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Book Review: Blood River by Tim Butcher – Following in the footsteps of Henry Stanley

Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World's Most Dangerous Country. If the diseases don't get you the people will!

Tim Butcher is a professional speaker, author and journalist. Earlier in his career, he worked as a war journalist covering conflicts in Europe, South America and Africa. During this time he developed a yearning to undertake a challenging project to follow the same route by explorer and journalist Henry Morton Stanley Stanley is most famous for his successful expedition to find explorer David Livingstone in 1871 and uttering the phrase “Doctor Livingstone I presume”. This mission was not the one that interested Butcher. In 1874, the New York Herald and the Daily Telegraph financed Stanley on another expedition to Africa. His mission was to find the source of the Nile, instead, he ended up travelling up and charting the Congo River. Stanley hoped that Britain would claim the Congo, but there was no interest there, so he was latterly recruited by King Leopold of Belgium who was determined to create an empire in Africa. The Belgium Congo was thus born. 

Butcher, who was at the time, like Stanley, employed as a journalist by the Telegraph. He saw synergy and this shaped his plans to navigate the Congo. His journey starts on the shores of the mighty Lake Tanganyika, from where he travelled overland to the Congo River. It was then on the water for a near 2000km journey to where the Congo spills into the Atlantic Ocean.

Stanley’s journey was challenging but it no less difficult for Butcher. Congo has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous countries in the World. Belgium colonised the county from 1908 to independence in 1960 and invested in building infrastructure from ports to towns to road and railways. Sadly, Belgium did little to prepare the Country for independence so the inevitable happened: autocratic leaders who raped the country resulting in one rebellion and conflict after another. So, the Congo has become a failed state and a place for proxy wars between its neighbours in Rwanda and Uganda. This made Tim Butcher’s trip extremely difficult and dangerous – and unlike Stanley, he decided to do this trip alone.

Butcher does a great job of storytelling his journey the difficulties he faced and the fascinating people he met along his way. He also provides some illuminating background into the history of this troubled country; from the days of colonialism to the troubled times after independence.

Title:Blood River
Author:Tim Butcher
Publisher:Grove Press
Available:Amazon; Barnes & Noble
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