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Burton: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton Paperback – July 3, 1990


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (July 3, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140120688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140120684
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #543,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By dowden@voicenet.com on December 21, 1997
Format: Paperback
I have read several biographies of Burton and this is by far the best. Byron Farwell has produced an excellent biography of a unique Victorian who led a life of incredible energy and movement. In fact, Burton seemed to find it impossible to stay in one place. Not always a likeable fellow, Burton lived for adventure. His dangerous journey into the Islamic holy city of Mecca , dressed as a Muslim and speaking fluent Arabic, vies with his discovery of Lake Tanganyika (with Speke) as the most famous of his exploits. But Farwell also describes many less well known adventures - Burton travelled to Salt Lake City in 1859 where he interviewed Brigham Young. He was British Consul in West Africa, Damascus, and Santos, Brazil. Burton usually completely ignored any duties he was given by his employer (Farwell says he was "unemployable"). Incredibly, much of his exploring was done while on dubious sick leave from the Indian Army. Farwell brings out Burton as an explorer of cultures and a scholar as well as a geographic explorer - Burton translated the Arabian Nights and other major oriental works. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Burton's early life, starting as an extremely naughty boy and maturing into an exceptional young swordsman who wrote a book on bayonet drill later adopted as the standard work by the British Army. Farwell is clearly fascinated, as well as sometimes exasperated by his subject.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Graf on April 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
Burton by Byron Farwell is the fourth biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton that I have read -- I might have a little bit of an obsession. But, in my defense, since I want to BE him, it is necessary to do the research. Burton was a giant among the several 19th century explorers of Africa and the Middle East, a brilliant linguist and a prolific (if prolix) geographer and scientist.

As emphasized by Farwell, Burton is most fascinating in his complexity, in the numerous conflicts that comprised his character. Burton longed to suffer the fevers and hardship associated with an overland caravan, but he could not tolerate (without copious complaints) the minor inconveniences of more civilized travel. Throughout his life, he remained loyal to Queen and Country, while at the same time confrontationally challenging the policies and patients of his supervisors in the Foreign Office. A student of all religions but practitioner of none, he married a woman for whom her God was everything. Burton vigorously sought fame and fortune through his actions and endeavors, but he could never come up with a consistent plan -- instead, he favored get-rich-quick schemes. Eventually, he was knighted and struck it big with his publication of A Thousand Nights and a Night, and then... he died.

Of the Burton biographies that I have studied, Farwell's treatment has certain advantages for the amateur Burtonologist. The prose is well written, fast paced and insightful. The details are ably researched and the author comes off as an unbiased admirer without an agenda beyond trying to understand the Man. Other volumes on Burton, while more dense and scholarly, tend to be a bit more slanted.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By gkarg@u.washington.edu on September 18, 1997
Format: Paperback
Farwell's biography of the extrordinary life of Capt. Sir Richard F. Burton is a fine work. Farwell's excellent style and knowledge of the 19th century are perfect backdrops to the the exploits of "Ruffian Dick". The author manages to point out Burtons many talents and shortcomings in a fair, scholarly manner, without physco-babble or hero-worship. Yet more importantly, Burton's life is allowed to unfold as what it truly was, a grand adventure, full of exotic places, eccentric characters, brilliant victories and stinging defeats. Many biographies have been written concerning Burton, many are very good, but Farwell has managed to bring to life this truly larger then life personality
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James A. Woronow on June 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
Having read "footsteps" and "the devil drives" one so esoteric the other an oversimplification, it was a plesant surprise to read about Capt Burton and not just his journeys as a detached observor. It is hard to believe that a man of such an intellectual force in so many areas is almost unknown to the common person.

Farwell's recount the life and the adventures of this remarkable man is an enjoyable read. The book left me shaking my head and muttering, "unbelievable". If you are interested in this Capt Burton this is the book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Fiendish@Full-Moon.com on October 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
Kudos to Farwell for his insightful biography of one of the most charismatic figures of the 19th century British Empire. Richard Francis Burton has always been one of my personal heroes and the author has done a fine job of bringing the exploits and foibles of this extrordinary soldier, spy, rogue, linguist, explorer, and author, to light.
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