The Gates of Africa: Death, Discovery and the Search for Timbuktu

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9780007122332: The Gates of Africa: Death, Discovery and the Search for Timbuktu

London, 1788: a group of British gentlemen---geographers, scholars, politicians, humanitarians, and traders---decide it is time to solve the mysteries of Africa's unknown interior regions. Inspired by the Enlightenment quest for knowledge, they consider it a slur on the age that the interior of Africa still remains a mystery, that maps of the "dark continent" are populated with mythical beasts, imaginary landmarks, and fabled empires. As well, they hoped that more accurate knowledge of Africa would aid in the abolition of the slave trade.

These men, a mixed group of soldiers and gentlemen, ex-convicts, and social outcasts, form the African Association, the world's first geographical society, and over several decades send hardened, grizzled adventurers to replace speculation with facts and remove the beasts from the maps. The explorers who ventured forth included Mungo Park, whose account of his travels would be a bestseller for more than a century; American John Ledyard; and Jean Louis Burckhardt, the discoverer of Petra and Abu Simbel. Their exploits would include grueling crossings of the Sahara, the exploration of the Nile, and---most dramatically---the search for the great River Niger and its legendary city of gold: Timbuktu.

Anthony Sattin weaves the plotting of the London gentlemen and the experiences of their extraordinary explorers into a gripping account of high adventure, international intrigue, and geographical discovery. The Gates of Africa is a story of human courage and fatal ambition, a groundbreaking insight into the struggle to reveal the secrets of Africa.

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About the Author:

Anthony Sattin is a journalist, broadcaster, and the author of several books, including Shooting the Breeze, Lifting the Veil, Florence Nightingale's Letters from Egypt, and the highly acclaimed The Pharaoh's Shadow. Over the past two decades, he has traveled extensively over the territory in which the African Association operated. An expert on the literature of travel, he has written for a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, and Condé Nast Traveller. He lives in Great Britain.

From Publishers Weekly:

Journalist and travel writer Sattin (The Pharaoh's Shadow, etc.) pens a remarkable history of the African Association, the world's first geographical society. Formed in London in 1788 by wealthy patrons who believed that Africa needed to be explored and mapped more fully, the Association aimed to find the fabled city of Timbuktu, discover the course of the Niger and locate the source of the Nile. Using a wealth of historical and biographical materials, Sattin provides exciting-and sometimes ironic-accounts of the amazing and often doomed travels of extraordinary adventurers supported by the Association, including Mungo Park, the first European to find the Niger; Gordon Laing, who reached Timbuktu after being shot by a local tribesman only to find that the city was in shambles; and Jean Louis Burckhardt, who became fluent in Arabic and who, disguised as Ibrahim ibn Abdullah, became one of the first Europeans to journey to Mecca and the first since the Crusades to see the ancient city of Petra. Sattin delivers a lively and fascinating study of the Association, about which little has been previously written, and shows how the achievements of the men and their missions not only expanded the knowledge of Africa, but also left a "lasting legacy" in the fields of exploration and geographical investigation.
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