Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Arabian Sands” as Want to Read:
Arabian Sands
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Arabian Sands

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  3,576 Ratings  ·  209 Reviews
In the spirit of T.E. Lawrence, Wilfred Thesiger spent five years wandering the deserts of Arabia, producing Arabian Sands, 'a memorial to a vanished past, a tribute to a once magnificent people'. The Penguin Classics edition includes an introduction by Rory Stewart.

Wilfred Thesiger, repulsed by what he saw as the softness and rigidity of Western life - 'the machines, the
Paperback, 368 pages
Published December 2nd 2007 by Penguin Classics (first published 1959)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Arabian Sands, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Mohamed AlSharqi Hello.. One convenient way would be to set up a Kindle account on Amazon. You can then purchase the book as a soft copy and read it on your Kindle…moreHello.. One convenient way would be to set up a Kindle account on Amazon. You can then purchase the book as a soft copy and read it on your Kindle device or on any computer/tablet through the free Kindle app. I hope this helps. (less)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
It was at school that we were given an excerpt of Arabian Sands to read, a passage detailing the peoples who had lurked on the fringes of Arabia Felix without actually controlling it, coming across the book at the town library I borrowed it and read on.

Wilfred Thesiger travelled backwards and forwards across the Empty Quarter of southern Arabia in the late 1940s and early 50s. With the subsequent discovery and extraction of oil this is now a record of a vanished world.

Coming from a privileged Br
Jun 27, 2014 Algernon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014

Wilfred Thesiger was born a few centuries too late, given his enterprising spirit and his thirst for the pristine lands, untouched by human development. His is the temperament and the dogged determination that had led men to reject the comfort of home and the perks of civilized society and prefer to sweat and toil in the harshest climates for no other reason that the maps showed a blank space in that region. Empires were built by men like Thesiger, driven by the need to claim to be the first to
Lynne King
Dec 30, 2012 Lynne King rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arabia
I like to browse through my books on a Sunday morning for some strange reason and came across this book that I read when I was working in Saudi Arabia and, as I had also met the bedouin and taken tea with them, I was interested to hear about Thesiger's travels in that country.

It's such an interesting study of the Saudi culture by a travel writer, and also an explorer, such as Thesiger, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Middle East.

It's also good to see that this book is stil
When I first came across this book in the library I was unsuspecting of the journey it would take me on, but I find, now that I have been on that journey, I am all the richer for it.
Wilfred Thesiger was wonderful company as I rolled along on a camel beside him, not literally of course, taking in the sights of a desert that has long since been tarnished by the west.
If you want to learn about the Bedu, and more indirectly the Arabs, then there is no greater book for that than Arabian Sands.
You wi
Daniel Clausen
Nov 01, 2016 Daniel Clausen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thesiger’s book is about a time, right after many people thought most of the great adventures had already been had and right before the frontiers of the desert sands were truly closed off. The book was one man’s love affair with the hardship of desert sand and the people who had called it their home -- the Bedu.

I came to this book at a strange time. At a time when one journey was ending and another beginning. Strangely, I didn’t know what to make of the journey that had just ended. I doubted si
Jan 31, 2011 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wilfred Thesiger, the author of Arabian Sands, is without question the Real Deal. After being trained as a British secret agent and fighting behind enemy lines in the SAS during World War II, he set out to explore the Empty Quarter of the Arabian peninsula, the largest sand desert in the world. Travelling by foot and on camels with nomadic Bedouin tribes, he crossed and recrossed about 250,000 miles of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet. He was a man of deeds, not words; it took months ...more
Marvin Goodman
Hmmm, well, I guess I can't honestly recommend this. Undoubtedly the journeys were fascinating and worthy of a certain amount of awe, but I didn't enjoy the writing. For starters, Thesiger devoted little energy to visually describing things. There was the occasional remark about the color of the dunes, and a some attempts at describing camels, the all-important ships of the desert. But when I read a book about a trip I'll probably never take, I want to feel like I'm there, and Thesiger either di ...more
In Arabian Sands Thesiger documents a time, a place, and a people on the cusp of change. Largely responsible for mapping the 250,000 square miles of the largest sand desert in the world, The Empty Quarter, in the area of modern Yemen, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman, Thesiger realized that his work hastened the demise of the way of life he loved.
"Regretfully, however, I realize that the maps I made helped others, with more material aims, to visit and corrupt a people whose spirit once lit the des
After the Second World War, Thesiger spent five years criss-crossing the deserts of Arabia in particular the 'Empty Quarter'. He had an unconventional life; born in Addis Ababa in Abyssinia, he spent the war in the region ending up in the SAS, before falling in love with the place and deciding to spend more time exploring it. He travelled with the Bedouin people, or as he calls them Bedu, experiencing their daily challenges of extreme heat, ice cold nights, long treks with camels under the relen ...more
Bill Hammack
Jan 21, 2013 Bill Hammack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nearly every listing of the best best travel books mentions this book. And it is no surprise: There is nothing quite like it. Most travel book contains vivid descriptions of the landscape. While Thesiger's occasionally describes the deserts physical details, the book is really a study of its the psychological landscape it creates. "I realized that for me the fascination of this journey lay not in seeing the seeing the country but in seeing it under these conditions." Over the course of three or ...more
Apr 27, 2013 Fraser rated it really liked it
Superb read. Was initially unsure of Rory Stewart's intro but after reading to the end I understood his views on Thesiger as a writer much more clearly. This is travel for travel's sake and very much akin to a purist view which almost overshadows the sheer achievement and incredible adversity, the latter Thesiger takes in his stride. A wonderful opening into an Arabia already changing and changed by the west and the advent of oil.

