Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Explorers

"Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit"
Frank Borman, Apollo Astronaut

The Explorers is a book about the hunt for the headwaters of the Nile River, except when it is a book about the quirky people who personify the word "explorer." It is September 1854, Jack Speke, 27 years old, has just finished a 10 year tour with the British Army in India. Born to a family with an ancient estate in rural England he was a loner who had not done well in school. He loved to hunt and collect game specimens and killed "anything new and unique that wandered into his path" shipping the heads and pelts back to his ancestral home.

Speke left the army one day and the next day boarded a ship for Calcutta. He was going to give big game hunting in Africa a try. The problem was he was woefully unprepared and totally ignorant of the African continent. Forbidden from setting off on his journey, he met Richard Francis Burton. Burton was an experienced adventurer and famous in England. Burton spoke multiple languages, had traveled to Mecca, and translated the Kama Sutra into English.  He was also one man short on his expedition so he asked Speke to join. They received permission and set off. Their fate twined together. By the end of this journey after being taken hostage, tortured, suffering from medical ailments no one had ever experienced before, they hated each other.  So it was a surprise when they teamed up again to find the source of the Nile. Their relationship did not improve.

In a conversational tone the book tells of other explorers, their mistakes (lucky and otherwise), and the seven traits that all explorers must possess. Each chapter deals with one trait, applying it to Speke, Burton and others. The history of exploration is looked at, as well as where exploration stands today. The book contains a lot history and some information didn't know about, always a plus! I love a book about explorers, I love sagas. This book was both.

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