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A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa Hardcover – June 25, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039307966X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393079661
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #624,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A spirited reconstruction of the arduous five-year trek into Central Africa by Heinrich Barth (1821–1865), a German scientist exploring for England.... A nicely rounded literary study of an intrepid explorer undone by the cultural biases of the time.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“...He approached his expedition with an open mind and a willingness to engage with those around him regardless of their social status. Barth’s insights into the commonalities that exist among different cultures remain relevant today.” (Booklist)

“Steve Kemper’s elegant, richly rewarding biography should go a long way toward correcting [Barth’s obscurity]. On one level, the book is a superb chronicle of Barth’s travels, from the harrowing heat and physical danger to the dazzling diversity of people he encountered on his path. It’s also an astute character study of a relentlessly curious scientific personality.” (Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe)

“Sometimes a book grabs you by the throat and won’t let you put it down. I recently experienced that with Steve Kemper’s A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa.” (Pamela Toler, author of History in the Margins)

“If you have an ounce of historical exploratory curiosity in your veins, course through this forgotten tale. Timbuktu awaits.” (Robert F. Wells - Expedition News)

About the Author

Steve Kemper is the author of Code Name Ginger. His work has appeared in many national publications, including Smithsonian and National Geographic. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut.

More About the Author

I've been a freelance journalist for more than 30 years and have written two books: A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa, about the African explorer Heinrich Barth (June 2012), and Code Name Ginger: the Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World (2003), which was selected by Barnes & Noble for its Discover Great New Writers award. Harper published the paperback under the title Reinventing the Wheel.

I've written for many national publications, including Smithsonian, National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Outside, Wall Street Journal, and BBC Wildlife. I'm an adjunct professor at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, got a degree from the University of Detroit, then taught literature and writing at the University of Connecticut while earning a Ph.D. I live in Connecticut.

My website: www.stevekemper.net
My blog: http://blog.stevekemper.net

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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A well written account of a remarkable individual and journey.
Hardy
The story is about this 1850's adventurer and scientist, H. Barth, a German who travels 10K throughout the continent.
Dr.Du
If you are at all interested in explorations and African history, you must read this book.
Larry N. Stout

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Gerald A. Roberts on July 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wow. This is a fascinating, carefully researched biography of a mid-nineteenth century German explorer who is quite likely the greatest explorer you've never heard of. I've long been an admirer of Richard Francis Burton, and am acquainted with the most famous of the explorers of Africa, but I hadn't heard of Barth.

The book is almost entirely focused on his epic 5+ year journey and seemingly has it all: desert caravans, slave raids, treacherous/opportunistic guides, hostile tribes, robbers and thieves, exotic disease, forced marches through brutal climates and punishing terrain, trade centers, rebellions, bungled communications, political intrigue, suspicious chieftains, eunuchs, harems, etc. You get the idea- it more than holds its own as an adventure story. Considering the many dangers and frequent setbacks, it's incredible he survived.

But what sets Barth apart from other explorers, especially considering the time he lived in, is that he was insatiably curious about, and respectful of, the many cultures he came into contact with as he navigated through several African Kingdoms and many different spheres of political influence. He was a Christian, but was well versed in Islam. He became intimate with sheiks, emirs and other rulers, as well as many ordinary Africans; and as a result he found scholarship, an esteem for learning, complex politics, and probably most surprisingly to Europeans of the time- a history. And he meticulously recorded it all. He was fluent in Arabic, and literally collected African languages as he went along. His treatment of Africans as fellow human beings went a long way in adding to the immense amount of knowledge he came away with.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dr.Du on June 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Having read Philbrick's books on sailing adventures I was ready to venture into Africa. The story is about this 1850's adventurer and scientist, H. Barth, a German who travels 10K throughout the continent. The author Kemper has the difficult task of reading Barth's journals and history, along with his own personal travel log to Africa in order to follow Barth's trip. The story is remarkable on many levels, and perhaps more important today than ever as it open the portals of the mind to the often tragic Islamic history, slavery, disease, and beauty of the "undiscovered world" to European scientist.

At times the content can bog the reader down, just by the shear volume of science and descriptions, which can over shadow Barth and his personality. This artful trick lures the reader into the mind of Barth and finally as you close the book the reader becomes one with the scientist as a tragic and yet brilliant figure.

150 years after one of the worlds greatest adventure some things have not changed. Wars, cabal,sickness spiced with cloaks of color and a Murdock like press makes A Labyrinth of Kingdoms a worthy read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on October 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Most folks today, if they think about Africa at all, believe it to be the Africa you would see in movies or the old television show "Ramar of the Jungle", a place populated exclusively by natives in loincloths carrying spears and speaking almost unintelligibly. This book shows that these ideas are not the realities that existed before the coming of the European colonial era in the second half of the 19th century.

In the pages of this excellent work, the reader will find the tale of a tenacious German explorer who was part of an expedition to central Africa sponsored by the British government. He spent almost 5 years roaming throughout the middle of Africa, and seeing many kingdoms and "empires" populated by educated and quite learned folks. He was not your usual explorer, for he took the time and the effort to learn the local languages, and also Arabic, which was used in many places because of the establishment of Islam there. Copious notes were taken and drawings and maps created to aid him in describing the area to the world when he returned.

Perhaps the part of the book that may be the most fascinating to readers is his journey to, and stay in, the fabled city of Timbuktu, the "Holy Grail" of all African explorers, along with the search for the source of the Nile. Dr. Barth immersed himself in the local culture, and held educated discussions with both the rulers and learned men of the places where he visited. He went through some ghastly experiences and survived, but his book was not really well received because he downplayed his dangers and concentrated on relating his geographical and linguistic findings. The people at that time, and probably today, were more interested in stories of thrills and adventure, such as those written by Burton and Livingstone.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. A. Good on August 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a fascinating story and compelling person. The book is beautifully written and fully researched. I loved all of the small details gathered from so many sources - a paragraph on roasted locusts, for instance. I only wish the world had remained as open and curious as Barth and not taken the turn towards imperialism.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Timothy C Smith on August 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Heinrich Barth has been rescued from obscurity. This reads like a mystery because you never know what sort of obstacle will get in the explorer's way. I felt like I was transported back to 19th century Africa. Barth, with all his foibles, reminds me of T.E. Lawrence. I especially liked the intrigue between Barth and the British Foreign Office
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