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Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: A Biography Paperback – June 5, 2001

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Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: A Biography + Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah (Volume 1) + The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Da Capo Press Edition edition (June 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030681028X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306810282
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #190,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"[A] compulsively readable biography." -- The Week 02/20/04

About the Author

Edward Rice is the author of twenty books, including The Man in the Sycamore Tree, Margaret Mead, and John Frum He Come. He lives in Sagaponack, New York.

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Customer Reviews

Rice's treatment of Burton is good.
Daniel Graf
The author worked with a tremendous amount of source material to compose this biography of one of history's most important and fascinating characters.
J. Moore
Rice's book appears well researched and is very well written and if you like biographies it is well worth reading.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Theo Logos on September 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
Soldier, spy, swordsman, linguist, proto-anthropologist, adventurer, explorer, eroticist, prolific writer and poet, and seeker after hidden gnosis - Richard Francis Burton was all of this and more. While no single biography can capture the entirety of this amazing life, Edward Rice's book is an insightful, fascinating treatment of this larger than life man, and deserves to be read by all who wish to know Burton.
While Rice's book covers the whole of Burton's life and career, its concentration and strengths are on his period of greatest adventuring and exploring, from his introduction to India and the East as a soldier and spy for the East India Company, through his exploits in Arabia, and his explorations in Africa. Rice lingers long over Burton's wanderings in India, exploring in depth how Burton immersed himself in Eastern languages, customs, religions, and thought until he could easily pass himself off as a native. Burton's most famous exploits - the pilgrimage to Mecca disguised as an Arab, penetrating the sacred and forbidden city of Harar in East Africa (the first European to do so), and his explorations of Central Africa, searching for the source of the Nile, are all covered in depth, with great detail.
Rice takes the time to concentrate on two of the more shadowy aspects of Burton's life - his participation in the "Great Game"; spying for the British Empire, and his personal search after gnosis, the hidden wisdom of life. Often these pursuits were intertwined, as when his initiations into secret Hindu and Sufi sects served both to further his personal quest for gnosis, and to give him cover and openings for his espionage activities.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By C. Middleton on January 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is by far one of the best biographies I've read in recent times. Not only is the subject matter astonishing, capturing the life of one of the most exciting figures of the 19th century, the author focuses on the man's profuse writings, thankfully leaving out the once fashionable psychoanalytic approach of interpretation when writing biography. This is the third life history I've read on Richard Burton, and it's certainly the finest written and the most thorough.
Those of you, who are not familiar with R.F. Burton, are in for a thrilling reading experience. This man, probably more so than Byron himself, is the archetypal Byronic figure of the age: a linguist, (29 languages and numerous dialects), scholar of eastern literature and religion, particularly the mystical arm of Islam, Sufi; a practicing mystic; explorer of Africa (co-discoverer of the source of the Nile); a secret agent working for her majesty during England's acquisition of India's wealth, known to historians as 'The Great Game'. He was also one of the first white men, who made the Pilgrimage to Mecca, and as Rice argues, Burton was and continued to be a practicing Muslim, therefore his pilgrimage was deeply religious as well as a journey of danger and adventure. Burton was dashing, an expert swordsman and horseman, and a prolific writer, poet and translator who rank as one of the best of his time.
Burton is known to most as one of the scholars who brought 'The Arabian Nights' to the West...he heard a lot of the tales through the Persian oral tradition; memorized them in their original language, and sat around many a camp fire in the desert, re-telling these wonderful stories to anyone who would listen. Burton was a storyteller in the truest sense.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By D. Blankenship HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on July 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
Of the Burton biographies I have read, this is quite by far the best. The research is great, and for a history book, this is a true page turner. I found it fascintating, that while reading this work, I had to keep reminding myself that this guy, Sir Richard Burton, was a real person, and was not some figment of a writer's imagination. Richard Burton led a fascinating life during a fascinating time in our history. The author captures both the time and the man. I highly recommend you read this one, if at all interested in this man and his time and further recommend you add it to your library as you will probably want to give it more than one read.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Munir on July 30, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was an incredible biography, which was much better than Byron Farewell's much dryer work. This version- all 500 pages of it- reads like an epic novel, full of mind twists and adventures. Picture emerges Burton the what he was, a towering intellectual, an intrepid explorer. A compulsive writer who churned out massively detailed works between his exploits of discovery in the wilds of India, Arabia, and Black Africa, scandalizing Victorian England mostly by his views on female sexual liberation (he translated the Kama Sutra) or to the superiority of Islam over Pauline Christianity- although Rice mistakenly concluded that Burton was a faithful convert to this religion for most of his life (he seems rather to have been a confirmed skeptic). In an age of hypocrisy, he certainly stands out as a not afraid to speak his mind- and he had a lot of opinions.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Cliente Amazon on August 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
Sir Richard Francis Burton spoke, proficiently, over twenty languages. A prolific writer and skilled translator, he wrote a very large number of books on the most diverse subjects (history, religion, geography, travel, sexology, ethnography, etc.); introduced the Kama Sutra to the West and translated from Arabic the Book of A Thousand Night and a Night (the Thousand and One Nights). He was also an explorer, soldier, fencing expert and, specially, a secret agent. He visited, a hundred and fifty years ago, some of the farthest corners of India, Africa, and South America, travelling, in most cases, through hostile and uncharted territories. He was one of the few Westerners who entered (and survived) the sacred Islamic city of Mecca, disguised as an Arab, and he was the first one to enter the forbidden city of Harar, in the heart of Africa. With a personal history like this (yes, it is all real, and there is more) it seems to me that even the least competent biographer would write an interesting book. Edward Rice, however, is more than a competent biographer and his book is really good. He describes in detail the adventurous and turbulent life of Burton, providing useful commentaries on the places Burton went to, the nature of the religions he became initiated in and contemporary society in general. Throughout the book it is evident that he researched intensely and that he visited some of the places where Burton lived. He is also objective to his subject, always justifying his statements with information. The book is clearly written and never boring. I am sure it is one of the best biographies of Captain Burton.
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