One of the great joys of being human is the joy of finding. Whether as a child you "discovered" the creek in your back yard, or as an adult you realized the road you always neglected was really a shortcut to work, uncovering new things can be downright exhilirating. Unless, of course, you uncover bad things, a situation many of the great explorers have found themselves in too often.
That doesn't keep them from seeking new territories, foreign rivers, inland passages—in fact, it's almost as if hardship and defeat spur them on to greater feats and attempts. Ernest Shackleton's trip to the South Pole was disaster upon cataclysm, but with each difficulty the crew's resolve became deeper and more determined. Shackleton and his men couldn't not explore: it was in their blood.
Now that we've been everywhere and done everything, exploration might seem like an anachronism. Man has climbed Mt. Everest, submarined to the deepest eel-infested parts of the ocean, and walked on the moon—what's a canoe trip down the Amazon or a stroll through the Outback? Maybe not much from that perspective, but when the whole big world is still unknown and largely inhospitable, shouldering a pack and a rifle and heading into the unknown takes one thing our age has precious little of: guts.
A lot of exploration was undertaken by missionaries eager to take the Word of God to every tribe and nation. The darker side of that is the European politicos who followed behind to exploit natural resources, native peoples, and each other. Either way, the story of exploration is a fascinating one, and a must-read if you expect to understand the current world economic and political situation.
Even more compelling than the story of exploration, however, is the story of the explorers themselves. Exploration is a picture painted with broad strokes, but when presenting the men themselves the artist must show the details, each weakness and virtue, each fear and desire, that made them brave scorpions, bloodthirsty hunters, desert sands, snow and ice, sickness, and death in the name of discovery.