Africa Explored by Christopher Hibbert, new author category
This book covers the exploration of Africa by European explorers, covering over 100 years. I have mixed feelings about the book, so I'll try to explain why.
First, I liked the format. It was clear, concise writing, with a few unfamiliar words, but a glossary in the back. And there were maps, which was really important, as I tried to follow the explorers as they traveled.
And the subject itself was ambitious. Hibbert tried to be fair, portraying both the native Africans and the Europeans with warts and all. He made an effort not to 'take sides' but to show people as they really were. I certainly learned a lot. This was a historical era that I knew virtually nothing about.
But oh, was this book depressing! It wasn't the fault of the writer. It was just the feeling I came away with. It seemed that in Africa, the strongest, most aggressive, most bloodthirsty group was the one that came out on top. Those who were peaceful were always exploited by someone else. This was true no matter what the ethnic group. Some of the worst excesses described were committed by Africans. One example was the slavetrader who snatched a baby from its mother and dashed its brains out, so the woman would walk faster.
I guess I had an idea that the Europeans were basically the ones exploiting the Africans, but as I read, I discovered that was not necessarily so. Even before Europeans outposts were established, some African tribes and Arabs engaged in the slave trade. One European who arrived early in the 18th century described a man as a slavetrader and a very good person. To me, in the 21st century, I just don't see how anyone could describe a person engaged in such a trade as a 'good person.'
But the Europeans were certainly not blameless. Richard Burton, in particular, struck me as a really nasty sort of person. He loved describing in lurid detail the sexual customs of the tribes, and tried to experience it as much first hand. And he delighted in the most cruel, barbaric practices. He wrote a friend with similar tastes complaining that no one had been tortured yet in his honor, but he had hopes that the next village would be better in that respect.
All in all, I would only recommend this to people interested in the history of Africa or European exploration. As entertainment, it was pretty grim.