Long before the mid-Victorian exploration for the sources of the Nile began in earnest, a similar-if smaller scale-drive occurred to fabled Timbuktu, the capital of lost empire of Mali and to discover the course and outlet of the river Niger. This legendary city loomed large in the imagination of the west since the time of Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, soon after which rumors of the king’s vast wealth quickly spread to Europe. In the 1500s a Moor by the name of Leo Africanus penned a popular account of Africa, in which he described his trip to the city. There things stood until the late Georgian age. At this point, Frank Kryza’s The Race for Timbuktu picks up the account. The driving force behind all of this was the African Association, a loose grouping of businessmen and nobility who were interested in geographical questions, the possibilities of increased trade, and the end of slavery. Their leader and driving force for this period was Sir Joseph Banks, and it was through their instigation that our subjects were set on their way. This was a common thread throughout the “silver age” of exploration, with groups like this forming expeditions to Africa, central Asia, and finally to Antarctica. That these were generally not governmental affairs, or were only loosely construed as such is a product of a more liberal age. One can imagine that similar projects, if conducted today, would more resemble the bureaucratic nightmare that is NASA than the rough-and-tumble expeditions of Clapperton, or, say Burton or Scott. The book is best when Kryza is describing the personalities of the main people involved, the rival explorers, Capt. Hugh Clapperton & Maj. Alexander Gordon Laing and the British Consul in Tripoli, Col. Hamner Warrington. The journey of Clapperton was vexed by the inclusion of a young Lieutenant, Dixon Denham, who proved to be out of central casting as an arrogant Brit. The two quarreled over command and at points were not on speaking terms, though they were the only Europeans for thousands of miles. Laing is a bit more of a mystery, but Kryza’s account paints him as a typical adventurous young officer. To me the most interesting man profiled was the Consul, Warrington. The nuts and bolts of the British Empire were men like Warrington-tough, forceful individuals who operated what seem like private fiefdoms for decades. Tripolitania was never part of the British Empire, but Warrington was none-the-less one of the most powerful men in the country. The Bashaws usually showing him more respect than they did to their nominal sovereigns in far-away Constantinople. The accounts of the journeys are decidedly exciting, but the real gems are the insight gained from the words of the locals. Sultan Mohammed Bello of Sokoto was shocked when Clapperton informed him that the British no longer kept slaves (which was not true in 1822 when this meeting took place), but was even more shocked and exclaimed “God is great” when Clapperton said that servants were paid regular wages. The Sultan was shrewder, as he later told Clapperton that “the English had taken possession of India first going by ones and twos, until they got strong enough to seize upon the whole country” (as Kryza says, the Sultan was right). When Laing’s personal papers were later the subject of an imbroglio between the French and British at Tripoli, the Bashaw said “when elephants chose to dance, the wise man gets out of their way.” The actual arrival at Timbuktu of Laing is a bit of an anti-climax, as the city was long past its prime and was just a dusty backwater town. His death, under mysterious circumstances would trouble Warrington no end for years. Clapperton was more concerned with the problem of the Niger Delta, and following his death, his companion; Richard Lander returned and solved that mystery once and for all. Kryza’s account suffers from a dearth of maps and an occasional lack of exposition on the locals. I would have liked just a bit more background on the Tuareg and Bournu. The inclusions of beautiful illustrations made by Denham upon his return were a welcome addition. All in all, a fun read.