A lean, fast-paced account of the almost absurdly dangerous quest by those two friends turned enemies, Richard Burton and John Speke, to solve the geographic riddle of their era ... This is not new ground...but Candice Millard has earned her legions of admirers. She is a graceful writer and a careful researcher, and she knows how to navigate a tangled tale ... She takes pains to put her story in context.
The centerpiece of Ms. Millard’s book, goes beyond harrowing and into the ghastly ... Ms. Millard’s research and very readable storytelling are admirable, but there are some disappointing lacunae in River of the Gods. For instance, she doesn’t offer her own theory on whether Speke’s death was an accident or a suicide ... Ultimately, the identity of the person who first discovered the source of the White Nile may be a trivial matter. Ms. Millard conscientiously investigates the issue, of course, but River of the Gods is compelling because she does justice to the psyches and behavior of Burton and Speke—keenly flawed but enthralling, sometimes marvelous people.
Millard reminds us of the historical impact of this lethal fairy tale ... Apart from Millard’s meticulous research and suspenseful prose, she brings an enormous enthusiasm for the narrow escapes and daring-dos of human history, the impulse to act decisively in the face of death. Her books explore extraordinary men who shared the same restless curiosity and stomach for hardship long before ease and consumerism slaked mankind’s thirst for discovery. In these times of serious economic, geopolitical, and medical challenges, her book offers readers a special kind of escapism – to intense obstacles of an entirely different kind