Stanley: Book summary and reviews of Stanley by Tim Jeal

Stanley

The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer

By Tim Jeal

Stanley
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2007,
    608 pages.

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Book Summary

Henry Morton Stanley, so the tale goes, was a cruel imperialist who connived with King Leopold II of Belgium in horrific crimes against the people of the Congo. He also conducted the most legendary celebrity interview in history, opening with, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

But these perceptions are not quite true, Tim Jeal shows in this grand and colorful biography. With unprecedented access to previously closed Stanley family archives, Jeal reveals the amazing extent to which Stanley’s public career and intimate life have been misunderstood and undervalued. Jeal recovers the reality of Stanley’s life—a life of almost impossible extremes—in this moving story of tragedy, adventure, disappointment, and success.

Few have started life as disadvantaged as Stanley. Rejected by both parents and consigned to a Welsh workhouse, he emigrated to America as a penniless eighteen-year-old. Jeal vividly re-creates Stanley’s rise to success, his friendships and romantic relationships, and his life-changing decision to assume an American identity. Stanley’s epic but unfairly forgotten African journeys are thrillingly described, establishing the explorer as the greatest to set foot on the continent. Few biographies can claim so thoroughly to reappraise a reputation; few portray a more extraordinary historical figure.

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Book Awards

  • award image National Book Critics Circle Award, 2007

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Jeal's biography is an unalloyed triumph, not only because it is painstakingly researched and eminently readable, but because it never loses sight of the abandoned child in the man, driving him forward, "able to frighten, able to suffer, but also able to command love and obedience." Such a personality, Jeal notes, is "an extinct species, and all the more remarkable for that." - The Washington Post.

""There have been many biographies of Stanley, but Jeal's is the most felicitous, the best informed, the most complete and readable and exhaustive. . . In its progress from workhouse to mud hut to baronial mansion, it is like the most vivid sort of Victorian novel. . ." - Paul Theroux, New York Times Book Review.

"[An] impressive, revealing, and well written biography. . . . [Jeal] adds new layers to his subject's character." - New York Review of Books.

"I closed this book with genuine feeling for that poor workhouse boy who did so much to transcend his appalling childhood, but I cannot forget that graffitti in Persepolis and the arrogance that shines from its well-chiselled edges. Like some portrait in the attic, it reminds us of the dangers of revisionism. Stanley was misunderstood, but he was not innocent, and Frank McLynn's "sorceror's apprentice", with his volcanic rage against the cruel world, still seems to ring true. Jeal's book is a stunning and provocative work, an awesome piece of scholarship executed with page-turning brio, but I do not think it will be the last word on Henry Morton Stanley." - The Guardian.

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More Information

Tim Jeal is also the author of Baden-Powell: Founder of the Boy Scouts. He lives in London.

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