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A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa [NOOK Book]

Overview

A true story that rivals the travels of Burton or Stanley for excitement, and surpasses them in scientific achievements.


In 1849 Heinrich Barth joined a small British expedition into unexplored regions of Islamic North and Central Africa. One by one his companions died, but he carried on alone, eventually reaching the fabled city of gold, ...
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A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa

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Overview

A true story that rivals the travels of Burton or Stanley for excitement, and surpasses them in scientific achievements.


In 1849 Heinrich Barth joined a small British expedition into unexplored regions of Islamic North and Central Africa. One by one his companions died, but he carried on alone, eventually reaching the fabled city of gold, Timbuktu. His five-and-a-half-year, 10,000-mile adventure ranks among the greatest journeys in the annals of exploration, and his discoveries are considered indispensable by modern scholars of Africa.



Yet because of shifting politics, European preconceptions about Africa, and his own thorny personality, Barth has been almost forgotten. The general public has never heard of him, his epic journey, or his still-pertinent observations about Africa and Islam; and his monumental five-volume Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa is rare even in libraries. By delivering the first biography on Barth in English, Steve Kemper goes a long way to rescue this fascinating figure from obscurity.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Journalist Kemper tells the engrossing story of a German scholar’s five-and-a-half year, 10,000-mile journey across North and Central Africa in an age when that continent was as remote and exotic to Europeans as the North Pole. In 1849, Heinrich Barth set off with a small British expedition to explore the little-known Islamic kingdoms of North and Central Africa. As his companions perished along the way, Barth continued to navigate a world of tropical disease, ceaseless warfare, and religious extremists who murdered Christians on sight. Despite the hardships, Barth never neglected his careful documentation of the wonders and miseries of these regions. Defying steep odds, he made his way to the legendary city of Timbuktu and made it back alive. Kemper is a capable writer and clearly highlights the drama and singularity of Barth’s odyssey. An obsessive student who picked up new languages with ease, Barth was an exemplar of the tireless scholar that the 19th century produced in legions. Unlike the colonizers in his wake, Barth respected the cultures he encountered, but his uncompromising disposition and European nationalism condemned him to obscurity. (July)
Booklist
“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.”
Boston Globe
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
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Kemper has written an enjoyable account of Barth's great journey packed with arresting details....— Tim Jeal
Shelf Awareness
“A Labyrinth of Kingdoms is a fascinating account both of one man's journey and of African cultures on the eve of European expansion.... Barth's story is equal parts adventure and scholarship. Kemper treats both with a sure hand.”
Expedition News
If you have an ounce of historical exploratory curiosity in your veins, course through this forgotten tale. Timbuktu awaits.— Robert F. Wells
The Times (UK)
Kemper's majestic account of Barth's journey restores the reputation of an explorer who was as passionate about science as he was about rigorous travel. It's an enthralling adventure, captivatingly told.— Ziauddin Sardar
Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe
“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.”
Robert F. Wells - Expedition News
“If you have an ounce of historical exploratory curiosity in your veins, course through this forgotten tale. Timbuktu awaits.”
Tim Jeal - Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Kemper has written an enjoyable account of Barth's great journey packed with arresting details....”
Pamela Toler
“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.”
Adam Hochschild
“Heinrich Barth belongs in the ranks of the greatest explorers of Africa. But unlike most of the others, he was less interested in imperial conquest and self-promotion than in the cultures, the peoples, the languages, and the ancient manuscripts that he found there. It's a pleasure to see a lively, readable biography of him in English at last.”
Ziauddin Sardar - The Times (UK)
“Kemper's majestic account of Barth's journey restores the reputation of an explorer who was as passionate about science as he was about rigorous travel. It's an enthralling adventure, captivatingly told.”
Library Journal
Acting for the British government, German national Heinrich Barth became part of an expedition through North and Central Africa in 1849, enduring a five-and-a-half-year trek over 10,000 miles and the deaths of most of his comrades finally to reach that legendary city, Timbuktu. His story has been known primarily to scholars, so this is an important corrective.
Kirkus Reviews
A spirited reconstruction of the arduous five-year trek into Central Africa by Heinrich Barth (1821–1865), a German scientist exploring for England. Kemper (Reinventing the Wheel: A Story of Genius, Innovation, and Grand Ambition, 2005, etc.) ably renders the intensive research involved in delineating Barth's life and travels into an engaging narrative. The arrogant, introspective Barth had recently completed his dissertation, learned Arabic and written his travelogue, Wanderings Along the Shores of the Mediterranean, when he was referred to James Richardson, avid English abolitionist and missionary, for his expedition into Central Africa in 1850. Sponsored by Lord Palmerston, then head of the British Foreign Office, the trip was ostensibly commercial, to "make treaties with African potentates," as well as to spread English civilization and Christianity--the explorers before them had perished by disease and violence. Enduring appalling conditions, such as fever, the deaths of Richardson and other comrades, theft by his Arab guides and especially the lack of funds from England (due to the great lapse in travel time), Barth and his cumbersome camel-laden entourage trekked from Tripoli south through the Sahara. He had to placate the suspicious, murderous Arab chiefs along the way, bribing them with whatever he had, and often being held captive for months. He took assiduous notes about the tribes, mingling with the natives and always asking questions. He discovered a tributary of the Niger, was stranded in Timbuktu and finally rode back to Tripoli in 1855. Back in England, his academic account, when finally published in 1857, was criticized for its tolerant account of the Arabs. With Europe "on the cusp of the imperial age," his news from Africa was unwelcome. A nicely rounded literary study of an intrepid explorer undone by the cultural biases of the time.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393084061
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/18/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 854,196
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet 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.

