For nearly two hundred years the Society has been awarding gold medals to those individuals who have contributed most to our geographical knowledge. Winners of the Founder's and Patron's medals now number around three hundred individuals, and the roll-call of names is a veritable Who's Who of exploration. Telling their stories, of the many and varied ways in which they have helped 'fill in the maps', is nothing less than a history of exploration itself.

The book begins with the Quest for the Niger, and the surprising fact that when Burton began his journey the maps he used 'had scarcely advanced beyond those drawn by Ptolemy, Pliny and Herodotus'. The quest to discover and map Africa has several sections. This first is profiles of the early African explorers. Among them is Heinrich Barth, who survived a crossing of the Sahara (his companions did not), and is thought to be the greatest of the African explorers. Other sections are The Lake Regions and the Source of the Nile; Travel and Adventure in East and South-East Africa; and Desert and Forest. Each section describes 19th- and 20th-century expeditions.

In Part Two we meet the tough and resolute Fathers of Australian Exploration: Edward John Eyre, and Charles Sturt. In Part Three, titled North America and the Arctic, Maitland turns to the enduring quest to find the North-West Passage and to find the explorers who became lost, shipwrecked and marooned in the course of their expeditions. Part Four is devoted to the exploration of South America., and it gives tribute to the work of the geographer, explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and his friend Bonpland, who mapped Central and South America in the early 19th century. Part Five describes the exploration of the enormous area of Asia, Arabia and the Middle East that since the 1830s has produced more RGS medallists than any other, except the Arctic and Antarctic. Part Six is devoted to Europe; Seven to Antarctica; and VIII to the Oceans. This section contains the stories of Captain Cook and the early navigators; the voyage of Thor Heyerdahl and the balsa-wood Kon-tiki from Peru to Raroia in French Polynesia; the underwater exploration of Jacques Cousteau, and the ocean adventurers who have made long journeys across and through the seas, on the clipper routes and around the shores of the islands off the coast of Chile. It concludes with an appreciation of the work of the chief scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sylvia Alice Earle.