Review: Into Africa the epic adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard

Explorers book weaves the horrors of the slave trade with the astonishing stories of Livingstone and Stanley

This spellbinding read, by the excellent American explorer turned author Martin Dugard, weaves the horrors of the slave trade with the astonishing stories of Livingstone and Stanley. Both obsessional, driven by money and the desperate need not to return home empty handed. The levels of character required to walk hundreds of miles in one of the most hostile environments on earth - most of which had never seen a European - are described in agonising detail. It is impossible to read this and believe life is complete without seeing Tanzania, Victoria Falls and the great African lakes. Stanley amazingly, despite greeting Livingstone with the Stars and Stripes, actually came from Denbigh in North Wales the son of a prostitute and town drunk. He grew up in a St Asaph orphanage before catching a ship aged 17 from Liverpool to New Orleans in abysmal conditions. This portrait is arguably more sympathetic to Stanley than other books on the period that have characterised him has as a coarse, ruthless carpet bagger who exploits the Livingstone legend to fire his own career into the stratosphere becoming one of the most famous men of his time. Nevertheless, Dugard pulls few punches in recalling Stanley's mocking nature and the brutal beatings he metes out to maintain discipline on the trail for Livingstone. Oman's own history is caught up with the two as Livingstone would almost certainly have died, before being 'found' by Stanley, without support from experienced Omani trading caravans who also support Stanley. Livingstone is presented as complex, conflicted and physically battered by interior illnesses. The reality is somewhat removed from the Victorian perception at least of a saintly moral champion and lion of the empire fighting the slavery which horrifies him. The magnificent African wilderness, evoked to great effect by Dugard, appears to utterly intoxicate both men dragging them far away from their grim upbringings. There are hints that Livingstone too may have indulged in more than simple admiration for the breath-taking scenery finding solace among tribeswomen while his search for the source of the Nile continued inexorably until his body finally gave up on a spirit that refused to surrender. But his was a journey of unimaginable courage and endeavour as he ventured further into Africa than any European before him. The dangers and isolation he faced without modern medicine and the ability to communicate are truly extraordinary and his towering achievements have sealed his place in history forever. Ben Pinnington

Twitter: @BenPinnington1