Saturday, December 20, 2014

Book Review: The Daring Heart of David Livingstone: Exile, African Slavery, and the Publicity Stunt That Saved Millions by Jay Milbrandt

I was first introduced to Livingstone through the movie Moutains of the Moon, in which he was a minor character, but in which I felt the character of David Livingstone was shown very true to the historically correct figure of the explorer that was unconventional, yet successful.

Together with Burton and Speke, Livingstone was trying to find the source of the Nile. A humongous undertaking, in which only Speke succeeded and that resulted in huge costs to each explorer involved.

Livingstone, in that movie at least, was presented as the grandmaster of African explorers. Still deeply rooted in British culture and a desire to expand the reign of the British empire, but also forward thinking on aspects such as slavery that he saw as inherently wrong and something that should be abolished.

In this book, Jay Milbrandt focuses on various aspects of Livingstone's life, but also touches on his opposition to slavery that Livingstone sought to fight by expanding the British empire, since it had already banned slavery.

On one hand, Livingstone is fighting against slavery, deeply detests it and wants to abolish it. On  the other hand, as part of his explorations, Livingstone still works with slave traders and uses these connections to further his explorations and to survive in the jungle. This makes Livingstone not only a complex character, but also a man deeply torn and at time miserable with himself. While we may find faults with the way Livingstone walked the line between slavery and abolitionism, we also have to understand that Livingstone lived in a time in which human rights in a continent such as Africa were literally a world removed.

Whatever happened in Africa, stayed for a long time in Africa, literally, until newspapers picked it up. Africa was still largely unexplored in the interior, a jungle that was full of dangerous beasts and included at times men that were not so different from beasts in the opinion of the British aristocracy; who was crucial in support of explorations such as Livingstone's travels. Does that excuse the attitude that Livingstone had towards the native population in Africa? No, but it explains why this explorer seems torn and in our modern view at least falls short of pushing hard enough for the abolition of slavery.

Overall, Mibrandt wrote an excellent introduction to the person of Livingstone the explorer and Livingstone the representative of the British upper class. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in African exploration and the life of Livingstone.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The opinion expressed is solely my own and has not been influenced by any third party.

No comments: