"I cannot live without books." When Thomas Jefferson confessed his passion for reading, little could he have imagined that within a dozen years of his passing an outpouring of literature would begin that would catapult the hunter-adventurer to hero status and change the face of literature itself. A hunting story contains all the elements of an epic: travel, discovery, mystery, danger, death, survival and romance. Victorian readers couldn't get enough of it, and accorded hunter-writers such as Samuel Baker near-legendary status. In time, however, these writers were replaced by other heroes, and the books that had once been so eagerly devoured were relegated to lonely shelves, their authors all but forgotten. Today, thanks to reprints and the easy availability of used books via the Internet, great 19th-century hunting books can captivate the armchair adventurer just as they did in the age of Queen Victoria. The following list of great hunting books is by no means exhaustive, but it includes some of my favorites and reveals the amazingly rapid changes in African hunting over a brief few decades. Read them in the recommended order and you'll discover that the "golden era" of the greatest hunting spanned little more than a lifetime. But what a life it was while it lasted and for those who lived it. Click 'next' to view the books.
Outdoor Life Online Editor
THE WILD SPORTS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA By William Cornwallis Harris Imagine going hunting with eighteen thousand rounds of ammo. That was only part of what 29-year-old Harris packed in his ox-drawn safari caravan, along with a barrel of gunpowder and a supply of lead ingots to make even more bullets as needed. Setting forth from South Africa in 1836, Harris, by his own account, suffered from “a most delightful mania” known as “shooting-madness,” but the Dutch settlers with whom he traded thought him mad for quite another reason, as the notion of going hunting just for the sport of it was unthinkable. All the more so when he announced plans to venture into Matabeleland, the province of a savage ruler known to kill white intruders on sight. Harris’ highly readable account of his dealings with the cunning king is the stuff of great adventure, as are his descriptions of endless herds of game animals. Illustrated with his own drawings, the book was published in 1839 and became a best seller. Subsequent expanded editions had such impact on British sportsmen that it is said to have been a major cause of the rush to Africa over the following decades. WHERE TO BUY: Free at Google Books: CLICK HERE Abebooks: cheapest used copies ($25-$30): CLICK HERE Outdoor Life Online Editor
THE NILE TRIBUTARIES OF ABYSSINIA By Samuel White Baker This is my all-time favorite book of hunting adventure, and Sir Samuel my favorite writer of hunting stories. Though of little more than average stature, Baker was by any other measure larger than life and possessed a constitution to match. Even his personal life was the stuff of legend- he purchased his second wife, the mysterious Florence, at a white slave auction. Partly to protect her from disapproving Victorian society, Baker took Florence along on the four-year African exploration that resulted in this book. As an explorer, Baker was one of the seekers of the source of the Nile, and he did, in fact, discover and name Lake Albert. But unlike other explorers, who dashed into the heart of Africa to claim discoveries, his idea of exploration was to hunt along the way. And hunt he did, catching 60-pound fish and bagging big game on the same day, accompanying Arab elephant hunters who hamstrung the beasts with swords, and facing down hostile natives who were possessively eyeing the beautiful Florence. Reading any book by Baker is sure to whet your appetite for more. This is as good as hunting books come. WHERE TO BUY: Free at Google Books: CLICK HERE Amazon: $15.99 (new): CLICK HERE Abebooks: $2.99 & up (used): CLICK HERE Outdoor Life Online Editor
RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM FINAUGHTY: ELEPHANT HUNTER, 1864-1875 By William Finaughty “Old Bill” didn’t actually pen the accounts of his hunts- it’s uncertain whether he could even read or write. Not that he had time to write anyway, being busy selling guns to natives to use against the hated Dutch, running whiskey, counterfeiting, smuggling diamonds, dabbling in piracy and, most of all, hunting elephants. The reason Finaughty’s memoirs are preserved is that an enterprising journalist tracked him down in his later years and published a series of candid interviews with the aged hunter. Reading these accounts is like sitting by a campfire and hearing hunting stories by a master storyteller who has lived the life and survived to tell about it. Firearms historians will be especially fascinated by the guns used by Finaughty, some being powerful enough to shoot a huge ball completely through an elephant and delivering enough recoil to leave the hunter black-and-blue at the end of a day’s hunt. WHERE TO BUY: Abebooks: many copies from $17-$30: CLICK HERE Outdoor Life Online Editor
ELEPHANT HUNTING IN EAST EQUATORIAL AFRICA By Arthur Neumann Had you met Arthur Neumann, you probably wouldn’t have liked him. And according to his contemporaries, he would have liked you even less. During the years preceding his death by his own hand in 1907, Neumann was increasingly plagued by an obsession that the world had turned against him and spurned contact even with former friends who tried to help. The condition might well have been caused by the African fevers he suffered, not to mention his having been speared by a Masai, chopped on by Swazi warriors and shot at by Boers. But during his brief 57 years of life, he crowded in several lifetimes of adventure and earned the respect of peers who were themselves great hunters, one being his friend F.C. Selous. Despite his depression, Neumann’s account of his early hunting in what is now Kenya is remarkably graceful and gives us one of the clearest, least adorned accounts of what elephant hunting was like in the best of times. Perhaps the witnessing of the end of those times was ultimately the cause of his self-destructive state of mind. This, the only book he was to write, remains one of the best you’ll read on the subject. WHERE TO BUY: Free at Google Books: CLICK HERE Alibris: cheapest copy ($40): CLICK HERE Outdoor Life Online Editor