A book for those truly interested in the deserts, but expect Thesi
Feb 06, 2014 Radiah rated it it was amazing
There are several things I look for in a travel book experience: adventure, a smooth narrative, excitement and for the writer to get down to observing and understanding the people and place he/she is in without the eyes of a westerner. Strangely enough, I found it in Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands. Much has been said about Thesiger the man, the explorer, the throwback to the Victorian era, and before I opened the book, I cast everything I had heard about the man aside and read it with an open ...more
Huda AlAbri

في الواجهة الخلفية لهذا الكتاب "الرمال العربية" تظهر صورة للمؤلف الرحالة البريطاني "ويلفرد ثيسجر "و الذي أطلق عليه أصدقاءه البدو اسم " مبارك بن لندن" .يظهر مبارك في الصورة و هو مرتدي الدشداشة العمانية و مصرا و خنجرا و ممسكا بعصا ، و اكتسب وجهه سحنة البدو بعد أن عركته الحياة الصحراوية القاسية ....

في هذا الكتاب يشرح و يلفرد -أو مبارك - تفاصيل رحلته التي قام بها في ربوع الربع الخالي خلال خمس سنوات (1945 -1950) متنقلا على ظهر ناقة مع جماعة من البدو بين مناطق عمان و حضرموت و السعودية و الإمارات( لم
Mar 15, 2014 Scott rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the old-fashioned, straightforward (i.e. unironic and "meta"less), almost Hemingway-esque narrative of the tough old Victorian Luddite accompanied by loyal, noble Bedu... Even felt ashamed of my own unadventurousness... Then began to wonder what was going on behind the narrative: Was Thesiger gay? Was he a kind of very dedicated sexual tourist (the kind you often see in Southeast Asia nowadays)? Why'd he insist on all the dangerous trips? If he loved Arabia so much, why couldn't he fol ...more
Jan 11, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is easy to dismiss a book that presents a world no longer in existence, the Middle East of the late 1940s. The sands were governed by the ways of Bedouins and tribes and sheiks and sultans and the various alliances and enmities that existed. But this region that is mostly Oman today has only existed as it is now for so short a period of time that the reality portrayed by Wilfred Thesiger, a British civil servant who used his day job to allow him to explore areas of the world mostly unknown to ...more
Feb 28, 2014 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading about the near past of this region I live in. The book covers Thesiger's explorations of Yemen, The Empty Quarter, Oman, and parts of the then Trucial States from about 1945 to 1950. He was the first Westerner to explore some of the areas and did it as a traveller with Beduin companions. Even though he was born to British parents (stationed in Africa at the time of his birth), and educated in the UK, he said that he was most at home in the Arabian Desert. He was friends with Sh ...more
Dec 09, 2008 Mukikamu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you care to read about the wisdom and meekness of the Desert and its Bedu people, Arabian Sands is your Bible. This enchanted and spiritual volume completely satisfied my hunger for the romanticism and mysticism of travel and brought the dreamlike and psyhedelic part of the Arab world directly to my heart. Thesiger is an extraordinary bloke, stubborn in his pursuit of adventure and uncompromising in his extreme rules of assimilation. Living with the nomadic Arab tribes of the Empty Quarter be ...more
Mar 26, 2014 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub
Thesiger isn't a wordsmith, but he sure can wax lyrical about sand and camels. Usually I'm skeptical of the "white dude realizes his culture is superficial/grossly consumeristic and seeks enlightenment in Savage Territories" topos -- although I empathize with his feeling of displacement -- but the author's understated, matter-of-fact prose and authentic love of the desert and its people keep him from falling into the Exotic Other trap. The real selling part for me was the friendship he built wit ...more
May 06, 2007 Raghu rated it it was amazing
Wilfred Thesiger is one of the really great travellers ever. This book details his adventures and explorations in hitherto untraveled reaches of the Saudi Arabian deserts in the 1940's.
He writes beautifully about the culture and nomadic existence of the Bedu people who populate this region. It is a superb account of the way of life of the now extinct Bedu way. Thesiger laments the demise of the life of the Bedu due to the riches brought about by the discovery of oil in the 40's and 50s.
A must re
An amazing story! I savored every word, description, character met, and landscape. It's not often I sit back and thoroughly, and slowly, enjoy a read. I feel privileged to have 'met' these characters and 'traveled' through Arabia before the oil companies and modernization changed the landscape and the people. A beautiful story.
Abdullah Almuslem
Aug 21, 2016 Abdullah Almuslem rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book gives a detail information about the English traveler and explorer Wilfred Thesiger and his travels in Arabia. Until the end of the book ,I did not understand why he traveled in Arabia living among the bedue going through tremendous hardship. Some thought he was a spy, oil companies looked at him in suspicion as he might be surveying areas for oil exploration, governments did not want him in their lands, tribes treated him as infidel and did not want him in their land, but he did not ca ...more
Ridhika Khanna
"The country grew more arid; every plant and bush was dead. Skeletons of trees, brittle powdery branches, fallen and half buried in the drifting sand, and deposits of silt left by ancient floods, but now as dry as ashes, marked the course of Umm al Hait, ‘The Mother of Life’, the great trunk wadi which leads down to Mughshin. Nothing stirred, not even a lizard, for here there had been twenty-five years of unbroken drought."

