Contemptuous of Europe's 'civilising mission' in Africa, Mary Kingsley's (1862-1900) extraordinary journeys through tropical west Africa are a remarkable record, both of a world which has vanished and of a writer and explorer of immense bravery, wit and humanity. Paddling through mangrove swamps, fending off crocodiles, climbing Mount Cameroon, Kingsley is both admirable and funny.
Great Journeys allows readers to travel both around the planet and back through the centuries – but also back into ideas and worlds frightening, ruthless and cruel in different ways from our own. Few reading experiences can begin to match that of engaging with writers who saw astounding things: Great civilisations, walls of ice, violent and implacable jungles, deserts and mountains, multitudes of birds and flowers new to science. Reading these books is to see the world afresh, to rediscover a time when many cultures were quite strange to each other, where legends and stories were treated as facts and in which so much was still to be discovered.