AFRICAN CAMP FIRES By Stewart Edward White When reading this or any other of White’s book-length accounts of his hunting adventures, the reader experiences an unmistakable sense of deja vu. And well he should. White, a wealthy and well-educated gentleman sportsman, wrote from the perspective of the guided hunter, casting his professional guides (one being the dour but resourceful R.J. Cunninghame, who also guided Teddy Roosevelt on his epic safari) as central figures in the narrative. White’s writing also gave name and flesh to the lesser camp attendants and included Swahili words and phrases to lend an “I was there” authority, a device that added humanity to his writing and created the literary template copied by Hemingway, Ruark and countless lesser-known tellers of hunting tales, including yours truly. But White did it better, and his richly detailed accounts of his hunts portray golden-age sport safaris the way they were. Or at least the way we like to think they were. WHERE TO BUY: Free at Google Books: CLICK HERE Abebooks: $13 (New): CLICK HERE Outdoor Life Online Editor
AFRICAN GAME TRAILS By Theodore Roosevelt “I am not in the least a game butcher, but I like to do a certain amount of hunting…” was an oft-included sentiment in letters sent to guides and outfitters when, at the end of his White House years, President Roosevelt began planning what was to become the most discussed, written about and criticized African safari of all time. And hunt he did. With his taciturn second son, Kermit, and other companions, Teddy collected some 11,788 animals, birds and reptiles, including 8 cheetahs! This in an Africa by then considered “shot out.” Conducted on the scale of a political campaign (which in many ways it turned out to be), Roosevelt’s account has the energy of the man himself, and though it aggrandizes his efforts, Game Trails has a fresh and entrancing air about it. It’s a “bully” read from cover to cover. WHERE TO BUY: Free at Google Books: CLICK HERE Amazon: $13 (new): CLICK HERE Outdoor Life Online Editor
MAN-EATERS OF KUMAON By Jim Corbett There was a time, not so long ago, when the name Jim Corbett was on the lips of every schoolboy, his real-life exploits ranked with those of such fictional heroes as Tarzan, Jack Armstrong and Superman. But then tiger and leopard hunting came to an end in India and the works and words of Corbett, like so many others, faded into the mists of a bygone era. Read such action-packed chapters as “The Champowat Man-Eater” or “The Bachelor of Powalgarth” and that era springs to vivid life again, with enough excitement, romance and sheer drama to make even the most blasÂ¿ reader squeeze the stuffing out of his armchair. WHERE TO BUY: Amazon: $10 (New): CLICK HERE Outdoor Life Online Editor
A HUNTER’S WANDERINGS IN AFRICA By Frederick Courteney Selous Descended from Huguenots who fled France in the 17th century, F.C. Selous was to become the widely admired embodiment of all that is noble in a gentleman sportsman, and so highly regarded by all who knew him that they gave his name to one of Africa’s greatest hunting areas. The book is peppered with humorous, self-deprecating anecdotes and details that leave no doubt he was there and did it in the way he relates. For one who walked with kings and presidents (Teddy Roosevelt sought his personal advice on hunting matters), Selous retained the common touch in his dealings and writings and was said to be the model for Kipling’s classic poem “If.” Unlike other ivory hunters of his era, Selous was also a trophy hunter, with a keen eye for the best specimens of AfricaÂ¿s varied game animals. At age 63, he enlisted for service in WWI; he was awarded the DSO for bravery in action and was killed in battle in 1917. Buried where he fell in the African soil he loved so much, Selous, as in Kipling’s poem, filled “the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” WHERE TO BUY: Barnes & Noble: $20 (New): CLICK HERE Outdoor Life Online Editor
USE ENOUGH GUN By Robert Ruark Ruark’s memoir of his first African safari has become the mantra of big-bore aficionados who, ap-parently not having bothered to read the book, erroneously assume it glorifies their beloved shoulder-crushing weaponry. Though Ruark’s book and his story-telling talents in no way rank with the great hunting adventures of Harris, Baker or even Roosevelt, it’s worth a read if only to reveal what he meant by using “enough gun,” and to remind us how easily we are seduced by a good hunting yarn and how the power of the written word can bestow near-hero status on a competent yet otherwise nondescript Professional Hunter. Ruark fans should also read The Honey Badger. Though a novel, it is highly autobiographical and tells us much about a writer whose success nudged him to the brink of self-destruction. WHERE TO BUY: Amazon: $23: CLICK HERE Outdoor Life Online Editor
Favorite books on African from Joe Coogan, Brand Marketing Manager, Benelli USA Horn of the Hunter by Ruark Something of Value by Ruark Uhuru by Ruark Hold My Hand, I’m Dying by John Gordon Davies The Covenant by Michener Green Hills of Africa by Hemingway African Hunter by James Mellon African Hunter II by various authors Hunting the Dangerous Game of Africa by John Kingsley-Heath The Elephant People (called Elephants At Sundown in the US) by Dennis Holman Inside Safari Hunting by Dennis Holman When the Lion Feeds by Wilbur Smith The Sound of Thunder by Wilbur Smith The Man-eaters of Tsavo by Patterson White Hunters: The Golden Age of Safaris by Brian Herne Bell of Africa by WDM Bell Karamoja Safari by WDM Bell African Rifles & Cartridges by Taylor Safari Rifles by Boddington Safari Rifles II by Boddington
Favorite books on African from Todd Smith, Editor-In-Chief of Outdoor Life The Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway Something of Value by Robert Ruark Uhuru by Robert Ruark Use Enough Gun by Robert Ruark Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter by W.D.M. Bell African Game Trails by Theodore Roosevelt The Lions of Tsavo by J. H. Patterson Death in the Long Grass by Peter Capstick (It was Peters’ first [and, I believe, his best] book, though reading it will have you thinking there is a venomous mamba or charging lion lurking around the back side of every bush.) Maneaters and Mauranders by John “Pondoro” Taylor African Rifles and Cartridges by John “Pondoro” Taylor
Some of our favorite hunting books on Africa and India.