Book of a Lifetime
Ondaatje, Sir Christopher, The Independent (London, England)
The Devil Drives
FAWN M BRODIE
In the early 1970s, when I was hacking my way through the jungles of finance in North America, I was encouraged to read an extraordinary (and probably the best) biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890), the great Victorian explorer, by Fawn Brodie. It changed my life. Why, I asked myself, should I endure the responsibilities of running two large corporations in Canada when I could be exploring new horizons - away from the shackles of modern civilisation. I determined that some day I would leave the business world and live the life I might have led had I been given an earlier opportunity. It didn't happen for another 20 years.
Richard Burton was a true man of the Renaissance. He was a soldier, explorer, ethnologist, archaeologist, poet, translator, and one of the two great linguists of his time. He was also an amateur physician, botanist, geologist, a swordsman, and a superb raconteur. "Discovery is mostly my mania," he wrote. He penetrated the sacred Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina at great risk, and explored the forbidden city of Harar in Somaliland, which also promised death to any intruding infidel. In a famous journey with John Hanning Speke he also searched for the sources of the White Nile, and discovered Lake Tanganyika. Burton's passion was not only for geographical discovery but for the hidden in man, for the unknowable and unthinkable. …