Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review - The Daring Heart of David Livingstone

David Livingstone.  The name brings many images to our minds.  Pioneer missionary.  The darkest jungles of Africa.  Surviving a lion attack.  Discovering the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls.  “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”  The man was a legend in his own day and even today his name is still well-known.

In his book, The Daring Heart of David Livingstone:  Exile, African Slavery and the Publicity Stunt that Saved Millions, author Jay Milbrandt presents us with another side of the famous man.  Many people over the years have seen Livingstone as a missionary or an explorer, but Milbrandt reveals Livingstone also as a man on a God-given crusade to end slavery in East Africa.

Livingstone lived at a time when slavery in the British Empire had come to an end.  William Wilberforce and his allies had freed the slaves and ended the slave trade in England.  America was on the cusp of our own Civil War which brought an end to slavery.  England and the United States had been involved in buying and selling slaves from W. Africa, a practice which had mercifully come to an end.  But slavery was still alive and well in E. Africa.  The slaves were captured in what are now the countries of Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia and were marched to the coast where they were sailed to the island of Zanzibar and sold to primarily Islamic buyers.

During his explorations in Africa, David Livingstone had come face to face with the horrors of this trade.  The Daring Heart of David Livingstone picks up the story after his first, great African exploration.  Livingstone cut ties with the London Missionary Society and joined forces with the Royal Geographic Society.  His vision was to establish a British outpost in the interior of East Africa with the dual goal of exploring the area and ending the slave trade.

The rest of the book is how David Livingstone’s desire unfolded, or rather failed to unfold in the way he had planned.  It is a story of grit and determination in the face of brutal terrain and tropical disease, of strong personality and deep devotion to God.  Above all, it is a story of persistence in keeping to the vision Livingstone believed God has given him.  Livingstone comes across both admirable and disappointing.  There are times when his godly character is very much on display, and other times, such as when the author describes his family life (or lack of it) that Livingstone presents a disturbing picture.

When Livingstone’s initial plans for a British outpost fail and after spending years in a futile search for the source of the Nile River, Livingstone finds himself stranded and sick in the heart of Africa.  At that point, Henry Morton Stanley enters the story.  Sent by American newspaperman James Gordon Bennett, Stanley braves the heart of Africa and finds Livingstone, surviving the return journey to declare to the world that Livingstone was alive.  With him he carries letters from Livingstone; letters which are meant to challenge the conscience of the British Empire and push it toward using its power to end the scourge of slavery, which is exactly what they do.  Livingstone passed on before his dream was realized, but his words and his challenge to the people of Britain were vital in bringing his vision to reality.

The Daring Heart of David Livingstone is a wonderful read.  It is a well-told story of the God-given vision of one flawed man to end African slavery.  Livingstone persisted in pursuing that vision, and a result our world was changed.

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