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Penguin Classics Arabian Sands [Paperback]

Wilfred Thesiger , Rory Stewart
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 30 2007 Penguin Classics
Wilfred Thesiger was born in Addis Ababa in 1910 and educated at Eton and Oxford. Though British, he was repulsed by the softness and rigidity of Western life, "the machines, the calling cards, the meticulously aligned streets, etc." In the spirit of T.E. Lawrence, Thesiger spent five years exploring and wandering the deserts of Arabia. With vivid descriptions and colorful anecdotes he narrates his stories, including two crossings of the Empty Quarter, among peoples who had never seen a European and considered it their duty to kill Christian infidels.

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Review

"Following worthily in the tradition of Burton, Lawrence, Philby and Thomas, ["Arabian Sands"] is, very likely, the book about Arabia to end all books about Arabia." -"The Daily Telegraph", London "The narrative is vividly written, with a thousand little anecdotes and touches which bring back to any who have seen these countries every scene with the colour of real life." -"The Sunday Times", London

About the Author

Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger (1910-2003) was a British travel writer born in Addis Ababa in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). Thesiger is best known for two travel books: Arabian Sands (1959), which recounts his travels in the Empty Quarter of Arabia between 1945 and 1950 and describes the vanishing way of life of the Bedouins, and The Marsh Arabs (1964), an account of the traditional peoples who lived in the marshlands of southern Iraq. Rory Stewart served briefly in the British Army and then as a diplomat in Jakarta and Montenegro. In August 2000 he resigned from the Foreign Office and began walking from Turkey towards Vietnam. His book about the walk, The Places In Between (2004), was a critically applauded account of his experiences in Afghanistan. His second book, The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq (2006), outlines his experiences as deputy governor of the Iraqi province of Maysan and Senior Advisor in the city of Nasiriyah shortly after coalition forces entered Iraq and describes his struggles to establish a functional government in these regions. Stewart has been awarded the OBE. Stewart currently lives in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Spirit of the Desert Arabs May 12 2004
Format:Paperback
An extraordinary book, by an extraordinary man, about an extraordinary people - the desert arabs (Bedu) - before the outside world encroached on their way of life. Thesiger travelled through that inhospitable desert between the Yemen, Oman and the south of Saudi Arabia ('The Empty Quarter') in the 1940s, most of it then unmapped.
He account of exploring this unknown hostile territory, against a background of tribal raids and blood feuds and tensions where many tribes would have considered it an act of merit to kill the foreigner 'infidel', gives these travels an additional level of drama beyond the excitement of new exploration.
The harshness of the Bedu life amid the driven sands with its intense cold, heat, and blinding glare in a land without shade or cloud is the everpresent backdrop to these travels and adventures between scant and bitter wells. Sometimes travelling for up to 16 days between wells, death was often a palpable presence at the very edge of the camel's endurance.
The book is also a valuable anthropological log of these tribes, and their differing customs. The men is his party come alive in the sparse prose and a narrative pace as steady as the unfolding days. Thesiger's companions live in the anecdotes and black and white photographs. Listening to their talk the reader comes to love and admire those 'ships of the desert' (camels) for their patience and endurance and individuality, and to marvel at the simplicity and standards of honour of the Bedu tribes.
This is one of the truly great books of exploration. It is even more significant however as a journal of human encounter, and a unique and tenderly perceptive record of a people whose way of life, which had endured unchanged for 4000 years, was to become irrevocable changed by roads and the impact of oil exploration.
A book that educated Arabs give to Westeners to help them understand the Arabs. (That's where my copy came from). Contains a comprehensive index.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You have to "want" to read this book March 5 2004
By Yaker
Format:Paperback
If you like true adventure (not fiction), have a spot in your heart for nature, different cultures and personal hardships and challenges with a goal of self improvement and introspection, then this book should be in your personal library. If you don't have the above, you will probably find the text slow and boring, and put the book down before the half way mark.
The author goes into some detail that is minutia, irrelevant, and tedious, and then all of a sudden, you find yourself re-reading the same few sentences several times in order to fully grasp the magnitude of what he just said. Amongst all the sand that he describes in the book, he'll also provide golden nuggets of insight into the human soul and spirit, and done so very elequently, just like an Oasis in the midst of a bleak desert. That is to say, it's worth the effort to get there.
