cover image The Gates of Africa: Death, Discovery, and the Search for Timbuktu

The Gates of Africa: Death, Discovery, and the Search for Timbuktu

Anthony Sattin. St. Martin's Press, $27.95 (382pp) ISBN 978-0-312-33643-1

Journalist and travel writer Sattin (The Pharaoh's Shadow, etc.) pens a remarkable history of the African Association, the world's first geographical society. Formed in London in 1788 by wealthy patrons who believed that Africa needed to be explored and mapped more fully, the Association aimed to find the fabled city of Timbuktu, discover the course of the Niger and locate the source of the Nile. Using a wealth of historical and biographical materials, Sattin provides exciting-and sometimes ironic-accounts of the amazing and often doomed travels of extraordinary adventurers supported by the Association, including Mungo Park, the first European to find the Niger; Gordon Laing, who reached Timbuktu after being shot by a local tribesman only to find that the city was in shambles; and Jean Louis Burckhardt, who became fluent in Arabic and who, disguised as Ibrahim ibn Abdullah, became one of the first Europeans to journey to Mecca and the first since the Crusades to see the ancient city of Petra. Sattin delivers a lively and fascinating study of the Association, about which little has been previously written, and shows how the achievements of the men and their missions not only expanded the knowledge of Africa, but also left a ""lasting legacy"" in the fields of exploration and geographical investigation.