Debbie's Pick: "River of the Gods" by Candice Millard
We often learn history along a timeline: the Battle of Hastings, 1066; the Lewis and Clark expedition, 1804; the first person on the Moon, 1969. But how these points make their way to the timeline relies on a messy combination of courage, talent, and luck. Candice Millard’s newest book, River of the Gods, illustrates this combination clearly as she documents Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke’s quest to discover the source of the Nile.
Nineteenth century Europe became obsessed with ancient Egypt in the wake of Napoleonic battles in the region. Specifically, explorers became obsessed with finding the source of the Nile. Enter Richard Burton, a man who had a vagabond childhood and a thirst for discovery. He and Speke headed expedition after expedition to penetrate what, to Europeans, was the blank spot on the map of central Africa. Burton and Speke faced horrific situations. One night in Somalia, the expedition was attacked by robbers. Their overwhelming numbers almost ended both men’s ambitions. An arrow pierced Burton’s cheeks, and Speke was shot in the thigh, shoulder, and arm. Somehow, both men crawled off into the darkness and made their way to a nearby settlement. Two years later, they set out to try again.
Candice Millard is a gifted historical writer who brings immediacy and drama to the “points on the timeline.” This book is a page-turner and will keep you enthralled from start to finish.