River Road to China: The Search for the Source of the Mekong, 1866-73 (Search for the Sources of the Mekong, 1866-73)

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9780871137524: River Road to China: The Search for the Source of the Mekong, 1866-73 (Search for the Sources of the Mekong, 1866-73)

In 1866, six Frenchmen set out on a dangerous mission to seek a trade route up the Mekong. During the two years that followed, they would journey through more than four thousand miles of unmapped territory, from the tropical heat of the swamps of Vietnam and Cambodia to the bitter cold of the mountain ranges of southwestern China. Their historic expedition is the dramatic subject of River Road to China by world-renowned Southeast Asia expert Milton Osborne. Selected by The New York Times as one of the best books of 1975 when it was originally published, this edition has been updated to include a new postscript by the author and more than thirty full-color illustrations by the expedition's artist.

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Review:

In the mid-19th century, the major powers of Europe descended on East Asia, determined to forge empires. The French, who came to what is now Vietnam and Cambodia, sought to join their holdings there to the scattered French colonies farther north in China, but they were faced with a problem: the Mekong River, which laces through Indochina, was not mapped. In the dry season, little more than a wide stream, but in the monsoon season "an uncontrollable torrent, spilling over its banks to turn hundreds of square miles of dry land into a massive patchwork of temporary lakes," the Mekong was a formidable obstacle.

In 1866 a party of six French explorers, led by a young officer named Doudart de Lagrée and his lieutenant, Francis Garnier, set out to travel the river to its unknown source. Though de Lagrée died of fever in Cambodia, the remaining French explorers, led by Garnier, ventured onward into the mountains of southwestern China. Garnier and his men traveled across more than 4,000 miles of uncharted territory in their two-year journey, but never reached the Mekong's source, which remained unknown until just recently. Turning defeat to advantage, however, they mapped major portions of the then-unknown Red River, opening it to French trade. First published in 1975, Milton Osborne's adventure-filled narrative of their dangerous journey is a fine contribution to the history of exploration, and makes for enjoyable reading. --Gregory McNamee

From the Back Cover:

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

In the mid-nineteenth century, no one in the Western world knew the full course-or indeed the source-of the great Mekong River in Southeast Asia. In 1866 six Frenchmen set out on a dangerous mission to seek a trade route up the Mekong. During the two years that followed, they would journey through more than four thousand miles of unmapped territory, from the tropical heat of the swamps of Vietnam and Cambodia to the bitter cold of the mountain ranges of southwestern China.

Their historic expedition is the dramatic subject of world-renowned Southeast Asia expert Milton Osborne's River Road to China. This updated edition includes a new postscript by the author and more than thirty full-color illustrations by the expedition's artist. Osborne's book is not only a stirring narrative account of one of the most celebrated expeditions in a great age of exploration-it is a story of the courage, endurance, and determination of six men in the face of unpredictable dangers and near-insurmountable odds.

"A compelling, finely researched account of an adventure that was hailed as one of the grandest explorations of the nineteenth century." -The Washington Post

"[The] party's advance up on the Mekong is the highest of high adventure. . . . [Osborne's] documentation is flawless."-The New Yorker

"As exciting as it is historically illuminating . . . A tale of heroism that has seldom been duplicated, spurred by the continuing, fatal attraction of the 'Great River.'"-The New Republic

"With personalities writ large and exploits gruesome enough to satisfy the most jaded tourist . . . Osborne introduces us to a party of French explorers whose attempt to follow the Mekong to its source should rank them with Livingston and Burton."-The New York Times Book Review

Milton Osborne is the author of seven books on Southeast Asia, including Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness and Southeast Asia: An Illustrated Introductory History. A former academic, diplomat, and United Nations adviser, he has been a full-time writer and Southeast Asia consultant since 1993.

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