Lauded for his ability to tell compelling, true adventure stories, award-winning author Andrew C.A. Jampoler has turned his attention this time to a young American naval officer on a mission up the Congo River in May 1885. Lt. Emory Taunt was ordered to explore as much of the river as possible and report on opportunities for Americans in the potentially rich African marketplace. A little more than five years later, Taunt, 39, was buried near the place he had first come ashore in Africa. His personal demons and the Congo’s lethal fevers had killed him. In 2011, to better understand what happened, Jampoler retraced Taunt’s expedition in an outboard motorboat. Striking photographs from the author’s trip are included to lend a visual dimension to the original journey.
Readers join Taunt in his exploration of some 1400 miles of river and follow him on two additional assignments. A commercial venture to collect elephant ivory in the river’s great basin and an appointment as the U.S. State Department’s first resident diplomat in Boma, capital of King Leopold II’s Congo Free State, are filled with promise. But instead of becoming rich and famous, he died alone, bankrupt, and disgraced. Jampoler’s account of what went so dreadfully wrong is both thrilling and tragic. He provides not only a fascinating look at Taunt’s brief and extraordinary life, but also a glimpse of the role the United States played in the birth of the Congo nation, and the increasingly awkward position Washington found itself as stories of atrocities against the natives began to leak out.