This is not a book with a "plot". It's a personal account of an individuals travels with the Bedu. You can read into it Protagonists and Antagonists, but again, this is not a fictional work. Nonethless, you find yourself rooting for "Umbarak", as the author is called, and worrying about other Arabs who would kill him given the chance, and there are many chances and near misses.
Surprisingly, there are also bits and pieces of insight into the Arab world that help put into perspective some of the tensions we see today in the Middle East. While that is certainly not his intentions, he does touch on some things that are relevant today in respect to the Muslim attitudes towards Christians and Jews.
This is not a book that can be glossed over and read during TV commercials, on the bus, or while the kids are screaming up and down the hallways... you need to focus and concentrate, and if your heart yearns for nature and adventure, you'll find it well worth the effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last of the Barefoot Explorers Nov. 14 2003
Format:Paperback
When I was a kid I dreamt of being an explorer. Never mind that I had never been out of New England and had no possibility of doing so. Discovering new lands and peoples seemed such a great job. What I couldn't figure out was how you got BE an explorer ? What, did you take a course someplace ? Once, in talking of other things, my father happened to remark that there must have been parts of the Maine woods where nobody had ever set foot (I don't think he was considering the Indians). Yes, I thought, first I would explore Maine and then, maybe some other, more distant lands. As I grew older, I realized the awful truth. Unless you wanted to freeze in Antarctica, dangle from icy rocks on a few mountains, or chop your way through insect-ridden, steamy jungles, there were no places left to explore. I was a slide rule in a computer age. Ah, well.....
Wilfred Thesiger was born in more fortunate circumstances for an exploring life. His father was not a small businessman in New England, but the British ambassador to Ethiopia in the days when all parts of that country had not been visited by Westerners. The first part of ARABIAN SANDS describes the author's adventures travelling in wilder parts of Ethiopia. After Middle Eastern service in Sudan and elsewhere during WW II, Thesiger signed on as a locust hunter in the Arabian Peninsula, trying to locate the then unknown breeding grounds for the dreaded insect. He did it purely to be able to travel through the most unknown parts of the region, the Rub al-Khali or "the Sands"; Oman, the Hadhramaut, and the southern reaches of Saudi Arabia. He travelled with small groups of Bedu (Bedouin) on camelback, always barefoot and dressed in Arab clothing.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thesiger makes Drab sound Exciting!
Its a classic for as reason!
Purchased and read this book 2 times as I gave away the first copy, and missed it. Read more
Published 28 days ago by Scott Milburn
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book
Strange that such a book - which is basically a biographical resume of 4 years in the desert - can be that interesting. Read more
Published on Nov. 14 2003 by Robert Schaus
5.0 out of 5 stars Time travel at its best
The exotic Near- and Middle-Eastern lands of the Levant and Arabia Felix were as unknown as possible for the average British or American citizen. Read more
Published on Aug. 2 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Adventurers shrink the world
It's a wonder of the human spirit that people can go through the things that true adventurers do and want to do them again. Read more
Published on March 20 2003 by John Lacey
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable story
Had he been born in the 18th or 19th century, Wilfred Thesiger would have explored the Nile or mapped uncharted territory in North America. Read more
Published on Jan. 17 2003 by Graymac
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of the adventure/hardship chronicles
Having traversed the Antarctic with Shackleton, Scott, and Mawson, the Himalayas with Maurice Herzog and others, and the high seas on the doomed whaling ship, Essex, I can say that... Read more
Published on Jan. 12 2003 by Jonathan Brookner
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic!
Nice, convenient Penguin edition, with, unusually for Penguin, quite good maps. I am taken by Thesiger's soul baring and his descriptions of all that relates to the Bedouin. Read more
Published on June 20 2002 by José Saavedra
4.0 out of 5 stars Dancing Sheik To Sheik
I like this book very much, but the style was very dry so I had to drink a lot of Hawaiian Punch to get through it. Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars A Minor Masterpiece
Thesiger stands in a long tradition of English who found the deserts of the Middle East hospitable. Wilberforce Clarke, Burton, Doughty, Lawrence, Glubb, Philby (Senior) - the... Read more
Published on Nov. 17 2001 by Thomas F. Ogara
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Journeys in the "Empty Quarter" of Arabia
The deserts of Arabia cover more than a million square miles. The southern desert occupies nearly half of the total area. Read more
Published on Aug. 30 2001 by "bcj222"
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