BOOK REVIEW: 'The Explorers': The Seven Traits of Successful Explorers Examined in Detail

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Explorers': The Seven Traits of Successful Explorers Examined in Detail

There's something magical about the number "seven" in the world of publishing. Think Steven R. Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" and the stream of books that followed that mega-best-seller.

You might also think about the Seven Deadly Sins and combine at least some of them with the seven traits that Martin Dugard presents in his fascinating, very readable "The Explorers: A Story of Fearless Outcasts, Blundering Geniuses, and Impossible Success" ( Simon & Schuster, 304 pages, $26.00).

Dugard uses as the central story in his book the famous 1856 Richard Francis Burton-John Hanning Speke expedition that sought the source of the Nile River, but the story explodes from this central narrative spine to tell the tales of other explorers.

Dugard's narrative deals not only with the what and when of great explorer's lives, but also with the how and why. OK, what are the seven traits? Here they are: curiosity, hope, passion, courage, independence, self-discipline and perseverance.

The book shows how these traits not only are vital to explorers like Speke, Burton, Shackleton, Hillary, Peary, Howard Carter (the discoverer of King Tut), Stanley, Livingstone, Cook and many others, but also to success in everyday modern life. This reminds me of another recent book, Amy Chua's and Jed Rubenfeld's controversial "The Triple Package" about how certain ethnic and/or religious groups produce extraordinary people far out of proportion to their numbers.

Speke and Burton started out as friends, but their differing views of the Nile's source resulted in their mutual animosity. The book opens on September 15, 1864, a day before a debate between Speke and Burton in the western English city of Bath. The so-called "NIle Debate" has attracted worldwide attention. I won't say what happens to Speke on that late summer day as the one-time world famous hunter takes to the field to get his mind off the debate, but it shocked me.

The number seven may have been  used to death by Covey and other authors, but I think Dugard's use of it discussing Speke and Burton and all the other explorers works very well indeed.

An adventurer himself, Dugard regularly immerses himself in his research to understand characters and their motivations better. To better understand Columbus he traveled through Spain , the Caribbean, Central America, and sailed from Genoa to Spain aboard a tall ship in the manner of the great navigator. He followed Henry Morton Stanley's path across Tanzania while researching Into Africa (managing to get thrown into an African prison in the process), and swam in the tiger shark-infested waters of Hawaii 's Kealakekua Bay to recreate Captain James Cook's death for "Farther Than Any Man".

Dugard competed in the Raid Gauloises endurance race three times, ran with the bulls in Pamplona on two occasions, and flew around the world at twice the speed of sound aboard an Air France Concorde. The time of 31 hours and 28 minutes set a world record for global circumnavigation. Dugard's magazine writing has appeared in Esquire, Outside, Sports Illustrated, and GQ, among others.

About the Author

Martin Dugard is the co-author (with Bill O'Reilly) of "Killing Jesus", "Killing Kennedy" and "Killing Lincoln". These three books have sold more than six million copies. Dugard's other books include "The Murder of King Tut" (co-written with bestselling author James Patterson); "The Training Ground" (Little, Brown, 2008), the riveting saga of America's great Civil War generals during the Mexican War, when they were scared young lieutenants first learning the ways of war; "The Last Voyage of Columbus" (Little, Brown; 2005), "Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone" (Doubleday, 2003), "Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook" (Pocket Books, 2001), and "Knockdown" (Pocket Books, 1999). Dugard lives in Orange County, California, with his wife and three sons.

His website: