• Labyrinth of Kingdoms

  • 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa
  • By: Steve Kemper
  • Narrated by: Ed Phillips
  • Length: 14 hrs and 51 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (59 ratings)

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Labyrinth of Kingdoms  By  cover art

Labyrinth of Kingdoms

By: Steve Kemper
Narrated by: Ed Phillips
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Publisher's summary

A true story that rivals the travels of Burton or Stanley for excitement, and surpasses them in scientific achievements.

In 1849 Heinrich Barth joined a small British expedition into unexplored regions of Islamic North and Central Africa. One by one his companions died, but he carried on alone, eventually reaching the fabled city of gold, Timbuktu. His five-and-a-half-year, 10,000-mile adventure ranks among the greatest journeys in the annals of exploration, and his discoveries are considered indispensable by modern scholars of Africa.

Yet because of shifting politics, European preconceptions about Africa, and his own thorny personality, Barth has been almost forgotten. The general public has never heard of him, his epic journey, or his still-pertinent observations about Africa and Islam; and his monumental five-volume Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa is rare even in libraries. Though he made his journey for the British government, he has never had a biography in English. Barth and his achievements have fallen through a crack in history.

©2012 Steve Kemper (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

What listeners love about Labyrinth of Kingdoms

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating

The Tuaregs don't come off very well in this fascinating book. Neither do the Fulanis. It's amazing to me that anyone survived the waring factions and the extreme conditions related in this story. The writing itself is a nice mix of historical fact and personal narrative. It's not to long, and it's quite engaging. I love Barth's against-the-grain perspective that Africa wasn't just a blank slate of a land full of unsophisticated heathens just needing European saviors! He clearly thought well of the peoples as complex intricate kingdoms/civilizations that he was just there to learn about. Unfortunately, he also had the task of negotiating trade relationships with the leaders, but it's almost as though that were an afterthought for him. The narrator is mostly wonderful, particularly at pronunciation of a wide variety of place and person names. But in a few places his voice got a little to strident for my preference. It wasn't enough to be distracting for too long, though.

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5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A journey without maps

Is there anything you would change about this book?

The audio book outlining the travels of Henrich Barth would have been better with maps. If there were no maps in Kemper's book, then the fault is with the author; if there were maps and they were not offered in pdf format, then the fault is with audiobooks.

What was most disappointing about Steve Kemper’s story?

The most disappointing thing about Steve Kemper's story was being made acutely aware of the fighting in Central Africa. Tribal and religious violence, as described in Kemper's tale in the mid-nineteenth century is too much different from what we see on the evening news.

Which character – as performed by Ed Phillips – was your favorite?

Philips gave a clear performance throughout so all characters were clearly distinguishable.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

Only if it were shot on location.

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5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Too much of one person

This book is a well organised biography of a German scientist exploring Africa. But in my view author concentrates too much on the question of Barth's personality along with difficulties he had endured but there are almost no details of Barth's impressions of the countries he was in, mosly generalisations. This makes this book not an interesting one to people who would like to know more on the Africa of those times.

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3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

An unknown explorer

A fascinating look into the life of a man who triumphed over so much opposition to explore the depths of Africa in a time when being a white, Christian would send a man to the grave.
The story is well written and the narration and quality of recording is too-notch.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A fascinating, illuminating, and at times, harrowing, story

Heinrich Barth was an extraordinary explorer/anthropologist whose work should be better known. I wish there was an edited version of his books.

As Kemper notes in the final chapter, Africans have been depicted as primitive, lacking education, culture, and “skills” and these myths supported European exploitation. In the USA, they are still used to defend slavery. I well remember the illustration in my childhood textbook of people crouched around a fire in loin cloths. This book is an impressive corrective (soon to be banned in Florida, no doubt).

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Captivating

This book is incredible! Detailed and neutral in its storytelling, I felt right then and there. The book deserves a space on a bookshelf so it can be revisited.

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

... With Teutonic Thoroughness

I tried to **read** this book but it was like driving a boat: once you take your hand off the throttle, it soon bogs down. Better to listen to the book so you keep going when it is time for a trip to the fridge or across the room.

Kemper is much to be praised for prizing out all the nuggets of human experience from Barth's voluminous account of these six years in Saharan Africa. However, it is a rolling account of endless skirmishes, feuds, and outlawry by the indigenous tribes of the area. That Barth remained alive though all this is quite remarkable and his observations of the geography and the flora are quite surprising. They put the lie to the notion that the Sahara is all sandy desert.The final chapter does great justice to his efforts and is more than honest about Barth's nettlesome personality.

However, the reading is similarly nettlesome. I don't know why the producers of these books don't find someone to chase down the CORRECT pronunciation of not just the foreign words, but also the larger English words. The narrator's voice is quite compelling. His sonority is a major plus, but his inability to say 'consul' [i.e. 'council' when 'consul' is clearly meant] takes a great deal of luster off his efforts.

If you are interested in the Sahara, in historical travel, or in the quirky sort of scientist who thrives in a hostile field, you will probably enjoy this book. Listen to it; don't read it. It's like a 1000 mile caravan of facts on a slow pack animal.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great book! Needs to be read more

I loved what I learned from this book! If we can be more like Heinrich Barth today, we would be in a more understanding and peaceful world.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

what a great story

What a great and relevant story to listen to in 21st century.
The only thing I couldn't comprehend was in chapter 13, the author mentions tigers....
There are no tigers in Africa and none were at that time, so were they at a private property? It sounded a bit off...

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Bait and switch

What disappointed you about Labyrinth of Kingdoms?

This is not an "adventure" story as advertised. It is a pretty dry history.
This is being marketed entirely incorrectly, the very first paragraph has Barth almost dying of heat exhaustion and rescued by his servants, and that is the only portion of the book that is has such vivid description.
I am sure that there are people who are interested in the dry history of Barth's adventure, but I'm not one of them.

Which scene was your favorite?

None.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Narration was quite good.

Any additional comments?

6 hours in and I just can't take it anymore. I just can't tolerate another chapter where I listen to another list of what the expedition contains at that point, 8 camels, 3 crates of biscuits, three turtle doves, 2 french hens and a partridge in a pear tree. If the "adventure" portion of this starts, it is far too late for me.

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  • Jonathan
  • 09-08-14

Fascinating But Drags in Places

I would definitely recommend this audiobook as a fascinating account of a little known but very important explorer. The early stages with totally compelling and I had to tear myself away from it. But some of the later stages definitely dragged -- there is too much detail and the progressions from one kingdom to another start to get a bit repetitive. And the description of the stay in Timbuktu is definitely over-long. But overall I found it both enjoyable and highly educational -- both about Barth and about that part of Africa. The reading is excellent, in my view.

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  • the60sthrowback
  • 09-05-22

a vital record of a forgotten man

I hadn't heard of Barth. yet he is without a doubt one of the greatest scientific explorers of Africa in pre colonial days. he deserves to be remembered and this book helps no end.

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  • Stewie
  • 06-19-15

SOLID HISTORIC ADVENTURE.

I really enjoyed this.....It can be a little slow at times but considering what they went through and what they achieved its worth the read....I knew nothing about these explorers until i read this....I feel more enriched for having done so.

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