River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile

Candice Millard. Doubleday, $32.50 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-54310-1

Bestseller Millard (Hero of the Empire) recounts one of the greatest 19th-century British colonial explorations in this fascinating history. In 1854, the Royal Geographical Society chose Richard Francis Burton to lead an expedition to locate the source of the White Nile, the longest branch of the Nile River. After one member of his original team died before the journey, Burton hired Lt. John Hanning Speke of the Bengal Native Infantry, an avid hunter and member of the British aristocracy. Tensions between the two strong-willed men quickly surfaced, but Burton was more fortunate in his hiring of Sidi Mubarak Bombay, a formerly enslaved East African, as head gun carrier. While Burton recuperated from an illness, Speke and Bombay reached Lake Nyanza (also known as Lake Victoria), which Speke claimed as the Nile’s source. Burton maintained that Speke had failed to settle the question, but before the two men could publicly debate the issue in 1864, Speke died in a hunting accident. Subsequent explorations, in which Bombay took part, proved Speke’s theory. Millard’s lushly detailed adventure story keeps a steady eye on the racial power dynamics involved in this imperialist endeavor and brilliantly illuminates the characters of Burton, Speke, and Bombay. Readers will be riveted. Illus. (May)
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