The West Branch Nonfiction Book Discussion group meets the third Tuesday of the month to read a variety of contemporary non-fiction. We meet in person at the West Branch or on Zoom--please register to receive the Zoom link. Copies of the book are available for checkout at the West Branch. Contact discussion leader Janet Stephens at email@example.com or call 630-264-3626 for a copy of the book or for more information.
River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile" by Candice Millard
The nineteenth century brought increased zeal for exploration and the discovery of a heretofore unknown geological wonder that would bring fame to its discoverer. None were more mythical in the collective imagination or more highly prized than the discovery of the source of the Nile River. Millard’s (Hero of the Empire, 2016) splendid latest tracks the expeditions to claim the prize for England, the first of which was led by the enigmatic Richard Francis Burton. The lionized Burton was a decorated soldier, poet, translator, adventurer, and fencing master who was fascinated by other cultures and spoke 29 languages. Second in command was the prideful and embittered John Hanning Speke, whose ambition was only matched by his jealousy of Burton.
Millard expertly guides the reader on an eye-level journey alongside Burton and company on expeditions fraught with peril and beset by pestilence and interminable discomforts. The vivid descriptions of the conditions and exquisite detail in which the surroundings are rendered are the result of Millard’s thorough knowledge of her subject and her rich, descriptive prose. Millard highlights the invaluable contributions of the formerly enslaved Sidi Mubarak Bombay, whose role proved to be invaluable. She also notes the egregious colonialism, including the tendency to name rivers, lakes, and mountains after British monarchy. This standout history thrills with a novelistic narrative astutely balanced by impeccable research.