The urge to explore is among the deepest human instincts. That the questing spirit and the resolution to meet its demands should be so marked a characteristic of John Blashford-Snell is hardly surprising, for he numbers among his forbears not only Oliver Cromwell and Judge Jeffreys but also a long line of seafarers.
Major Blashford-Snell is a professional soldier who has seen active service in Cyprus and strife-torn Ulster, but it is as an organiser and leader of expeditions that he is best known. While an instructor at Sandhurst, with a special responsibility for Adventure Training, he organised sixty expeditions to all parts of the world. During the past sixteen years he has himself led or been a member of twelve expeditions, and it is with the most important of these that his book is primarily concerned. Underwater archaeology in the Mediterranean and treks across the North African deserts were followed by ventures into Ethiopia, including the Great Abbai Expedition which made the first descent and scientific exploration of the Blue Nile and a further expedition to the little known Dahlak Islands of the Red Sea. A still greater challenge came in 1971-72 when he led the British Trans-Americas Expedition in the first crossing by motor vehicles of the Darien Gap in Panama and Colombia – a terrain as fearsome as anything in Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.
John Blashford-Snell, who is chairman of the Scientific Exploration Society, makes of his adventurous life a narrative that is as enthralling as it is generous in its praise of others. Here is a book that illustrates the truth of the Duke of Wellington’s advice to leaders to be ‘cool in crisis and decisive in action’; one that allows the reader to share the experience of whathappens ‘where the trails run out’.
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