The Explorers: A Story of Fearless Outcasts, Blundering Geniuses, and Impossible Success

Martin Dugard, Author
Martin Dugard. Simon & Schuster, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4516-7757-7
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Dugard (The Training Ground) uses Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke’s quest to find the Nile’s source as a framing device to craft a fascinating examination of the seven key traits of history’s most famous explorers. Curiosity, hope, passion, courage, independence, self-discipline, and perseverance, Dugard says, are crucial traits explorers must possess in order to achieve their goals: “Take away one... and an expedition was doomed to failure.” He expands on this premise with examples of explorers who embodied (or lacked) those traits including Edmund Hillary’s exploration of Everest, Columbus’s quest for a new path to Asia, and Robert Falcon Scott’s trek to the South Pole. Detailed accounts of vicious attacks (including cannibalism), blindness from extreme exposure, and the constant threat of severe illness demonstrate the pitfalls many explorers encountered. Even when they did reach their goal, it rarely resulted in material wealth—Columbus, for example, was “considered a failure in his day.” The ultimate prize was immortality. In lesser hands, this exercise could come off as pedantic or pedestrian, but Dugard’s infusions of insight and enthusiasm carry the reader and drive his points home. Agent: Eric Simonoff, William Morris Endeavor. (June)
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