The pioneering traveler in Central Africa who discovered Lake Tanganyika was also the translator of The Arabian Nights and the secret translator of Oriental sex manuals, like The Perfumed Garden. The man who made a dangerous pilgrimage to Mecca in disguise also produced major writings on reptiles and religion, mining and mountain-climbing, slavery and sexuality.
Byron Farwell brilliantly recreates the sheer excitement of Burton's achievements and his astonishing range of interests in this fascinating biography.
©1963 Byron Farwell; (P)1995 Blackstone Audio Inc.
This is a good overall view of Burton's life, but it does show its age in some parts (i.e. had to look up Midian) because country names and places have changed in the last four decades.
The book's first half is excellent as Burton led an exciting, adventuring life. But the second half drags quite a bit as Burton slows down and the book becomes more or less a listing of his published works and a year-by-year account of his wanderings.
That being said, it is an enjoyable listen and a good peak into the workings of colonialism and Victorian England.
Real Life Adventure
This biography is brimming with detail and historical background, and all of this contributes to the sense of participating in Burton's explorations. Simon Vance does a wonderful job as the narrator, reading with intelligence and verve.
The reserved, distanced and slightly derisive portrait of Richard Frances Burton that the American Byron Farwell gives in his book Burton: A Biography issued 1963, is enhanced by the upper class accent of the narrator. That Burton's life and books still fascinates us is not reflected in the book whatsoever. Much weight is put on his “failed” career. I lost confidence for this biographer because both the wondrously beautiful The Kasidah and the Arabian Nights were step-motherly treated.
The trouble with an audiobook is you can't look in the back and see what the documentation was on, say, the ugly nun who was spirited away from a convent by mistake. It sounds like some rowdy bar story to me. He clearly lived a larger life than most of us but I lost my confidence in Byron's perspective, especially after the blithe remark at the start of the book about women not having the mental capacity to be explorers.
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