River of the Gods

Candice Millard

‘This complex, compelling tale is told with simplicity and grace’ – The Times

A story of courage and adventure, set against the backdrop of the race to exploit Africa by the colonial powers.

For millennia the location of the Nile River’s headwaters was shrouded in mystery. In the mid-19th century, Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke were sent by the Royal Geographical Society to claim the prize for Britain. Burton spoke twenty-nine languages, and was a decorated soldier. He was also mercurial, subtle, and an iconoclastic atheist. Speke was a young aristocrat and Army officer determined to make his mark, Burton’s opposite in temperament and beliefs.

From the start the two men clashed. They would endure tremendous hardship, illness, and constant setbacks. Two years in, deep in the African interior, Burton became too sick to press on, but Speke did, and claimed he found the source in a great lake that he christened Lake Victoria. When they returned to England, the two became sworn enemies.

Yet there was a third man on both expeditions, his name obscured by imperial annals, whose exploits were even more extraordinary. This was Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who was enslaved and shipped from his home village in East Africa to India. When the man who purchased him died, he made his way into the local Sultan’s army, and eventually travelled back to Africa, where he used his resourcefulness, linguistic prowess and raw courage to forge a living as a guide. Without Bombay and men like him, who led, carried, and protected the expedition, neither Englishman would have come close to the headwaters of the Nile, or perhaps even survived.


ISBN: 9781800752610

Published: February 2, 2023


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Published: September 7, 2023


ISBN: 9781800752627

Published: December 28, 2022


Reviews for River of the Gods

‘River of the Gods is a lean, fast-paced account of the almost absurdly dangerous quest . . . Candice Millard has earned her legions of admirers. She is a graceful writer and a careful researcher.’ – The New York Times Book Review

Millard’s research and very readable storytelling are admirable. . . Ultimately, the identity of the person who first discovered the source of the White Nile may be a trivial matter. Ms. Millard conscientiously investigates the issue, of course, but River of the Gods is compelling because she does justice to the psyches and behaviour of Burton and Speke’ – Wall Street Journal

‘When it comes to narrative nonfiction, she’s the best… I love her books. She has this way of finding a really fresh way of telling an old story.’ – Erik Larson, New York Times bestselling author of The Splendid and the Vile

‘Bestseller Millard recounts one of the greatest 19th-century British colonial explorations in this fascinating history … Millard’s lushly detailed adventure story keeps a steady eye on the racial power dynamics involved in this imperialist endeavor and brilliantly illuminates the characters of Burton, Speke, and Bombay. Readers will be riveted’ – Publishers Weekly

‘This complex, compelling tale is told with simplicity and grace… In the background stands Bombay — smiling, solid, courageous and almost forgotten. Until now’ – Gerard DeGroot, The Times

Propulsive … an enjoyable, well-written story and kept a firm hand on the narrative drive… researched thoroughly’ – Sara Wheeler, The Telegraph

‘The American writer Candice Millard comes to the subject with three prize-winning books behind her, and it is easy to see why River of the Gods, which reads like a thriller, was such a success when it appeared last year in the US…. She emphasises the importance to both expeditions of Sidi Mubarak Bombay – a Yao who had been captured as a child by Arab slavers and taken to India, but had made his way home. He is a fascinating figure, and perhaps the true hero of the story‘ – Anthony Sattin, The Spectator


Candice Millard

Candice Millard is the author of three books, all New York Times bestsellers. Her writing has won the William Rockhill Nelson Award, the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime, the PEN Center USA award for Research Nonfiction, the One Book-One Lincoln Award, the Ohioana Award and the Kansas Notable Book Award. Millard’s work has also appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, the Guardian, National Geographic and Time magazine. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and three children.