John Hanning Speke is credited for “discovering” the mouth of the Nile in the 19th century. That Jeopardy!-ready tidbit is hardly the most juicy detail of the expedition.
Candice Millard digs into the rivalry between Speke and his former expedition captain Richard Burton in River of the Gods: Genius, Courage and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile. Burton read and wrote in 29 languages and took a spear to the face in the Horn of Africa, leaving a scar that later inspired Bram Stoker’s vision of Dracula. Speke was part of the landed gentry of England who “named” the mouth of the Nile Lake Victoria after his queen.
This odd couple escaped ambushes from Somali warriors, survived malaria, and stumbled back to England together with barely any supplies. Once they were home, their friendship fell apart in a public display of backstabbing.
I would recommend River of the Gods to fans of historical expeditions who do not mind a little body horror—at one point, a beetle burrows into Speke’s ear, and Millard doesn’t skimp on the details.