Cover of The Sad Story of Burton, Speke, and the Nile; or, Was John Hanning Speke a Cad? by W. B. Carnochan
The Sad Story of Burton, Speke, and the Nile; or, Was John Hanning Speke a Cad?
Looking at the Evidence
W. B. Carnochan


160 pages.
from $24.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804753258
Paperback ISBN: 9780804755719
Ebook ISBN: 9780804767880


Excerpts and More

This is a study of the famous controversy between Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, fellow explorers who quarreled over Speke's claim to have discovered the source of the Nile during their African expedition in 1857-59. Speke died of a gunshot wound, probably accidental, the day before a scheduled debate with Burton in 1864. Burton has had the upper hand in subsequent accounts. Speke has been called a “cad.” In light of new evidence and after a careful reading of duelling texts, Carnochan concludes that the case against Speke remains unproven-and that the story, as normally told, displays the inescapable uncertainty of historical narrative.

All was fair in this love-war.

About the author

W. B. Carnochan is the Richard W. Lyman Professor of the Humanities Emeritus at Stanford University and former Director of the Stanford Humanities Center. His works include Gibbon's Solitude: The Inward World of the Historian (1987), The Battleground of the Curriculum: Liberal Education and American Experience (1993), and Momentary Bliss: An American Memoir (1999).

"The Sad Store of Burton, Speke, and the Nile is a fascinating whodunit..."

Wall Street Journal

"Bliss Carnochan cuts through the mythology surrounding Burton's character and the events leading to Speke's tragic death with a lucid and sensitive analysis of the documents. He does so with relish for his tale and no loss of its inherent drama."

—Ann Schlee, Novelist

"Employing a close but never pedantic reading of the published writings of Speke and Burton, Carnochan gives us a fuller, more nuanced and insightful analysis of their clash of personalities and its consequences than we can find elsewhere. This is an astute, engaging, and beautifully written study."

—Dane Kennedy, George Washington University

"A detective story with an important scholarly subtext, a rattling good travelers' tale that is also a deep and unresolved tragedy, The Sad Story of Burton, Speke, and the Nile holds the reader's attention from beginning to end."

—Nicolas Barker, editor of The Book Collector

"Carnochan investigates the history of the case through a careful reading of contemporary accounts, making for a strangely engaging tale that's part detective story, part textual analysis."

Geographical Magazine