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Blue Nile: Ethiopia's River of Magic and Mystery (Adventure Press) Hardcover – June 1, 2001

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Product Details

  • Series: Adventure Press
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic (June 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0792279514
  • ISBN-13: 978-0792279518
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,632,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This is a delightful and well-paced account of a National Geographic team's successful 1999 journey by raft down the length of the Blue Nile one of the two rivers of the upper Nile River from its source in Ethiopia to the Sudan border. Science magazine correspondent Morell (Ancestral Passions), whose crew was the first to descend the Nile in a single, unbroken trip, had taught school in Ethiopia during the 1970s, and she combines her love of the country with a remarkably balanced account of the Blue Nile's history. She perceptively probes the intricacies of Ethiopian culture ("Secrets, intrigues, plots and counterplots riddle every social circle, and you soon learn to not necessarily believe everything you are told"), ancient history ("For their part, the Ethiopian emperors weren't above using the Blue Nile as a weapon to turn Egypt into a desert") and politics. But Morell is most sensitive, and enlightening, on matters of race and gender. As she observes, race "was just something you had to accept: as a white person in Ethiopia, you were and are a spectacle." But she also acknowledges "how ill-prepared we were for meeting men of progress along the Blue Nile," expecting "bandits and spear-throwers, not paramedics who listened to the Ethiopian equivalent of the BBC." This is a loving and insightful description of a culture and region that has been mostly off-limits to Westerners. 16 pages of color photos. (Aug.)Forecast: Morell's previous book was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, so this one may get review attention. Boosted by advertising in National Geographic and National Geographic Adventure magazines, this book could provoke new interest in Ethiopian life and culture.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Morell, a Science magazine correspondent and author of the highly acclaimed Ancestral Passions, here documents the only expedition to travel the entire length of the Blue Nile in an unbroken journey. While she reports no groundbreaking discoveries and uncovers no new facts during this National Geographic expedition, Morell does exhibit an endearing love for the people she encounters and observes their environment and way of life with a keen eye and an open mind. She also cleverly mingles the narratives of earlier Blue Nile explorers with her own findings. This synthesis is useful, as is the author's description of Ethiopia's current political conditions. But it is Morell's portrayal of the indigenous folk, and their relationship with the river they both worship and fear that makes this book so captivating. And while there are other, more authoritative works on the subject (consider, for instance, Major Cheesman's pioneering Lake Tana and the Blue Nile or Alan Moorehead's instructive The Blue Nile, HarperPerennial, 2000), this one nevertheless deserves attention. Recommended for all public libraries. Edward K. Owusu-Ansah, Murray State Univ. Lib., KY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

I am an author of science and natural history books, and a prolific contributor to Science, National Geographic, Smithsonian, and other publications. I love writing about the natural world, and how scientists are exploring it. In my newest book, ANIMAL WISE, I explore the once-forbidden land of animal minds with scientists courageous enough to tackle the questions: What and how do animals think? In my book, you'll read about my trips to meet researchers who've discovered that ants teach, parrots converse, rats laugh, and cheetahs can die from heartbreak. I live in Ashland, Oregon, with my husband and fellow-writer, Michael McRae, our American Working Farm Collie, Buckaroo, and sweet, but camera-shy Calico kitty, Nini.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Showme on August 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
... when he expressed disappointment about Morrell's constant complaints about the tour guide, Mike Speakes. The book-long litany of criticism for Speakes is what stands out for me - more than the scenery, the people, the history, etc. Morrell suggests that she chose not to address her concerns with Speakes directly out of deference to others in her group. Instead, with the exception of one instance late in the game, she saved all of her venom to share with thousands of readers. I don't know Speakes; I never heard of him before reading this book. I don't know Morrell; I never heard of her before reading her book. I did not read any of the Amazon reviews of the book until after I read the book. What I do know is that Morrell's mean-spirited jibes at Speakes so permeated the story that my opinion of Morrell's character is perhaps as low as she wanted the reader's opinion to be of Speakes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Schuyler T Wallace VINE VOICE on March 7, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Virginia Morell has once again blended her storytelling skills with an adventuresome spirit in `Blue Nile." In it she journeys down the Blue Nile through Ethiopia to the Sudan. In 1999 Morell, on assignment from National Geographic, joined an expedition to be led by famous photographer Nevada Wier, with equally renowned Conrad Hirsch as guide. The idea was to spend two months rafting down one of the most dangerous and treacherous wild rivers in the world; meeting the natives, studying the wildlife, and putting a face on a beautiful and remote landscape.

Morell was ecstatic to be included and to be able to join forces with Hirsch, a friend and former teaching colleague. Things started off poorly, however, when Hirsch became stricken with a malignant brain tumor and had to withdraw as guide. He suggested that second boatman, Michael Speakes be promoted to his position. Speakes was experienced, having participated in earlier trips down the Blue Nile, and promised to "carry us safely down this remote river at potentially high water volumes." Not as personable as Hirsch, Speakes did guide the voyage safely, albeit while exhibiting grating people skills.

Morell does a wonderful job of describing the highs and lows that always accompany such ventures. Her detailing of the flora and fauna is captivating, her shivering and drenched existence is transmitted to the reader in chilling realism, and her disappointments, such as lack of large wild animals, attacks by warring natives (I suspect that deep in her heart she would have welcomed some), and more personable leadership skills, are relayed to the reader with aplomb and discretion. Those failings, along with very few white water thrills, gave me the impression that much more was expected of the journey than was experienced.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Hatfield on August 13, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book read more like a grade school culture capsule than a 500 mile wild river adventure that had never been accomplished before. However it did provide some insight into the Ethiopian culture and some good words to try out on my Ethiopian friends. Virginia Morell came across to me as a bit of a middle aged Drama Queen who was just absolutely overflowing with prattle and contrivance. It seemed to me that Morell rather fancied Captain Speaks and was frustrated that he was a real professional boatman and summarily ignored her attempted manipulations. There was no "Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" on this trip for Virginia. The book tells an even better story about the Author than the Blue Nile.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By James Ellsworth on September 3, 2007
Format: Paperback
Virginia is a nice person indeed, as I met her one time in person, but her book is not full of passion for Ethiopia but rather a bashing of the trip leaders, Mike Speaks and Mike Borcik. I know them both as well, and know them to be truly professional boatmen who took it upon themselves to pull this expedition off themselves (with the help of Maurizio Melloni for logistics) and run a safe trip on a river that had nver been run successfully before.

I know this because I am mentioned in the book, as I worked for MTSobek at the time and was the Director of International River Trips during this project. Should Virginia had wanted to run this trip without any liabilities, she should have run the trip herself in innertubes! She was truly a poor sport and completley ungracious for all the effort and work we put into the expedition. She was willing to take unecessary risks and when she could not because of smart and prudent decisions by Speaks, she crie like a baby and turne her disgust into a book that is less than marginal, except for the beautiful photographs which she did not take.

As I mentioned at the beginnins of the review, Virginia is a wonderful person, she just missed the target on this book as well as the expedition.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Karen Burke on January 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The Blue Nile is a perfectly told travel adventure by a smart, interesting person who writes with complete honesty and empathy. Reading her book is like sitting down with a fascinating friend who tells of her experience in details that make you see what she saw and feel what she felt, with the political history of Ethiopia put into context. Morell is observant, insightful, and open-hearted. Especially for those of us less adventurous types, Morell brings the experience of traversing the rarely travelled path along the Blue Nile right to us. She is a thoroughly engaging travel companion. Her book inspires understanding of a culture and place quite distant to most of us. I love her clear, intelligent writing.
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