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The Gates of Africa: Death, Discovery, and the Search for Timbuktu Kindle Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- Publication date : January 7, 2014
- File size : 3731 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 416 pages
- Publisher : St. Martin's Press (January 7, 2014)
- ASIN : B00GVRE6RE
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Language: : English
- Lending : Not Enabled
Best Sellers Rank:
#1,652,025 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- #1,037 in Expeditions & Discoveries World History (Kindle Store)
- #2,493 in History of Africa
- #2,898 in Expeditions & Discoveries World History (Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Throughout the course of the book and for a diverse set of reasons, numerous expedition attempts failed to reach Timbuktu. Sometimes a later expedition received news of a previous party or explorer, and these insights provide credibility in the author's conclusions, but also fascinating clues about the interconnectivity of kingdoms across vast distances by trade routes, pilgrimages, etc. Some explorers approached the journey as directly as they could. Some explorers opted for disguises that took years and years to cobble together. Following each party is a pleasure, though outcomes are fraught by death after death.
Where Sattin's book is lacking, in my view, is in the descriptions of Timbuktu. Certainly, the elites in Britain lamented the state of Timbuktu once information about the city became available. Nonetheless, Sattin could have done a better job detailing what Timbuktu, and various other cultural hubs in the region, did and do offer the inquisitive mind. The manuscripts preserved by Timbuktu's climate, alone, warrant a mention, as does additional dialogue about the history of intellectualism in the city, however decayed by the time Britain arrived at the scene. I realize that these artifacts and traditions did not interest British chrysophilists; however, readers are told that all Timbuktu promised was heat and sand. That is, The Gates of Africa is exceedingly Anglocentric, in narration and valuation. Reading the text proved an entertaining and informative experience, and I do recommend it to readers of world history. Despite the work's many strengths, I wish the book featured a slightly broader purview, with greater coverage of settings like Timbuktu, Cairo, Tripoli, and other centers of civilization visited by expeditions on their journeys inland.
Lastly, the quality of the writing is a little inconsistent, but not enough to impact my rating.
There is a lot to like in this book. It uncovers a fascinating and totally unknown (to me at least, probably to many others) era of history. While Bonaparte was stomping around Europe, a small group of scholars was actively engaged in trying to learn more about their world, in spite of the upheaval in Europe. Joseph Banks and some of his wealthy comrades in England would regularly commission various individuals and groups to attempt to penetrate Africa to find Timbuktu and the source of the Niger. The goals were nominally scientific - to ascertain the position of various landmarks, rumored cities, etc., but as the expeditions failed and the situation in Europe changed, the goals evolved to become more economic and geo-political. Roughly 40% of this book is effectively a travelogue in which the exploits of the various explorers is recounted. In some cases the journals of these explorers has survived and Sattin has reconstructed the tales of their adventures. It would have taken some big cojones to attempt what some of these brave (foolish?) men did.
There are several reasons why I only give this work four stars. First, roughly 60% of the book covers the political machinations of Joseph Banks and his cronies. This is important to the story, but I wanted to read more about Africa, not about wealthy Londoners. Too much time is spent in London. I wanted to learn more about the explorers, the people and wildlife and terrain in Africa, etc. and less about Banks and crew. Second, this isn't the kind of book most people are going to need to add to their collection. It is now out of print as I write this review (26JUL09), but I wouldn't spend my money again to buy it. Definitely readable, but as a relatively expensive hardback, not really collectible. I won't be returning to it again and again. Third, the ending is really disappointing. Someone finally makes it across the country, and that's it. There were lots of loose threads that could really have been tied up together, and the narrative could have been taken a bit further. It was almost as if Sattin just got tired of writing and ended the story at a convenient point.
Bottom line is that this is a good read for anyone interested in Africa and the age of exploration, but not a uniquely outstanding book.
I'm currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, so it was exciting to learn about the first adventurers in the region that I am currently living