Burton: A biography of...
Byron Farwell
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Burton: A biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  121 ratings  ·  15 reviews
No man can be all things at once, no matter how hard he tries, but no man ever tried harder than Richard Francis Burton. He made significant contributions in the fields of literature and geography, and was also a poet, traveler, soldier, diplomat, inventor, explorer, archaeologist, student of religion and more. But above all, Burton was an adventurer in both the intellectu...more
Published 1963
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A fascinating, readable account of the jaw-droppingly talented man’s life. His ceaseless activity (he would produce 700 pages on a place he had stayed for a week, while sick, and while doing any number of other feats) is contrasted by his limitations (his books were pretty bad; he wasn’t a leader; his theories were often wildly off). Burton described himself: “Briefly, his memory was well-stored; and he had every talent save that of using his talents.” Very apt; Burton’s life was a series of alm...more
Theo Logos
Richard Francis Burton lived a fantastic life packed full of enough exploits, adventures, and accomplishments to make any ten men famous. As such, no single biography is sufficient to capture the whole man, and anyone truly interested in exploring his amazing life will do well to read several treatments of it. That said, Byron Farwell's excellent biography of Burton is an outstanding place to begin.
Farwell captures Burton's driven, restless spirit, from his wild youth wandering nomadically about...more
Cameron Powers
The incredible biography of a brilliant British career soldier and diplomat whose abilities to learn and to be adopted into native cultures are an inspiration to both the incredible enlightenment and loneliness which can result. Growing up in India, he apparently learned no less than 25 languages ultimately translating the Tales of the Arabian Nights. After his death his wife burned the remainder of his manuscripts which contained, like the Kama Sutra, which he also translated, fascinating first...more
Jul 13, 2010 Matthew rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Orientalists, Colonialists, and Adventurers
I am somewhat mystified that the fascinating life of Sir Richard Francis Burton is not better known. He seems to have become a footnote in the history of the Victorian age of exploration. Although many of his exploits ended in failure, the magnitude of his unsavory yet dominating character should be enough to have made him an enduring legend. The basis for my beloved Flashman, he spoke nearly 30 languages, snuck into Mecca disguised as a Mohammedan, almost discovered the source of the Nile, serv...more
When I picked up this book, I had read the wiki of Burton and checked out a few websites devoted to him. These made me imagine Burton as a paragon of adventure and a hero of a man. I wanted a book that would weave tales of his travels and tell me of the legend. But this book actually told me who the real Burton was: an incredible man, yes - he spoke 29 languages, was a master swordsman, wrote dozens of books, traveled to unexplored areas of Africa, and more - but he was also an alcoholic obsesse...more
When I read this book some 25 years ago or more, I knew virtually nothing of this man. I ask myself, why? Why isn't this man better known? By all accounts, he was an amazing man, scholar, linguist, adventurer. His exploits, as chronicled in this biography, are the stuff of legend. Simply put, this is one of the most engaging, entertaining biographies I've ever read. Worth another read.
The writer did a first class job of compiling a mass of journals and accounts into a coherent, and often hilarious, tale of the life of a remarkable non- conformist linguist and one of the worlds great travellers. A highly recommended read for history exploration buffs.
Chris Wolff
The most readable of the Burton biographies. Excellent work
An excellent and entertaining biography of the Victorian adventurer and explorer, who discovered the source of the Nile and was the first Westerner to enter Mecca, disguised as an Arab. The stuff that ripping yarns are made of.
Sam Simpson
Boring. Boring. Boring. Byron accuses Burton of writing books at included extraneous information but Byron is just as guilty. This book could have been written in half the length. And the print is very small.
Good overview of Burton's life. Farwell reveals some new material concerning Burton's Interest in and possible conversion to Sufism.
He will always be the translator of the Arabian Nights for me... And I am sure he found the source of the Nile before Speke.

Now this was a wild man. could speak 35 languages, traveled through Africa and Saudi Arabia in 1800s.
Matthew Stanfill
This is a fantastic book of possibly the most manly of men of the victorian age.fantastic.
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Farwell graduated from Ohio State University and the University of Chicago (M.A., 1968). He served in World War II as a captain of engineers attached to the Mediterranean Allied Air Force in the British Eighth Army area and later also saw combat in the Korean War. He separated from the military after seven years of active duty.

As a civilian, he became director of public relations and director of a...more
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