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The Ex­plo­ration Trea­sury

Beau Rif­f­en­burgh (An­dré Deutsch, £30)

FOR THOSE of us who are ex­plor­ers at heart, this book is not so much a trea­sury as a feast. The au­thor sum­marises the achieve­ments of some 30 dis­tin­guished ex­plor­ers and il­lus­trates, both lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally, their most mem­o­rable jour­neys with diary en­tries, cor­re­spon­dence, maps, paint­ings and pho­to­graphs from the archives of the Royal Ge­o­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety (RGS).

The RGS, based in Lon­don, ab­sorbed other spon­sors of ex­plo­ration in the early 19th cen­tury—the African As­so­ci­a­tion and the Raleigh Club, for ex­am­ple—and po­ten­tial ex­plor­ers from all over the world turned to it for moral, prac­ti­cal and fi­nan­cial sup­port from then on­wards. The sub­jects of this book are there­fore an in­ter­na­tional cast.

Many are al­ready well-known to en­thu­si­asts of ex­plo­ration— the sto­ries of Hum­boldt, Dar­win, Liv­ing­stone, Gertrude Bell, Scott of Antarc­tica, Younghus­band of Ti­bet and Philby of Ara­bia—but many oth­ers much less widely known are in­cluded, such as Ben­jamin Simpson, whose strik­ing pho­to­graphs il­lus­trated the 1878 Sec­ond Afghan War. A par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in the po­lar re­gions is hardly sur­pris­ing as the au­thor was head of the po­lar history group at the Scott Po­lar Re­search In­sti­tute and has writ­ten ex­ten­sively else­where about Shack­le­ton and oth­ers.

My own favourite among the ex­plor­ers is prob­a­bly Is­abella Bird, whom I had first en­coun­tered when writ­ing about no­mads. She trav­elled across Per­sia with the Bakhtiari tribe on its an­nual mi­gra­tion, dis­pens­ing med­i­cal po­tions and ad­vice—mostly re­quested to en­hance the tribes­men’s love lives. When she was robbed at night, los­ing her money, sun hel­met and re­volver case, she lamented only the loss of her em­broi­dery; when she re­quested milk, she was given a cow. Beau Rif­f­en­burgh fo­cuses on her other Far Eastern ex­pe­ri­ences and ex­plains how well she de­served to be the first woman to be elected a fel­low of the RGS.

The book comes in a box with 40 sep­a­rate ‘frame­able’ prints il­lus­trat­ing the sights, as well as the flora and fauna de­scribed. All in all, it would make a splen­did—and in­spi­ra­tional—present for any young per­son with an in­cli­na­tion to­wards ex­plor­ing some of the most re­mote and beau­ti­ful quar­ters of the globe. John Ure

Above right: The Par­ro­quia de Santa Prisca y San Se­bastían in Taxco, Mex­ico. Right: The Trea­sury com­plete with frame­able prints

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