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.

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12 Responses to Book Review: ‘This Business of Exploring’ by Roy Chapman Andrews

  1. I read all of Andrews’ book back when I was a kid and was still capable of a sense of wonder. They were, well, wonderful.

    Nobody was more responsible for driving the science of paleontology than Andrews.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll return the favor: I’m quite confident you’ll enjoy reading The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures by Lieut.-Col. J. H. Patterson, D.S.O. This is earlier, around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, and in Africa, not Asia, but with lions. Multiple lions getting fat off of railroad construction workers, until Patterson takes care of things. An engrossing read, highly satisfactory.

    The book is in the public domain and available gratis from Project Gutenberg.

    • I believe the Tsavo lions are on display at the Field Museum of natural history in Chicago. The Man Eaters book is a good one. For more contemporary macho hunting tales, anything by Peter Hathaway Capstick is good, and Col. Charles Askins.

  3. Just ordered the kindle edition. Andrews had the uniform down right – campaign hat, cross draw holster, and riding pants. I bet he smoked a pipe and drank a little Jack Daniels after a hard day digging up dinosaur bones and shooting at bandits.

  4. There were some amazing figures in that era. Companion figures for Roy Chapman Andrews can be found. For their combination of hunting and shooting skills together with significant explorations several amazing men come to mind, each having written books work reading: W.D.M.Bell and his “Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter,” which makes a fascinating read, include details he was the last to observe among certain African tribes and regions. (This can be found expensively through Amazon, or for free as a Word doc through Project Gutenberg.)

    I got caught up in the legendary exploits of Frederik Russell Burnham, a native American who became, among other things, the Chief Scout for the British during the Second Boer War. He wrote much and did much. The Wikipedia entry covers the astounding range of his involvements well, and provides bibliographical information, including:

    — (1930). “The howl for cheap Mexican labor”. In Grant, Madison; Charles Stewart, Davison. The Alien in Our Midst; Or, “Selling Our Birthright for a Mess of Pottage”; the Written Views of a Number of Americans (Present and Former) on Immigration and Its Results. New York: Galton Publishing. pp. 44–48. OCLC 3040493.
    — (1931). “Scouting Against the Apache”. In West, James E. The Boy Scout’s Book of True Adventure: their own story of famous exploits and adventures told by honorary scouts. New York: Putman. OCLC 8484128.
    — (1933). “Taps for the Great Selous”. In Grinnell, George Bird; Roosevelt, Kermit; Cross, W. Redmond; Gray, Prentiss N. Hunting Trails on Three Continents; a Book of the Boone and Crockett Club. New York: The Derrydale Press. OCLC 1624738.

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