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

Candace Millard


We no longer live in a world where there are unknown lands and continents to discover. The Age of Exploration is past. With the possible exception of the ocean floors, men have travelled all over the planet. To "boldly go where no man has ever gone" we must look to the stars. So, it is hard for us to imagine a time when there were blank spots on maps because Western travelers had never reached those places. Explorers competed to be the first to these destinations and to record the flora and fauna and civilizations they encountered. For 19th century explorers, the most exciting mystery was the source of the Nile River.

In "The River of the Gods", Candace Millard tells the story of the men that made the definitive expeditions which identified the source of the Nile as Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa. The principal members of the team were Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke. Richard Burton was a fascinating, larger than life adventurer, a polyglot who spoke forty languages and spent most of his life exploring and writing about different cultures. He was an ethnographer before that discipline existed, one who immerses himself in a foreign culture to learn and write about it from firsthand experience. Burton's partner on his search for the Nile was John Speke, a different sort of explorer who was uninterested in learning about indigenous cultures but wanted the prestige of discovering the source of the Nile. Speke was younger than Burton and brought a hardiness and persistence to the endeavor, but their partnership was never easy. Speke, like many other acquaintances of Burton, always felt insignificant in Burton's shadow and Burton, unwittingly exacerbated the situation by being oblivious to his partner's emotions. Ironically, it was Speke who ultimately could claim to have discovered the source of the Nile, but history has largely forgotten him while remembering Burton.

"The River of the Gods" will make you nostalgic for a time when grand adventures seemed possible.  It will peak your interest in learning more about the men and women who braved the unknown to advance our understanding of the world we live in. Candace Millard is an accomplished writer and researcher whose past books include "The River of Doubt" about Teddy Roosevelt's trip down the Amazon. Check out these and other titles by Millard.