Tim Jeal is the author of the acclaimed biographies Livingstone, Baden-Powell, and Stanley, each selected as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and the Washington Post. He was selected as the winner of the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography.
From Jeal's Q & A with the Guardian, about his latest book, Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure:
How did you come to write Explorers of the Nile?--Marshal Zeringue
My fascination with Africa started in 1963, when I was an adventurous 18-year-old travelling up the Nile from Cairo to Lake Victoria – sometimes on the river itself, sometimes hitching overland in cars and lorries as close to the river as I could manage. But my journey also took me all the way down through Africa to Lake Malawi, the Zambezi and eventually to South Africa.
When I first came to write a book with an African subject, it turned out to be concerned with the latter part of my journey - a biography of David Livingstone. That was published in 1973; it was only 30 years later, while working on my life of Stanley, that I once again became enthralled by the Nile and the stories of all the other great Victorian explorers who had risked their lives trying to establish the precise location of the source.
Stanley was the one who eventually unravelled not only the Nile's watershed but the Congo's too, and awarded the specific prize for the Nile's source to John Speke – a man about whom I then knew next to nothing. My almost total ignorance about him, and my eagerness to put it right, was what tempted me into writing Explorers of the Nile.
I didn't just tell Speke's story but followed the fortunes of the other five men and one woman who struggled with the African continent, and with one another (often in pretty nasty ways) for the glory of being the first to...[read on]