the next good book

River of the Gods

By Candice Millard


349 pages

What’s it about?

In the nineteenth century exploring and mapping new lands was all the rage.  In a time of intense colonialism European countries were very interested in unchartered territories.  Each European power had hopes of claiming these new lands, and their riches, as their own. The source of the Nile River was one of the great mysteries of the time. Sir Richard Burton is one of England’s preeminent adventurers.  He speaks twenty-nine languages and has spent much of his life exploring and studying other cultures.  When he decides (with the help of the Royal Geographical Society) to try to find the source of the Nile many are hopeful and excited.  But trying to secure funds for the trip and the right crew is problematic. At the last minute Burton decides to take along an unknown young aristocrat named John Hanning Speke.  Speke is an avid sportsman but very different in temperament and experience from Burton.  Speke and Burton will travel together for over two years and have two very different experiences.  But whose experience will history remember?

What did it make me think about?

History is SO subjective. Candice Millard does an excellent job of researching her subjects and trying to give a balanced account, but history is elusive.

Should I read it?

So first and foremost this book is an adventure story.  It is a story about two men that were determined to find the source of the Nile.  Their quest leads to a bitter feud and two different accounts of the same trip. I knew very little about the eighteenth century world of exploration. I learned so much about colonialism, exploration, the use of indigenous guides, and the history of the slave trade in East Africa. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys history.


“In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the result of African exploration was not only mapping the continent but seizing it, region by region.  By the time of Burton’s death, it was clear to every European nation not only where Africa’s lakes and rivers, mountains and forests lay but that it held vast, enviable natural resources, from diamonds and gold to iron, uranium, and petroleum.  In what quickly became know as the “scramble for Africa”, the continent was invaded, occupied, and colonized. By the early 1900’s, seven European countries would control more than 90 percent of Africa…”

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