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Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika Paperback – March 14, 2006

4.0 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At the height of WWI, as armies of thousands fought with each other on European soil, a much more unusual battle was waged in eastern Africa, where Belgian and German colonial territories were separated by the second largest body of water on the continent, Lake Tanganyika. An English big-game hunter living in the region came up with a plan to take out the German warships that patrolled the lake, and command of the mission was given to Geoffrey Spicer-Samson, a career officer whose boorish incompetence had earned him the dubious distinction of being the oldest lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy. Foden (The Last King of Scotland) delivers his novelistic skills with full effect in depicting the absurdity of Spicer and his campaign, from the self-designed skirts he wore to combat the heat to his status as "Navyman God" among the local natives when his small motorboats—named with the French words for "miaow" and "bow-wow"—actually managed to capture and sink much larger enemy ships. Charming illustrations at the head of each chapter, along with the hand-drawn maps, further add to this tale's quirky appeal. Closing chapters add a poignant epilogue, explaining how Spicer's story inspired C.S. Forester's The African Queen, and noting the disappearance of the events from the memory of modern Tanzanians. Foden's engrossing account is not just for military historians or lovers of exotic locales; it should please anyone who loves a good story. (Apr. 7)
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.

From Booklist

Generations of film lovers have reveled in the adventures of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen. Now acclaimed writer Foden reaches back into history, retracing the incredible World War I odyssey that inspired both C. S. Forester's novel and the subsequent film classic. Commissioned by an overburdened admiralty to wrest control of strategically significant Lake Tanganyika from the Germans, delightfully eccentric naval officer Geoffrey Spicer-Simson and his ragtag crew of disgruntled Scots, Irish, and Brits undertook an arduous 2,800-mile journey through the untamed African bush and up the unpredictable Congo with two 40-foot gunboats improbably named the Mimi and the Toutou. Foden's painstaking attention to historical and descriptive detail vivifies an amazing true story featuring a hilariously less-than-perfect hero. Swashbuckling action, comical ineptitude, and hair-raising adventure all rolled into one highly entertaining package. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400075262
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400075263
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Edwin B. Burgess on April 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
At the outbreak of WWI, one strategy of the allies was to isolate and control German East Africa. Germany had had the foresight to place some armed boats on Lake Tanganyika, which effectively controlled all transportation in East Africa. The very peculiar British naval officer Geoffrey Spicer-Simpson was directed to take Mimi and Toutou, two forty-foot gunboats, overland from South Africa to the lake and defeat a fleet of German steamers. Spicer-Simpson went into battle wearing a skirt, was worshipped as a god by the Holo Holo tribe, entirely alienated his subordinates, and more or less succeeded in reducing the German naval presence through a combination of effective military action and slapstick. The events that transpired were eventually transmogrified into The African Queen (first the book by C.S. Forester, then the movie), though being significantly changed in the process. Highly entertaining analysis of a mostly forgotten episode in the Great War. Foden's mix of colorful characters, hubris, pluck, and idiocy is well worth reading.
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Format: Paperback
Giles Foden's story of the World War I battle on Lake Tanganyika is mostly based on work by other authors. Most quoted is Peter Shankland (published in 1968) who interviewed many of the principles late in life, and Byron Farwell. In fact lengthy parts of both books are quoted to establish many of Foden's points. The problem is that he has very little new to say and therefore spends most of the first two hundred pages filling out the short and more to the point chapter that is in Farwell's book. He has little or no information from the German side.

The last forty pages are involved with discussing the background to the old Humphrey Bogart/Katherine Hepburn movie, "The African Queen" and how the story of the battle and a book by C.S. Forester, follow parts of the 'real' occurences. This and ten pages on his own trip back to the area, seem to be there to fill out the book, more than to inform.

Lastly, there are two "glaring" mistakes in the book from my point of view. When discussing the travel of the Naval African Expedition through the then Union of South Africa, he has them travel through Mafeking and then Johannesburg (J-Burg) on their way to Lake Tanganyika. Look on any map and you will see that J-Burg is south of Mafeking. Speaking of maps, on the one in the book of southern Africa, he has J-Burg placed where Mafeking is (on the South Africa, Botswana border); J-Burg is in the center of South Africa.
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Format: Hardcover
For history buffs, this is a potentially enjoyable yarn about a forgotten little episode from the past, but in a poorly constructed book. Giles Foden covers the odd story of a World War I naval campaign on Lake Tanganyika in East Africa, as old colonial intrigues between the Germans and English spilled over into the Great War, and Africa became a very remote battleground between the imperial powers. Mimi and Toutou were two specially-made motorboats – which were built in England to be small and fast, as secret weapons against the large German warships that patrolled the lake. Under the command of the eccentric and delusional Geoffrey Spicer-Simson, a motley crew of conscripts hauled the two boats by rail and river, and on foot, all the way from South Africa in a quest that lasted several months. They finally engaged the Germans in a naval lake battle that had very little strategic significance, especially considering the logistical nightmare of setting up the scene.

This is the type of odd historical episode that can make for fun reading, and Foden does a fairly good job describing the bizarre bungling aspects of the campaign, as well as the weird eccentricities of Spicer-Simson and his crew. But Foden has merely constructed his narrative from broad chunks of information borrowed directly from earlier historians and biographers, especially one named Peter Shankland. And like everyone else who discusses this period in colonial Africa, Foden can't stop talking about Joseph Conrad. Alas, the story of the Lake Tanganyika campaign, while intriguing, just isn't momentous enough to be the subject of a substantial history, or even a medium-sized book like this.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
During the titanic contest between the British and Germans in World War I, the British, in so many places, came out ahead due to their greater stockpile of eccentrics, misfits, and weirdoes. The famous Lawrence of Arabia was the illegitimate son of a British nobleman and he went on to command a dashing Arab Army consequently re-making the political map of the Middle East.

In Africa, the British sent forward the Royal Navy's oldest and most (incompetent/lazy/strange?) officer one Geoffrey Spicer-Simpson. He takes several boats overland from South Africa to Lake Tanganyika to engage German Gunboats there.

In short, it is the true tale of yet another British eccentric that goes off and does something valiant.
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If only schools used books like this, more people would be interested in history. This book recounts the little-known tale of a minor engagement in the Congo region of Africa during World War I. On one side were the Germans, and on the other were the British and Belgians. Watching on the sidelines, occasionally throwing their lot with one or the other were the native Africans. The battle was fought between ships of the two sides, all of which were dragged through jungles via train, truck and sometimes by brute human labor, all in the name of satisfying national pride. The battles itself comprise the minority of the text, as most of the pages focus on the characters involved, and how they ended up in Central Africa. For some, it was the end of their careers, for others, it was a springboard to future glory. For all, it was a world unto itself; for here the white combatants were treated as royalty by the natives, and with their commanding governments a continent away, they pulled of stunts that would have gotten court-martialed closer to home. In conclusion, this is a very entertaining book and an enjoyable read.
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