From the Mersey to Manaus

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

To the modern mind, the search for El Dorado, Amazonia’s fabled city of gold, has come to symbolise the ultimate fool’s errand, even more than dredging Loch Ness for a cryptozoological monster or looking for Elvis in far-flung locations. El Dorado is the quintessential fantasy. Andrew Lees grew up blissfully besotted nonetheless. As a bookish […]

To Everest in a Biplane

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Moth and the Mountain is a strange book. Several times this past month I’ve told friends about it, describing its central figure, Maurice Wilson: war hero, heartbreaker, daydreamer, globetrotter, irrepressible adventurer, the man who, in 1932, dreamed up a scheme to fly the moth of

The Gaucho Who Unified Italy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Where might you expect to find a Casa Garibaldi, an Avenue Garibaldi, a Pizzeria Garibaldi and a towering bronze statue of Garibaldi? Not only in Rome and Palermo, but also in Montevideo, capital of Uruguay. Long before Giuseppe Garibaldi landed with his thousand Redshirts at Marsala and began his triumphant march through Sicily and Calabria, […]

The Prince in the Tower

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THE STORY IS well known, or used to be. In 1491, six years after the Battle of Bosworth, a young man appeared in Ireland, claiming to be Richard of York, the younger of the princes in the Tower, who had mysteriously disappeared during the short reign of their uncle. Richard III. He was slim, handsome. […]

A Champion of the Underdog

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

TELEGRAM FROM GUERNICA Is a splendidly researched, deeply moving and compellingly readable biography of George Steer. As a Times correspondent in Spain during the Civil War, Steer visited the town of Guernica on 27 April 1937, the day after it had been reduced to ashes by the bombers of the Condor Legion. This was a […]

Bringing Back the Booty

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

GLORIANA HAS LOST her glitter. Fifty years ago, Englishmen who called themselves ‘New Elizabethans’ anticipated a revival of their ancestors’ great age of national glory. The cult of Merrie England was still celebrated at vdlage Gtes, where Lucia-like ladies affirmed patriotic enthusiasm for a queen with ‘the heart and stomach of a king’. Playwrights, composers […]

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Navigator of the North

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

PUBLICATION BY YALE University Press has become a guarantee of literary merit as well as scholarly excellence. Orcutt Frost’s scholarship is irreproachable. But how does work so judicious, so scrupulous, so reticent, so resistant to sensation and artifice, contrive to be so gripping? This is the formula historians crave: a rattling read, without sacrifice of […]

Best Foot Forward

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The facts about Douglas Mawson are more or less these. He was an intrepid Australian who ventured across Antarctica in the southern summer of 1912–13. His three-strong team suffered an appalling succession of calamities. One man, the splendidly named Belgrave Ninnis, fell into a crevasse along with most of their supplies, never to be seen […]

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Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In death as in life, Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, DSO, etc, etc, marches epically on. Paddy (as he is known to nearly one and all) left us three years ago, but since then he has been commemorated by majestic obituaries everywhere, a magnificent biography, a reconstructed final volume of his own masterpiece of travel […]

Another Fine Mess

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 1904 Lord Curzon, viceroy of India, remarked that the British should rule there as if ‘for ever’; they were the new Romans, bringing their language and law to a half-continent, along with proper communications and monumental buildings. At the same time, similar confidence reigned in Cairo, where another version of the Raj seemed to […]

Meeting the Unknown

Posted on by Tom Fleming

There have already been two good anthologies on exploration in the last three or four years: Travels, Explorations and Empires: Writings from the Era of Imperial Expansion 1770–1835 (eight volumes, 2002), edited by Tim Fulford and Peter J Kitson; and The Faber Book of Exploration (2001–2), edited by Benedict Allen. Both these books offer sensitive […]

Hacking Out An Empire

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Here is a breathtaking – and occasionally breathless – account of one of the greatest ever feats of exploration. Until this book, it had been almost entirely forgotten. Between 1866 and 1868 six young Frenchmen, who constituted the Mekong Exploration Commission, ‘outmarched David Livingstone and outmapped H M Stanley. They also outshone them in that […]

Jewels and Giardia

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Not many of the tourists who go to see the Crown Jewels in the Tower realise that two of the most magnificent stones are from Afghanistan, the Black Prince’s Ruby and the Timur Ruby. Henry V wore the two-inch-long Black Prince’s Ruby on his helmet at Agincourt. It is now the centrepiece of the Imperial […]

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RLF - March