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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Spirit of the Desert Arabs, May 12 2004
This review is from: Arabian Sands (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 "rick-41" (Poquoson, VA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Arabian Sands (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
By 
Robert S. Newman "Bob Newman" (Marblehead, Massachusetts USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Arabian Sands (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. He faced thirst, hunger, cold, the risk of serious accident, arrest by Saudi and Omani authorities, and death at the hands of raiding tribesmen. With no available maps, Thesiger relied completely on the guiding skills of various Bedu whom he hired. He had no radio, no global positioning whatevers, and no chance of a helicopter rescue.
ARABIAN SANDS tells the story of Thesiger's travels in the Arabian deserts in the years 1945-1950, before Big Oil changed the lives of everybody there. An interesting pair of books to read to get an idea of the old world and how it changed would be this one plus Abdelrahman Munif's novel "Cities of Salt". Thesiger hated modernization and cities and would have preferred that the Bedu remain in their poverty, but in a state of desert purity. I feel that he romanticized the Bedu and the desert environment to an extreme because of his own character. Nevertheless his descriptions of Bedu life, their culture, and behavior are fascinating, as are many of the events that took place over the course of his long travels. If you are at all interested in that part of the world or in adventurous travels before the world became entrapped in visas and metal detectors, you must read this one !
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thesiger makes Drab sound Exciting!, March 20 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Its a classic for as reason!
Purchased and read this book 2 times as I gave away the first copy, and missed it.
5 years in the Desert landscape sounds boring, but its not!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book, Nov. 14 2003
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This review is from: Arabian Sands (Paperback)
Strange that such a book - which is basically a biographical resume of 4 years in the desert - can be that interesting. It is very difficult to put it aside once you have got into it, and it is sad when the story is finished. I actually bought the book in Abu Dabhi, after a few trips through the desert, and it was fascinating to read how people lived, what values they had, how the coped with an unbelievable tough environment in places where 40 years later highways and highrise buildings fill the landscape. A purchase - and a reading that you will not regret.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Time travel at its best, Aug. 2 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Arabian Sands (Paperback)
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. But Thesiger was born to the expatriate breed. Familiar with the culture and fluent in the language, he was prepared to undergo any hardship to traverse the forbidding "empty Quarter" -- the vast desert in south Arabia. His narrative, travelling incognito and sharing the dangers and very simple pleasures with his guides, portrays a now-lost vista of dunes and camels from the REAL Arabian nights.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Adventurers shrink the world, March 20 2003
By 
John Lacey (San Luis Obispo, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Arabian Sands (Paperback)
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. We are lucky that so many of them manage to write about their adventures so well, and Wilfred Thesiger is one of the best. It's inspiring in a world of such violence, nationalism, and tribal wars to read the stories of those who have travelled to utterly foreign places and found themselves to be at home.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable story, Jan. 17 2003
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This review is from: Arabian Sands (Paperback)
Had he been born in the 18th or 19th century, Wilfred Thesiger would have explored the Nile or mapped uncharted territory in North America. His mid-twentieth century journeys in the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula, related in this book, confirm him as an acute observer of humanity and an untrained but brilliant amateur anthropologist. This book is unparalleled.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best of the adventure/hardship chronicles, Jan. 12 2003
By 
Jonathan Brookner (Fairfield, CT USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Arabian Sands (Paperback)
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 for non-fiction adventure, nothing beats Thesiger in the deserts of Arabia, before they were tamed by oil money.
Each page is gripping, whether Thesiger describes the desert environment itself, his own adventures, or the Bedu camel herders with whom he lives and travels. This last theme is the most important in the book, and Thesiger's 1940s travels uncover the ways and even the mind of these most Arab of Arabs as well as anyone can. Thesiger understands and praises the Bedu's better aspects, but is not blinded to their faults. He points out the differences among the ways, thought and even religious practices and tolerance of the desert tribes, and their even greater differences with Arab townsfolk.
Read it to understand the places we are sending our troops, or read it to be taken away completely from whatever troubles your urban or susburban psyche, but read Arabian Sands.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A classic!, June 20 2002
This review is from: Arabian Sands (Paperback)
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. The book is short, convenient to carry on a trip and an enjoyment to read.
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Arabian Sands
Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger (Paperback - Nov. 2 1984)
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