"Dr. Livingstone, I presume."

This weekend whilst running errands/doing chores/etc., I listened to Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone. The library people had incorrectly labelled it as "unabridged," so I have defaced library property to correct the error.

Since what I listened to was an abridgement, I will reserve judgment on what had been my principal critique of the work, which was that the psychological biography offered on the protagonists, while interesting, seemed undersupported and one-dimensional. Maybe this is a fair assessment. Maybe the psychological depth got editted out in the abridgement process.

Regardless, this is an exciting and fascinating read. Some of the enjoyment came from the intellectual buzz of getting "the rest of the story" behind a phrase that is so burned into the cultural collective memory: "Dr Livingstone, I presume." I felt a similar headrush when I first read Descartes' Meditations, of all things, and actually started to get my mind around the philosophy behind the bromide "I think, therefore I am."

Even without the hook of the famous phrase, though, this is an amazing story. So many important movements and historical themes play a role: the rise of modern popular journalism, the quest for the source of the Nile, the modern missions movement, the American Civil War, British activism against the African slave trade. The adventures of Stanley and Livingstone are indeed epic, all the more so for being real, and Dugard does a fine job of bringing the reader along for the ride.


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