Curiously enough, My life as an explorer is the title of two books, that were published in 1926 and in 1927. The 1926 one was by Sven Hedin, a man whose adventures in Central Asia are the stuff of legend, and the 1927 book was by Roald Amundsen, one of the greatest Arctic explorers.
And I’ve read them both.
The thing that strikes me is that both explorers had to be two of the most self-centered and egotistical individuals ever to walk the earth – and I find it quite funny that the books of these two world-explorers and adventurers end up being mostly about them and only tangentially about the places they visited and the people they knew.
Fascinating reads, mind you, but somewhat spoiled by the attitude of the central characters/authors.
Reading Hedin comment that some men were born to wear the spurs, others to wear the saddle, or reading the progressively more hilarious rants of Amundsen about Umberto Nobile (he himself another fine specimen of vain, egotistical man – with an extra side of collusion with the Fascist Regime), was not overly pleasant. In the end, there are books by other explorers and adventurers that at least make you feel it would have been nice meeting them and having a chat over a cool drink.
But comparing these two books with the same title, led me to wonder whether there was (or there is) something in the character of people that went to the farthest corners of the earth looking for adventure, knowledge or some other strange kicks.
I was reminded of Roy Chapman Andrews, that was not a very nice person and sometimes that slipped in his self-promoting books, and I thought about Freya Stark commenting scathingly on the adventures of Rosita Forbes. And there’s others, even if they now escape me (yes, I’ve read a lot of adventure diaries and travelogues).
We do read these books for the adventure, not for the sympathy of the authors – but sympathetic authors exist even in the adventurers/explorers field, and in the end these are the ones I’m likelier to bring with me afterwards.