Good To Know

In our interview with Kemper, he shared some fun facts about himself:

"Until my mid-20s, I had never written anything except academic papers and the usual sophomoric poetry. I expected to become an English professor and to spend my life reading and teaching, but academia became more and more suffocating. I'm so relieved that I escaped into the world."

"I don't do well with bosses. I was fired from summer jobs twice and have never had a regular full-time job."

"The things I need: my family, books, music, friends, good food and drink, travel, stimulating work. On the second tier: movies and basketball. Dislikes: ideologues, moral zealots, fear-mongers, power-abusers, bullies, cynics with small experience, conformists, cowards, vulgarians, and liars. Oh, and peas and Brussels sprouts."

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    1. Hometown:
      West Hartford, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 25, 1951
    2. Place of Birth:
      Louisville, Kentucky
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Detroit, 1973; Ph.D., University of Connecticut, 1980
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

Prologue ix

Map of the Expedition's Routes, 1850-55 xii

1 Preparations 1

2 Invitation to Africa 12

3 At the Edge of the Desert 22

4 First Steps 31

5 Stalled in Murzuk 42

6 The Palace of the Demons 51

7 To Air 55

8 Plundered 61

9 Days and Nights in Tintellust 79

10 Desert Port 90

11 Separate Ways 100

12 "The Celebrated Emporium of Negroland" 108

13 An Ending 124

14 The Kingdom of Bornu 137

15 A Mystery Solved 153

16 "The Horde of the Welad Sliman" 168

17 Razzia 175

18 Captive in Bagirmi 190

19 Letters from Home 203

20 Resurrection and Death 209

21 Westward 221

22 The Prospect of the Niger 233

23 "Obstructed by Nature and Infested by Man" 244

24 Golden City 254

25 In Timbuktu 264

26 Stuck 280

27 Released, More or Less 294

28 Rumors and Consequences 304

29 Getting Out? 318

30 Problems at Home 329

31 Last Journeys 349

Epilogue 365

Acknowledgments 369

Notes 371

Selected Bibliography 391

Index 397

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2012

    This was an amazing book, one that took me off on a safari exped

    This was an amazing book, one that took me off on a safari expedition
    into West Africa and never let go. Barth produced such an amazing
    amount of detail on his travels that it has taken over 100 years to
    appreciate it. His work is relevant today in ways we may not still know
    especially relating to climate change. For those with an interest in
    Africa's history, this book lifts the veil of mystery. It is an
    absolute must read. 5 stars

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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