönen
Jun 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
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 Butcher´s book was a very insightful and vivid writing about the author´s promise to follow Stanley´s 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 n
Michael Flanagan
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
History is best told from the ground level from where it came from. Blood River tells the history of the Congo from this view and does it with gusto. Tim Butcher combines history with his travel's through this area as he tries to follow in the steps of the great explorer Stanley.

The thought of trying to travel through one of the worlds most dangerous areas is enough to entice any reader with a sense of adventure. By following in the Stanley footsteps he enters parts of Congo's that not even the
Fiona Hurley
Oct 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Some years ago I came across the term resource curse, "the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources, specifically non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources" (thank you wikipedia). Perhaps the most obvious example of resource curse is the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC is insanely rich in mineral wealth and yet one of the poorest and most ...more
Katy Larkman
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Blood River, Tim Butcher's account of his travelling the Congo river in a 21st century recreation of Stanley's journey, has plenty of interest. There is a brief history of the Congo; an introduction to Stanley's journey & its legacy; a brief examination of the implications of colonialism; an astonishing & gruelling personal journey; & vignettes of people he meets during that journey.

Tim's outrage at so many people living lives that could be snuffed out so easily (from disease, violence, the ina
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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 conflicts across the Balkans, Middle East and Africa. Recognised in 2010 with an honorary doctorate for services to writing and awarded the Mungo Park Medal for exploration by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, he is based with his fam ...more

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84 likes · 15 comments
“….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.” 34 likes
“The old man might have been drunk, but he was right. Outsiders have robbed and exploited the people of the Congo ever since the days of the first European and Arab slavers. The territory that Stanley staked in the name of Leopold witnessed what many regard as the first genocide of the modern era, when millions of Congolese were effectively worked to death trying to meet the colonialists’ almost insatiable demand for resources, most notably rubber. And since independence, foreign powers have toyed with the Congo, stripping its mineral assets and exploiting its strategic position, never mindful of the suffering inflicted on its people. And that really was the point. At every stage of its bloody history, outsiders have tended to treat Congolese as somehow sub-human, not worthy of the consideration they would expect for themselves. For progress to be made, outsiders must treat Congolese as equals and they could do worse than follow the example of an amazing white woman I discovered after we got back to Kalemie.” 11 likes
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