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ss triple helix - spring 2003,  David Livingstone: The Man behind the Legend (Book Review)

David Livingstone: The Man behind the Legend (Book Review)

David Livingstone: The Man behind the Legend - Rob Mackenzie - Christian Focus Publications 2000 - £11.99 Hb 389pp - ISBN 1 85792 6153

This book is the third biography of David Livingstone to appear in the last few years. It avoids the modern tendency to historal revisionism so common in many biographies today and provides a clear, honest and straightforward account of the life and work of Livingstone as a pioneer Christian missionary in Africa. The author has lived long in Africa and has read widely in the primary and secondary sources of his material.

He describes the three themes that dominated Livingstone's life as those of 'evangelism, exploration and emancipation'. To these we must add his robust Christian faith and unwavering sense of vocation which inspired all his activities. The author gives graphic accounts of the incidents of Livingstone's life, many of which have formed part of the 'legend', but which nevertheless were actual and historical.

There are numerous references of medical interest in the book. Livingstone prescribed his own pills, 'the Zambezi rousers', for treatment of fever and although they contained only three grains of quinine, they were even said to be successful in treating malaria. Attacked by a lion in 1884, he sustained a compound fracture of his left humerus from which a false joint eventually resulted. This false joint was one of the features by which his body was identified when it was received in London in 1874. An appendix to the book reproduces the report of the postmortem examination of Livingstone's body after it had been brought to London 'by faithful hands over land and sea'.

There are many references too to Livingstone's work as an evangelist, mostly quoted from his diaries and letters. He spoke to individuals in personal evangelism and to groups in informal services. However, Livingstone soon learned that the task of pioneer missionaries like himself was to be sowers of the seed, not reapers of the harvest. That was left to others who came after him. This book contains much more than can be indicated in a brief review, but it can be confidently recommended as a handy, readable and well-informed factual account of the life and work of one who was a faithful servant of God and of the people of Africa in his generation.

Reviewed by
John Wilkinson

Retired Consultant in Public Health and a former medical missionary

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