Nonfiction Review: Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger

Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger. Penguin Classics, 2008. 9780141442075. 347pp. including photographs and an index.

“Arabian Sands describes the journeys I made in and around the Empty Quarter from 1945 to 1950, at which time much of that region had not yet been seen by a European.” (The Empty Quarter is a huge dessert in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula.) Thesiger’s detailed account is full of vivid descriptions and immense hardship, as well as respect for and camaraderie with his Bedu companions. I loved the hospitality displayed by most who met Thesiger, though he did face danger from a few who were displeased with having a Christian in their land. There’s also a sadness around the edges of the journey — the oil companies are moving in and making deals, and Thesiger can see that the Bedu’s way of life won’t last much longer.

This is one of my friend Mac’s favorite books. When he read a passage from it at Christmas dinner last year, he could see that I was hooked, and he loaned me a copy. (He keeps several around the house.) When I finished it I had an intense desire to wander around in the dry heat and an aversion to riding camels (though I might try eating one if it’s ever an offer).

You can see some amazing photos by Thesiger from this time period here.


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