I first read This Business of Exploring some fifty years ago, when I was attending high school in Hayward, Wisconsin. The book covers Roy Chapman Andrews’ explorations of central Asia and outer Mongolia from 1921 to 1930 while he was working for the Museum of Natural History in New York. He made world news with his discoveries, including finding the first dinosaur eggs. The book gives a rich texture to not only the troubled times in China, but to the American experience in New York City.
In the picture of Andrews on the frontispiece, he’s standing next to a riding camel with a long barreled Smith & Wesson revolver in an open top holster and gun belt, worn cross draw style. On page 28 he mentions his .38 revolver. It probably was chambered in the then-popular .38 Special cartridge.
In the 1920’s and 30’s, when Chapman was exploring, it was understood that prudent men traveled armed. Firearms were an absolutely necessary for defense and, to a lesser degree, for hunting to supplement food supplies.
Many think that Roy Chapman Andrews was the inspiration for the pistol-packing character Indiana Jones. There are many similarities, but scholars believe that Andrews inspired iconic explorer characters in 1930’s fiction and films, which then became the basis for the Indiana Jones character. Here’s a short excerpt from This Business of Exploring, when Chapman was traveling through a China infested with bandits and warlords:
Charlie selected one fellow who was standing silhouetted against the sky, and I lined my sights on another just in front of him. I was shooting a Savage .250-3000 with soft nosed bullets, and Charlie had a Ross .280. As our rifles crashed both men crumpled.
The men in question had already attempted to kill Andrews and Charlie. Their car had bogged down in soft sand, so they couldn’t drive away. (A Savage .250-3000 occupied my father’s gun rack just feet from where I was reading Andrew’s account.)
The book is more than a look into China’s troubled past and glimpses of American society in the 1920’s and 30’s. It’s a finely crafted first-hand account of high adventure. Andrews is careful to quote Stefansson’s dictum “adventures are a sign of incompetence.” I first heard it as “an adventure is when the plan fails”. In spite of Andrews obvious competence, he has plenty of adventures.
I highly recommend This Business of Exploring. It’s an easy read, exciting, entertaining, and educational — a classic and deserves far more attention than it receives. My brother found the copy we both had read at a library book sale. He picked it up for a dollar or two. It has an honored place in his collection.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.