Book Review: The Daring Heart of David Livingstone by Jay Milbrandt


In the past year or so I’ve been drawn to stories of great men of faith. This has led to me reading biographies of Hudson Taylor, Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, William Wilberforce, and others. It is inspiring to read of the paths these men walked in their faith, the challenges they faced in their lives, the sacrifices they made for their King, and the hope that drove them ever onwards. So when I had the opportunity to read a book about David Livingstone, I jumped at the chance. How would his testimony add to and compare with these other men?

In “The Daring Heart of David Livingstone” Jay Milbrandt focuses on the latter half of Dr. Livingstone’s life from 1857 to 1874. Milbrandt’s thesis is that “traditional biographers have largely overlooked [Livingstone’s] advocacy for abolishing slavery. In so doing they have missed the real story…If David Livingstone pursued one purpose, it was freedom from the African slave trade” (xi).

How does Milbrandt support this thesis? First of all, he paints a very impartial and (as far as I know) accurate picture of Livingstone. There’s no hero worship or whitewashing of sins here but there’s also no demonizing or unfair blaming. Milbrandt shows Livingstone to be a complicated man with many failings but many strengths as well. Livingstone was a poor leader, a failure as a missionary, unsuccessful in many of his scientific expeditions, and a largely absentee husband/father. But he was also a visionary, relentlessly determined, and passionately convinced of God’s providence in his life and the lives of others. This honest and fair treatment of Livingstone gives Milbrandt much credibility and reveals an imperfect man’s struggle to serve his Lord in spite of his failings.

As far as Livingtone’s purpose being the ending of the African slave trade, Milbrandt presents some convincing arguments and evidences, including Livingstone’s own words.

“If the good Lord permits me to put a stop to the enormous evils of the inland slave-trade, I shall not grudge my hunger and toils. I shall bless his name with all my heart. The Nile sources are valuable to me only as a means of enabling me to open my mouth with power among men. It is this power I hope to apply to remedy an enormous evil [in the East African slave trade].” (210)

As a result of his fame, Livingstone had a platform on the world stage and he used this platform to successfully galvanize the world to move towards ending the East African inland slave trade. Whatever else you think about this man, you cannot ignore his part in advancing the cause of freedom.

There’s much more to say about the book, but suffice to say that I enjoyed it and, while not perfect by any means, I give “The Daring Heart of David Livingstone” 4 stars out of 5.

Disclaimer: BookLook Bloggers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.

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