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River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and…
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River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile (original 2022; edition 2022)

by Candice Millard (Author)

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5982139,413 (3.97)36
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * The harrowing story of one of the great feats of exploration of all time and its complicated legacy--from the New York Times bestselling author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic For millennia the location of the Nile River's headwaters was shrouded in mystery. In the 19th century, there was  a frenzy of interest in ancient Egypt. At the same time, European powers sent off waves of explorations intended to map the unknown corners of the globe - and extend their colonial empires.   Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke were sent by the Royal Geographical Society to claim the prize for England. Burton spoke twenty-nine languages, and was a decorated soldier. He was also mercurial, subtle, and an iconoclastic atheist. Speke was a young aristocrat and Army officer determined to make his mark, passionate about hunting, Burton's opposite in temperament and beliefs.   From the start the two men clashed. They would endure tremendous hardships, illness, and constant setbacks. Two years in, deep in the African interior, Burton became too sick to press on, but Speke did, and claimed he found the source in a great lake that he christened Lake Victoria. When they returned to England, Speke rushed to take credit, disparaging Burton. Burton disputed his claim, and Speke launched another expedition to Africa to prove it. The two became venomous enemies, with the public siding with the more charismatic Burton, to Speke's great envy. The day before they were to publicly debate,Speke shot himself.   Yet there was a third man on both expeditions, his name obscured by imperial annals, whose exploits were even more extraordinary. This was Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who was enslaved and shipped from his home village in East Africa to India. When the man who purchased him died, he made his way into the local Sultan's army, and eventually traveled back to Africa, where he used his resourcefulness, linguistic prowess and raw courage to forge a living as a guide. Without Bombay and men like him, who led, carried, and protected the expedition, neither Englishman would have come close to the headwaters of the Nile, or perhaps even survived.   In River of the Gods Candice Millard has written another peerless story of courage and adventure, set against the backdrop of the race to exploit Africa by the colonial powers.… (more)
Member:markgates
Title:River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile
Authors:Candice Millard (Author)
Info:Doubleday (2022), Edition: First Edition, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
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River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile by Candice Millard (2022)

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» See also 36 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
An interesting read. It’s hard nowadays to write about explorers and Burton is certainly no angel. I think Millard did a good job of acknowledging some of his issues while at the same time showing his admirable and tragic sides. She also gave some attention to a neglected African member of the expedition. It would have been nice to have more on him, but I imagine there is just not that much out there. ( )
  cspiwak | Mar 6, 2024 |
Years ago I thoroughly enjoyed Millard's [River of Doubt], about Theodore Roosevelt's journey on the Amazon, so I thought this would be another interesting narrative history, this time focusing on the Nile. And in many ways the book delivers. Richard Burton is as fascinating a man of his times as Roosevelt, and the expeditions he and John Speke undertake in 1856-1863 are fraught with danger, illness, and disasters that kept me turning the pages. The highlight of the book, IMO, was their guide, Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who was stolen from his village as a child, sold for a bolt of cloth by Arab traders, and was enslaved in Western India for twenty years. Once freed, he returned to Africa and became one of the most travelled men on the continent and a highly regarded guide (including Stanley's trip to find the lost Dr. Livingstone).

My issues with the book stem from the author's almost giddy hero-worship of Burton, an interesting man (anyone who speaks 25 languages and 10 dialects interests me), but a deeply flawed one as well. Millard is so busy defending Burton from Speke's accusations that I didn't feel as though Burton was viewed objectively. Millard attempts to shed a bit of light on the way European explorers exploited the natives who did most of the work and whose own maps and geographies were discounted, but it's still a book about the Europeans. I don't know what I was expecting, but I closed the book knowing more about the area and the principals involved, yet disappointed. Perhaps it's impossible to read a book about nineteenth-century European explorers without being disappointed. ( )
2 vote labfs39 | Feb 12, 2024 |
In my view Millard deserves a five for sticking with her chosen subject, Sir Richard Burton, given credit for finding the source of the Nile (although he really didn't). Although Burton, clearly, had extraordinary abilities: strength, determination, great intelligence, a linguistic gift I found myself unable to grasp the whole man. His choices often feel so impulsive, his marriage to a rabidly religious Catholic and his endurance of Speke, a person I found repellant from the get-go (I'm guessing, from the description, a borderline) as his travel partner. The contrast between the man who could meticulously plan infiltrating Mecca with his choices of close companions boggles. I'm even finding writing about the contradictions in his choices and actions difficult to comprehend. Was it the fetters of Victorian life? Was it a naivete about people that blinded him? Some sort of empathy--he saw their neediness and thought he could manage them? Was it ego? All of the above? Millard mostly outlines the facts and does not spend much (any?) time speculating about the motivations and inner lives of any of the cast of characters that make up this story. I read it for one of my book groups and never would have endured to the end if not for that. If your interest is in Victorians, exploration, descriptions of horrendous experiences and ailments, you'll love it. I did not, but Millard writes well and worked hard. She also gives space to the one decent person -- a former slave, Bombay, the guide for many travelers in that region during that era in the mid-1800's. ***1/2 ( )
  sibylline | Feb 8, 2024 |
I loved Destiny of the Republic but River of the Gods was much slower reading for me possibly due to the odd personalities of the Burton and Speke or maybe lack of intense interest in the subject matter or maybe just too high expectations. ( )
  ellink | Jan 22, 2024 |
Candice Millard is a Must-Read author for me. All of her books have been fascinating. In River of the Gods, the two main characters, Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, were so diametrically opposed that I found it easy to take sides.

Richard Burton spoke several languages, believed in traveling as a native in whichever country he found himself in, didn't believe in converting anyone to Christianity, and only killed animals when it was necessary. His main problem was that he could be much too blunt for the delicate sensibilities of others.

John Hanning Speke was a young aristocrat who was pompous, sloppy with details, and-- as an editor found out later to his horror-- was a total nightmare as a writer. He joined Burton in the expedition to the headwaters of the Nile for the glory, and he was completely capable of lying to get what he felt he deserved. On top of that, he loved to go hunting and blast away at anything that moved whether the men on the expedition needed the meat or not.

Sidi Mubarak Bombay was even more exceptional than Richard Burton. He was captured, enslaved, and shipped from his East African home to India. When his owner died, he joined the army and eventually traveled back to Africa. There he used his resourcefulness, linguistic powers, and courage to become a guide. There is no doubt that, without men like Bombay to lead, carry supplies, and protect these European expeditions, none of them would have been a success.

Once again, Millard has crafted a fascinating history of the exploits of extraordinary people. Although slow-paced at times, River of the Gods is riveting. ( )
  cathyskye | Dec 25, 2023 |
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The lake rippled from one end of the world to the other. Wide as a sea cradled in a giant's palm. - "Sidi Mubarak Bombay" by Ranjit Hoskote
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For my children
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(Prologue) As he walked through the storied gates of Alexandria in the fall of 1801, a young British office named William Richard Hamilton found himself in the middle of a stunning tableau - abject misery set against the lost grandeur of the Pharaohs.
Sitting on a thin carpet in his tiny, rented room in Suez, Egypt, in 1854, Richard Francis Burton calmly watched as five men cast critical eyes over his meager belongings.
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * The harrowing story of one of the great feats of exploration of all time and its complicated legacy--from the New York Times bestselling author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic For millennia the location of the Nile River's headwaters was shrouded in mystery. In the 19th century, there was  a frenzy of interest in ancient Egypt. At the same time, European powers sent off waves of explorations intended to map the unknown corners of the globe - and extend their colonial empires.   Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke were sent by the Royal Geographical Society to claim the prize for England. Burton spoke twenty-nine languages, and was a decorated soldier. He was also mercurial, subtle, and an iconoclastic atheist. Speke was a young aristocrat and Army officer determined to make his mark, passionate about hunting, Burton's opposite in temperament and beliefs.   From the start the two men clashed. They would endure tremendous hardships, illness, and constant setbacks. Two years in, deep in the African interior, Burton became too sick to press on, but Speke did, and claimed he found the source in a great lake that he christened Lake Victoria. When they returned to England, Speke rushed to take credit, disparaging Burton. Burton disputed his claim, and Speke launched another expedition to Africa to prove it. The two became venomous enemies, with the public siding with the more charismatic Burton, to Speke's great envy. The day before they were to publicly debate,Speke shot himself.   Yet there was a third man on both expeditions, his name obscured by imperial annals, whose exploits were even more extraordinary. This was Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who was enslaved and shipped from his home village in East Africa to India. When the man who purchased him died, he made his way into the local Sultan's army, and eventually traveled back to Africa, where he used his resourcefulness, linguistic prowess and raw courage to forge a living as a guide. Without Bombay and men like him, who led, carried, and protected the expedition, neither Englishman would have come close to the headwaters of the Nile, or perhaps even survived.   In River of the Gods Candice Millard has written another peerless story of courage and adventure, set against the backdrop of the race to exploit Africa by the colonial powers.

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