Introduced by Alexander Maitland
Sourced from the archives of the Royal Geographical Society, these accounts give an explorer’s eye-view of some of the most extraordinary human journeys ever undertaken.
From the archives of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
If the restless travellers of exploration’s heroic age could be said to have a home, it would surely be the august halls of the Royal Geographical Society, where many of the world’s most distinguished explorers gave acclaimed lectures on their experiences.
The Folio Society has collected 14 of the most remarkable accounts, spanning almost a century, from Speke and Grant’s 1863 report of their search for the source of the Nile to John Hunt and Edmund Hillary’s thrilling description of the conquest of Everest in 1953.
Many describe groundbreaking expeditions: Fridtjof Nansen was the first to cross Greenland’s icecap; Roald Amundsen the first to sail the North-West Passage, and Bertram Thomas to cross the magnificent Rub‘ Al-Khali desert of Southern Arabia. Other journeys were in the name of science and curiosity – Katherine Scoresby Routledge’s survey of the statues and peoples of Easter Island; archaeologist Marc Aurel Stein’s uncovering of the ancient Buddhist settlements along the Silk Road, or Thor Heyerdahl’s extraordinary experiment sailing from Peru to Polynesia in the Kon-Tiki. Yet often in these epic accounts, heroism and hardship is blended with humour and fascinating incidentals – Theodore Roosevelt (in the Brazilian rainforest) laments that ants ate his underwear, while Freya Stark (exploring the Valley of the Assassins in Persia) bribed an official with toothpaste.
This edition is illustrated with over 56 photographs – many previously unpublished – taken by the explorers themselves, and which capture both the grandeur of nature and the intimate details of the expeditions. ‘Such a scene it has seldom been the privilege of man to see,’ wrote Charles Howard-Bury, the first Westerner to travel into the far reaches of Tibet, as he watched dawn spilling across Mount Everest. Through these exceptional lectures and photographs, it is our privilege to share those scenes.
The archives of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) are unparalleled: half a million photographs and lantern slides, a library of over 150,000 books, one of the largest private map collections in the world, over 1,000 artefacts, and much more besides.
A wondrous selection of items was laid out for our pleasure and interest when we visited the RGS last year. And we had the delicious thrill of examining objects associated with the explorers and travellers themselves: Stanley’s pith helmet, Livingstone’s cap, a set of oxygen tanks from the 1953 Everest expedition, Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s skis – exploration brought to life. We can’t give you Stanley’s pith helmet, but we can give you a flavour of the experience – explorers’ tales in their own words, and the visual record taken there and then.
Alexander Maitland is a travel writer and biographer. His first book, Speke and the Discovery of the Source of the Nile, was published in 1971. Since then he has written A Tower in a Wall, a conversational portrait of Freya Stark, with whom he worked on Rivers of Time, a collection of her travel photographs. Maitland’s own travel writings, The Highland Year and Wild Thyme and Saladelle: Journeys Round Western Provence, are illustrated with his watercolours and drawings. from 1992–2003, he collaborated with Wilfred Thesiger on My Kenya Days, The Danakil Diary, Among the Mountains, and A Vanished World. His authorised biography, Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer, was published in 2006; and the title essay introducing Wilfred Thesiger in Africa, in 2010.
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Review by wjcarter on 28th Dec 2015
"A fascinating collection of lectures given to the Royal Geographical Society by explorers who were the first Europeans into areas as diverse as the tropics, the poles and Chinese deserts. Each story i..." [read more]