I must confess, the only things I knew about David Livingstone prior to this past month was his quest for the source of the Nile River and the famous line, “Dr Livingstone, I presume.” I thought Livingstone was a mere explorer and had no idea that his deep faith shaped him in tremendous ways.
Jay Milbrandt’s “The Daring Heart of David Livingstone” painted a wonderful picture of this complex man who embodied the spheres of science, exploration, and missionary work so well. Livingstone was a driven, complex man who was painfully aware of his own deficiencies. Often times he would not yield to counsel, but instead would press on out of his driven (or perhaps, stubborn) nature. After initial triumphs, he experienced setback after setback, ultimately dying in the land he loved. His drive to expose and abolish the East African slave trade ultimately cost him his life and his family.
One of the major themes that struck me was how Livingstone did not live to see the fruit of his life’s ambition. He instead died nearly penniless and separated from his family. He never saw the abolition of the slave trade in East Africa, never discovered the source of the Nile, and had only one convert to his missionary goals. Like Moses, he never entered into the promised land he so desperately wanted to see.
Milbrandt’s work was well done and thoroughly researched. The book was riveting and full of lively descriptions of the expeditions. Upon closing the biography, I felt like I knew Livingstone better and understood in part the East African slave trade. I also appreciated how Milbrandt brought out the imperialistic vision of Livingstone and let him argue for this movement, allowing history to be its judge. Overall, Milbrandt is an excellent biographer.
If you are into biographies and want to learn about a relatively under-the-radar historical figure, I recommend Jay Milbrandt’s “The Daring Heart of David Livingstone: Exile, African Slavery, and the Publicity Stunt That Saved Millions.” His narrative style and honest portrayal of a flawed yet heroic man is certainly well worth the read.
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