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Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold Hardcover – January 1, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Globe Pequot Press (January 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592287727
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592287727
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #808,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Even if readers don't find the idea of spending 40 harrowing days with a caravan crossing some of the world's most unforgiving desert as enticing as Benanav does, that doesn't mean they won't quickly devour his thrilling account of that otherworldly journey. The Caravan of White Gold was named for the voyage nomads have taken for centuries in search of the lonely, moonlike salt mines of Taoudenni, Mali. To a seasoned travel writer and veteran outdoorsman like Benanav, the opportunity to take part in such a journey—through the brutal Tanezrouft region of the Sahara—was impossible to resist, and it isn't long after hearing about it that he's in Timbuktu, Mali, ready to set off across an area four times the size of England, referred to alternately as "The Land of Thirst" and "The Land of Terror." Like many voyagers into the unknown, Benanav does his best to research where he's going and peppers his travelogue with well-placed historical background; he's also smart enough to see where his research and assumptions about the fascinating nomadic culture are utterly wrong. There is romanticism, especially in Benanav's warm accounts of his fellow travelers, but there's also an awareness of the deadly perils of their world, especially the salt mines themselves, so desolate they were used as a gulag for political prisoners until 1991. This is that rare work that takes readers beyond their imaginations. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Benanav reveals that for the last 1,000 years, the so-called caravan of white gold has plied the desolate sands of the Sahara to hack rock salt. The men lead strings of camels over some of the most severe terrain on earth, from the legendary city of Timbuktu in Mali to the remote salt-mining outpost of Taoudenni. It's a way of life that has hardly changed in the millennium since the salt caravans began. Living in Stone Age-style huts, drivers and miners survive on a diet of rice, millet, and briny water. They have no medical facilities and no electricity; temperatures regularly surpass 120 degrees. The author joined a caravan after learning that trucks have begun competing for the salt trade. Believing that with their speed and carrying capacity, the trucks will soon drive the camels into obsolescence, he wanted to get a glimpse of this age-old culture on the brink of extinction. The result is fascinating. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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I thouroughly enjoyed reading this book.
Christine Greene
The author has done such an amazing job at narrating his personal experience that it makes the reader feel like he is part of it.
Bhagwat
The author takes us on a journey to a part of the world that few of us will ever discover for ourselves.
C. Lazarescu

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Roseanne E. Freese on June 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Exotic space, broken languages, sand for toilet paper, 40 days away from what you know and whom you love, such is the inner and outer world of the Sahara desert that Michael Benanav draws you into in his book, Men of Salt. Unlike other adventure books that celebrate the challenge between the mind and the physical, Men of Salt is so much more than that. Benanev in order to enter the desert must leave behind who he is, his girlfriend, and his identity as a Jew. He must leave behind all manner physical comforts -- including when to wake, when to sleep and when to eat. As he learns to rein the literal camel that he is riding, he discovers that he must also rein in the stallion of his mind which would rather quit or be in control but can do neither.

Benanev is a brilliant writer. While he unveils his story in language as simple and clear as an article in the National Geographic, he explores the territory of the Taureg people, their world where men cover their faces and women do not, and, the very stability of their harvest of salt in an era of the internet and cell phones. Gifted in languages, he speaks French fluently and is well versed in Arabic. Unfortunately, although the trekking company promised him a guide fluent in French, he finds that he must rely on Walid who speaks no French and his Arabic is more Taureg than conversational Egyptian. Like a mountaineer who discovers that his map of the route is incomplete but is is the only one he has, Benanev finds that he must take Walid as his compass, even if -- and they do -- get lost.

Benanev also does a wonderful job of describing the salt trade and how its economy sustains the people and culture of Mali. Seemlessly, he weaves into his story his observations on the impact of globalism -- especially road building.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By B. Evans on July 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rather than repeating others' rave reviews, as the thirteenth reviewer, I'd like to give prospective readers a sampling of Benanav's descriptions and wit, which, in part, are what make MEN OF SALT: CROSSING THE SAHARA ON THE CARAVAN OF WHITE GOLD such a great read.
--To explain his reservations about the trip, Benanav writes, "I was a bit uneasy about the historical precedent of guides killing their clients in the middle of the desert.... Moreover...six months earlier, the United States had invaded Iraq....Though I knew that most people in most places easily distinguished between individuals and their government, I was wary of how I'd be received as an American at that time; it'd be best, I concluded, not to let anyone know that I was Jewish, too."
--The first time he had dorno, "the nomad version of an energy shake," Benanav describes it as "a good substitute for papier mache paste."
--As he walks along side his nomadic guide, Benanav notes that "though my strides were longer, my feet sank and slid backward in the sand while Walid's padded nimbly over the surface. Walking through the desert with a nomad was like swimming with a seal."
--Aware that trucks will soon likely replace camels on the salt route, Benanav laments that "the noble ships of the desert, it seems, were bound for dry dock."
--After enduring his second torturous day, Benanav realizes "that the safest place in the Sahara was not a place at all, but a time: night." And as the caravan begins to travel again, he observes that they "marched through the glow of a lustrous copper sunset and into the ghostly light cast by the almost half-moon. The world was shades of indigo and steel. The hills before us rose like rollers in a dark sea."

And so on. There was so much stellar writing in this book by page 50, in fact, that I put down the library copy I was reading and went to Amazon to order my own so that I could underline the many parts I wanted to share with friends.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By T. F. Flournoy on April 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As an avid reader but seldom of non-fiction, I was completely surprised by an instant addiction to "Men of Salt" by Michael Benanav. His real life drama as it unfolds, sinks its teeth into the reader as much as a page turner as a thriller. Mr. Benanav looks for and finds so much that is positive in a very hostile environment and from a culture so different from his own. We

can only hope for more from this talented writer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. wolpert on February 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The book "The Men of Salt" tells the story of an amazing adventure of a young man following the salt caravans across the sahara desert. Michael Benanav trusted his life to his Saharan guide as they crossed a thousand miles of desert. Had his guide decided to leave him at any time, he would never have been able to find his way to the next well.

"The Men of Salt" is a story of an amazing modern day adventure.

The book is beautifully written. I have never before read a book and then reread it immediately. The second read was just as interesting as it gave me an even better sense of the people he met and the dangers of the Sahara.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Leslie Ellis on March 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
If you ever dreamed of crossing the desert on a camel, but will likely never really do it, this is about as close as you can get to truly being there... and maybe as close as you would WANT to get. Liberally sprinkled with suspense, humour, history, personal revelation and surprises, this book is a must for the armchair adventurer who wants to know what it's really like to travel the desert with ancient nomadic tribes. A compelling and illuminating read!
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