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Arabian Sands (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 2, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 93 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Following worthily in the tradition of Burton, Lawrence, Philby and Thomas, [Arabian Sands] is, very likely, the book about Arabia to end all books about Arabia."
-The Daily Telegraph, London

"The narrative is vividly written, with a thousand little anecdotes and touches which bring back to any who have seen these countries every scene with the colour of real life."
-The Sunday Times, London

About the Author

Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003) was a British explorer and travel writer. He was born at Addis Ababa, Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). Educated at Eton and Oxford, he worked in the Sudan Political Service and and later, for a year, as a Political Officer for the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie. He is best known for two travel books: Arabian Sands (1959) and The Marsh Arabs (1964).

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (January 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141442077
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141442075
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The deserts of Arabia cover more than a million square miles. The southern desert occupies nearly half of the total area. It stretches nine hundred miles from the frontier of the Yemen to the foothills of Oman and five hundred miles from the southern coast of Arabia to the Persian Gulf. It is a wilderness of sand, a desert within a desert, an area so enormous and so desolate that even Arabs call it the "Empty Quarter."
Wilfred Thesiger was born in Addis Ababa in 1910 and educated at Eton and Oxford. Though British, he was repulsed by the softness and rigidity of Western life, "the machines, the calling cards, the meticulously aligned streets, etc." In the spirit of T.E. Lawrence, Thesiger spent five years exploring and wandering the deserts of Arabia. With vivid descriptions and colorful anecdotes he narrates his stories, including two crossings of the Empty Quarter, among peoples who had never seen a European and considered it their duty to kill Christian infidels.
Thesiger greatly illuminates our understanding of the nomadic bedouins of Arabia. He loved, admired, respected and was humbled by a people who lived desparately hard lives in the harshest conditions with only a few possessions that might include saddles, ropes, bowls, goatskins, rifles and daggers and traveled days without food and water. Yet these people were unflappably cheerful, welcoming, generous, self-reliant, loyal and dignified. Thesiger explains why the Bedu with whom he traveled refused to forecast the weather (blasphemy against God)or could discern where to find a hare in the sand (only one set of tracks into the buried hole). As a reader I could almost sense I was traveling with Thesiger, could not help but mourn the passing of the way of life he described, and, as he, pondered the meaning of the word "civilized" as we Westerners conceive the term.
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Format: Paperback
Besides being a wonderful book, as other reviewers have remarked, 'Arabian Sands' is important reading for anyone who wants to understand the culture and history of the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
The Bedu are, and always have been, a small fraction of the Arabs; historically, they have been disliked, mistrusted and often hated by the settled Arabs of the Middle East. In North Africa, the Berbers (a completely different people, with non-Arabic languages) have sometimes been confused with the Bedu. The Bedu way of life is now nearly extinct; Thesiger's book, which describes his travels with the Yamani Bedu of Southern Arabia, is the only careful account of Bedu culture and Bedu peoples I have ever come across. I know of no similarly illuminating study of the Qaysi Bedu of Northern Arabia, not even the works of T. E. Lawrence.
The historical importance of the Bedu in the Arab world is that on several occasions from the 8th century to the 20th century, Bedu tribesmen formed the core of armies that swept across the Middle East and/or North Africa. Invading Bedu armies overthrew decadent regimes in North Africa in the 13th century, and effectively destroyed Berber power on the North African coast. Bedu formed the core of the Arab armies that defeated the Turks in the First World War, and were the core of the army which Ibn Saud created that turned him from being a refugee into being the founder of Saudi Arabia as it is today. How did the small number of people who comprised the various Bedu tribes exercise such military power throughout the Arab World? Read "Arabian Sands" to understand this.
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Format: Paperback
A book about "the spirit of the land and the greatness of the Arabs."
This is a must read for anyone interested in the tribal Arabs of the desert (southern Arabia). I had this book for many months until I got around to reading it and then I absolutely couldn't put it down. The excursions of Wilfred Thesiger (Umbarak) take place during the 1940s. Thesiger loved the Bedu tribes (Rashid)and he writes from the heart, which is why I think the text is so readable. You relive this phenominal experience with him. Thesiger never fit in with his own people of England. He couldn't bare to live amongst the materialistic culture he found in the western world and felt more akin with his Arab friends yet as a "Christian" he could never be one of them. His relationships with two of the Rashid in particular, bin Kabina and bin Ghabaisha and the love, admiration and loyalty he had for these two young men was very moving. Amazingly Thesiger survives many dangerous encounters while traveling in the desert with his Arab companions. How he ever survived some of these excursions is astonishing; between the lack of food, water, heat and cold exposure but mostly other hostile Arab tribes. His companions and he escape being killed by mere hours. By our western standards many people would think Thesiger's companions to ultimately be murderous and barbaric yet I have met very few westerners that held the same unbreakable code of honor that many of Thesiger's Arab companions lived by. Their generosity, faith in god, honor, dignity, strength and endurance is nothing short of amazing. They would give a stranger who stumbles upon their camp the last scrap of food and final cup of water even when starving in the desert for days.
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