Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Daring Heart of David Livingstone

Jay Milbrandt.  The Daring Heart of David Livingstone: Exile, African Slavery, and the Publicity Stunt that Saved Millions.  Nashville: Nelson Books (An Imprint of Thomas Nelson), 2014.

David Livingstone was a nineteenth century English explorer and missionary.  The Daring Heart of David Livingstone is about his stand against slavery and the slave trade, as well as his desire to find the source of the Nile.  (And, according to Milbrandt, the question of what the Nile’s source is remains unresolved.)

The book was excellent whenever it discussed Livingstone’s personal background, his personality, his family, his faith, and his attempts to navigate his opposition to slavery within sensitive political waters.  Livingstone sought economic alternatives to slavery, such as establishing a colony in Africa from which England would receive cotton, allowing England to get cotton from another source besides the slave labor of the American South.  Livingstone also tried to dissuade Africans from participating in the slave trade, while learning of their reasons for doing so, and he contended against “slavers” who captured people as slaves.

The book is quite detailed about Livingstone’s nautical adventures, some of which I found interesting, and some of which I did not.  Moreover, Milbrandt seemed to presume some background knowledge of Livingstone on the part of the reader.  In my opinion, Milbrandt would have done well to state briefly in the preface what exactly Livingstone did in opposing slavery, so that readers would not get lost in the details later in the book.  Milbrandt also should have included brief biographical information about Livingstone at the beginning of the book, to inform readers uninformed about who Livingstone was, and to allow readers to get to know Livingstone better.

Milbrandt includes discussion questions in the back of the book.  Some of them relate to the application of Christianity.  Some of them may require more historical knowledge in order for some readers to answer them (i.e., a question about whether an alternative approach to banning maritime slave shipping should have been taken in trying to end the slave trade, since the ban “arguably made the slave trade more dangerous and violent along the Kisiju Road…”).  My favorite question was, “Was Livingstone a bad leader, or a good leader with bad people skills?”

People with an interest in and knowledge about Livingstone may find this book helpful.  Those without as much background knowledge about him can still be edified by the book, since it is about a man who thought he had failed yet actually did not.  But the latter category of readers may finish the book feeling unsatisfied, in areas.

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers (http://booklookbloggers.com/) book review bloggers program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

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