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The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton Paperback – July 17, 1984

4.5 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

12 1.5-hour cassettes

To my mind, the best life of Burton remains Fawn Brodie's "The Devil Drives" (1967)....Brodie's biography serves its subject: The book is hard to put down, and as you read it, you constantly murmur, "What an amazing fellow! What an extraordinary journey!" --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

About the Author

Fawn M. Brodie was professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of several noted biographies, including Thomas Jefferson and The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (July 17, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393301664
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393301663
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #609,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on May 23, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Soon after graduating from high school many decades ago, it was my good fortune to discover Sir Richard Francis Burton, one of the great explorer/intellects of any age. That was a major turning point in my life. Burton inspired in me passions to achieve beyond the ordinary. Later, I became a scientist and, perhaps because I had imprinted upon Burton at a formative stage of my life, was able to open hitherto unexplored intellectual domains of my own.
I was eager to learn everything I could about Burton. Along the way, I discovered Fawn Brodie's book on Burton, a carefully-researched work that draws upon a wealth of historical data in depicting Burton's life and accomplishments. With a fast-paced, fascinating writing style that impels the reader forward page after page, Brodie takes us through Burton's own early formative years, his adventures in India, his pilgrimages to the forbidden cities of Mecca and Harar, his exploration for the source of the Nile, his rivalry with fellow explorer and nemesis, John Hanning Speke, his marriage to Isabel, and his profound accomplishments as an intellect and writer. Brodie's is a masterful work that compelled me to reread it many times down through the years. In fact, I read it so many times that it finally fell apart. I was delighted to find it for sale on Amazon, and recently purchased a new copy to replace the tattered old companion.
Those who wish to learn about Burton from a renowned scholar and historian are likely to treasure Brodie's book that has received many splendid reviews.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton would be a worthy study for anyone interested in the potentials of the human being. A man of multiple talents and achievements, to count and adequately summarize them all would be an improbable task. This man accomplished more in a lifetime than most of us mere mortals could in several. As a 19th century British explorer, he stands with the legendary - Livingston, Stanley, Baker and Speke. What set him apart from these luminaries, towers above in fact, was is scholarship. His writing talents, publishing countless volumes, his uncanny lingual gift, (twenty-five languages, including several dialects that amount to over forty) and his inroads into anthropology, ethnology, religion and archaeology, make him one of the truly great individuals of the Victorian age. Brodie's treatment of Burton is a worthy tribute to the man, and after reading over four other life histories of Sir Richard; I can say with all honesty, that it is one of the best.

I have to admit that I have a severe aversion to that sixties literary trend of applying Freudian psychoanalysis in a biographical study. It is difficult enough analysing the living, let alone the dead and gone. Brodie is guilty of this method in this biography; however, she does it without taking anything away from the subject. Most all the typical psychoanalytical symptoms are present: the Oedipus complex, latent homosexuality, and preoccupations with sex in general. Brodie's analyses, though, is not a closed shop - she remains open to her subject. In other words, her psychoanalytic musings do not cloud the uniqueness and larger than life qualities of this man. It's a side issue, and therefore can be ignored.
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Format: Paperback
The Devil Drives by Fawn Brodie is the life story of Sir Richard Burton, a hero of mine. Burton was driven by the desire to acquire knowledge; he faced his own mortality frequently to acquire new 'firsts;' but he was also a complex man of numerous contradictions. Most importantly he wasn't only a do-er; he did not just master dozens of languages, make himself one of the greatest swordsmen of Europe, penetrate Mecca, find Lake Tanganyika for the West, translate the Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra, and a g'jillion other feats. He also wrote about them, sharing candid facts, often too risque for Victorian readers, as only a Man of the World like Richard Burton could.
I was impressed with the interest Brodie took in Lady Burton. If one wants to know the man, then one must look at his wife. Especially in this case, where Isabel Burton does not even seem as though she could have been someone that Richard would have tolerated to hold a conversation with, let alone devote a large chuck of this life to. Isabel was, in fact, the very type of woman Burton, in his writing, claimed to dislike: chaste and superstitious. How could the man who brought the Kama Sutra to the West and sampled life widely (wink wink) have chosen to spend his best years in a sexless marriage? Very odd, indeed.
The Devil Drives is an outstanding book. It is well written and interesting, although one does need to take the mid-century psycho-analyses with a grain of salt. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to live life to the fullest and needs a role model from whom to learn.
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Format: Paperback
If this man had never existed, Hollyweird could do a movie of some of his exploits and it would be considered over the top. He was fully a man both of his era and beyond it. His time in Africa alone was amazing, despite the fact that he and his fellow travelers did not find the source of the Nile river. That said, this is one of the better overall biographies of Sir Burton. The author has a good feel for the overall tone and prejuidices of the era and how Sir Burton did not fit in in polite English society. How much did I like this book, well I had read it years ago and decided I had to have a copy to keep. If true history with all its faults and wonders is something you enjoy, you need to read this book. For all that, I didn't even mention that he was an extraordinarily talented linquist as well as an author.
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