The Daring Heart Of David Livingstone: Exile, African Slavery, And The Publicity Stunt That Saved Millions, by Jay Milbrandt
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers” in exchange for an honest review.]
I must admit that despite my own travel to Africa and my own interest in the problem of slavery and human trafficking , I did not know much about the life and career of David Livingstone except that his search for the source of the Nile and his getting lost in the heart of East Africa in the “Great Lakes” region led to a dramatic and well-publicized search leading to the legendary meeting of Stanley and Livingstone in the town of Ujiji with the words “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” That is, of course, the moment of his career and life that has been most immortalized, a symbol of the budding rivalry between the United Kingdom and the United States over exploratory prowess and the moral high ground. There was a great deal more of interest to the life and death of David Livingstone, which has a great deal to tell us today.
This particular book is organized in a mostly chronological fashion. It begins in media res, at the height of Livingstone’s popularity after his initial solitary travels in South Africa crossing the Kalahari on foot and exploring areas that would later become part of the imperial conflicts of Germany and the United Kingdom, and then goes back to that initial travel and the effect it had on Livingstone’s life. The book then proceeds in a chronological fashion through Livingstone’s travels, his lack of political savvy, and his passion to end the East African slave trade before closing with an epilogue about the end of slavery in Zanzibar (the chief bazaar of the Muslim slave trade of the mid 1800’s) as well as having a lot of study questions that deal with the complexities of Livingstone’s life and behavior. This is a book that serves not only as a thoughtful biography but also as an incisive look at the politics of publicity stunts for humanitarian purposes, something that is as valid in our time with the problem of human trafficking as it was for Livingstone.
There was a lot to admire about the career and life of David Livingstone. He grew up in poverty in Scotland, including working in childhood industrial labor while learning Latin and studying for school on the side, and his driven nature led him to a high standard of education and a fierce faith that was combined with intense interest in science and progress. His turning his scarce economic capital into moral capital in drawing attention to the horrors of the Islamic East African slave trade was an immensely morally courageous act, even if he lacked political savvy in his comments and lacked honesty in his Zambezi expedition in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s. He was not a very good husband or father, and his intense and isolated ways tended to cause conflict with many of the people he worked with who expected more encouragement and sociability. He was, however, widely recognized for his gentleness and respect of others, particularly native Africans. In short, he was a man with flaws and a nature like our own, but a man whose behavior was largely for the benefit of many millions of people, even if he died believing (mistakenly) that his efforts had been in vain and that his life had been a waste. Those who read this book will see very clearly that this was not the case, and that even his mistakes of judgment were easy enough to understand given the limitations of the man and his time. May we all have biographers that are as sympathetic and honest as this one, and as interested in looking at the bigger picture of ethics and society.
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