Exploration and the desire to reach the most uninhabitable places on earth was always and still is, the fascination of explorers around the world. Since the 1850s, the world wanted to know more about Africa and the Amazon. One of the most famous questions burning through the minds of explorers was regarding the Source of the Nile in Africa and the presence of a lost city in the Amazon, fabled for its riches. These were the topics of my reads this month. The first was Into Africa: The Remarkable Story of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard and the other was The Lost City of Z by David Grann.
Into Africa deals with the adventures of David Livingstone and more importantly, the search to find him when he goes missing. Like most explorers of his era, Livingstone was a man fixed on his purpose, which can be gauged from the fact that his 21-year-old son had only seen him for 5 years of his life. His life was dedicated to only one thing-finding the source of the Nile. The discovery of the source was a challenge captivating the hearts and minds of the British explorers. Into Africa talks about this challenge. The book also mentions the previous efforts undertaken by Burton and Speke, but the main protagonists are Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley.
Livingstone was a Scottish missionary and had undertaken two expeditions previously to Africa. What made him more famous was the fact that he was a commoner and not an aristocrat as all the other British explorers were before him or at that time. He went into Africa to spread the gospels about Jesus but found himself captivated by the land and eventually with the questions of the Nile’s source. So, he set out in 1867 to finally find the answer to that question. His disappearance and ultimate discovery by Stanley forms the crux of the book. In a way, the book and the story give us the lesson that once we set our minds to a task and go about it with diligence, we will succeed eventually. Even though Livingstone failed in finding the source, he made numerous discoveries which led to people getting to know more about the continent from his journals and writings.
Similar to Africa, there was a myth circulating among the British exploratory circles that the Amazon was once a host of a vast and rich civilization. Though many doubted that an isolated land could harbour such a complex civilization, the evidence was overwhelming enough to point to the affirmative. The city was called Z and the search for it by British explorer Percy Fawcett Jr in the early 1900s forms the heart of The Lost City of Z. The author of the book David Grann retraced Fawcett’s steps as part of his research and ultimately succeeded in finding the lost city which had eluded the explorer.
Both the books are easy reads and make you appreciate the hardships that the early explorers went to help us understand all that we know about these lands today.