The scramble for Africa, that cynical carving up of the Dark Continent by European powers desperate for a place in the sun, has been told many times before and from every conceivable perspective. Frank McLynn, however, sets out to do something quite different; namely, to chart the age of exploration which immediately preceded that of Empire. For it was between 1840 and 1890 that men like Stanley, Livingstone and Burton first set foot in Africa and thrashed out the ideology which later became ‘imperialism’ in a series of ad hoc confrontations with natives, slave-owners and herds of stampeding rhino.
It was pre-eminently an age of heroes, a time when Africa’s inflationary oral culture combined with the self-aggrandising tales of the explorers to create fabulous feats of endurance and achievement. Here was a landscape of mythic proportions, before bureaucracy had parcelled it up and dwarfed its possibilities as a theatre