Into the Book


The Daring Heart of David Livingstone, by Jay Milbrandt, is a solid short biography on David Livingstone. Subtitled “African slavery and the publicity stunt that saved millions,” the book centers around the African slave trade and Livingstone’s lifelong fight to abolish it completely. It’s a solid book that addresses Livingstone’s life well for the amount of space it has.

The book opens on Livingstone’s return to Britain from his first African journey, in which he had criscrossed Africa from south to west to east At this time, Livingstone became a public hero for his missionary and exploration work in Africa. Problems with his missionary agency forced him to look for funding from the Royal Geographic Society, who were more than happy to fund Britain’s latest hero. Buoyed by public excitement and government money, Livingstone returned a second time to Africa.

His later trips did not go so well as the first. Livingstone’s expeditions in eastern Africa are set back by supply shortages, desertions, and troubles among the men. Further, he is struck by the evils of slavery. East Africa at the time was home a flourishing slave trade, and Livingstone filled his journals and letters with stories of the terrible things done there. Armed with these journals, he tried to convince the British government to outlaw the slave trade, but the failure of his expeditions had caused public opinion to swing away from him again.

Livingstone received the break he needed when he was given the opportunity to settle a dispute between the explorers, Burton and Speke, who differed on the source of the Nile River. The British government offered the expedition, who jumped at the chance. Excitement over the dispute had captured the public’s attention, and when Livingstone accepted the offer he found himself back in the public eye.

He used this momentum to push publicly for the final abolishing of the slave trade in East Africa. Though he died in Africa without having found the Nile, and before the slave trade ended, Livingstone’s life goal would still be accomplished when the government formally banned the slave trade by sea along the entire East African coast and Zanzibar.

In my mind, the mark of an excellent short biography is one that piques my interest to read a longer biography, and Milbrandt has done just that in this book. Though I would have liked to read more about Livingstone’s family and the problems that caused for him later in his life, the book manages to adequately cover what’s important. The best touch was the quotes; because of these, the Livingstone of the book feels very human and approachable, as his actual words and feelings are spilled out on the pages for us to read.

This is a solid biography, well-focused on Livingstone’s mission to abolish slavery. It provides a balanced and quick look at the explorer’s life and some of the reasons he is worth remembering and honoring today.


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The Daring Heart of David Livingstone — Jay Milbrandt, $18.62

Published on 19 November, 2014. Last updated on

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