No one could have written about the arid landscapes of the Arabian desert
Jan 28, 2013 karl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was written in 1959 by Thesiger, some 10 years following his nearly 5-year exploration of the Arabian Desert, or as some refer to it, the Empty Quarter. The territory stretches roughly 600 by 400 miles, from Yemen in the SW and Oman in the SE through much of Saudi Arabia and up to Dubai and the UAE.

Thesiger was English, but grew up in the Mid East. His book makes clear that he loved riding camels, being with the natives, and almost enjoyed the flies, lack of water, suffering through sand st
Jun 25, 2011 Gwyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I did not expect to enjoy this book. It's not the sort of thing I normally read, and I only picked it up because I thought it would help with some research I was doing. It did help me with my research, but it also turned out to be a really good book. Where I had thought turning each page would be a chore, I found myself reading entire chapters in a sitting.

Thesiger's spare prose is perfectly suited to the stark landscape and stoic peoples he describes. Brutally honest, he ruthlessly catalogs th
Daniel Simmons
Jan 17, 2014 Daniel Simmons rated it really liked it
Travel books like this make me realize what a wuss I am. "Arabian Sands" is 330 plainspoken and inspiring pages about "find[ing] peace in the hardship of desert travel and the company of desert peoples." In the midst of criss-crossing the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula, under constant threat of starvation, dehydration, or enemy raiders (or all of the above), Thesiger finds time to muse on Arab hospitality, hawking, and the occasional merits of sewing up a camel's anus. He scorns the adva ...more
Paquita Lamacraft
The remarkable tale of the travels of the author with the Bedu into the 'Empty Quarter' of the Arabian desert before findings of oil and gas transformed the landscape.

The book leaves one pondering about a remarkable people who read the sands, were incredibly resilient and hardy, and whose economy and heritage was based on their abilitiy to travel in this harsh land at a time when tribal rivalries were unforgiving.

That an Englishman was able to travel as did they is striking enough - but his simp
Nov 07, 2011 C. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to C. by: Julie Connelly
For the things I liked about this book, see this review. I have nothing to add.

On the negative side, a lot of things confused me about this book. I found Thesiger's colonial attitude, irresponsible behaviour and enormous sense of self-entitlement repellent at times, and could not understand why so many of the Bedu seemed to like him so much, and why so many of them dropped everything (not that, I suppose, they had much to drop - and perhaps this is the answer) to go on pointless treks across a d
Ruth Charchian
Sep 06, 2012 Ruth Charchian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is a evocative and compelling journey into the uncharted Saudi Arabian lands, culture, and tribes before it was thoroughly invaded by European and Middle Eastern petroleum companies and modern technology. Unlike so many books about the Muslim people written today, the author provides unique historical insights into the generosity, hospitality, and brutality of these ancient Beduin and the camels they relied on for the survival in this inhospitable desert environment. It is an adventure book ...more
Awab AlSaati
Feb 04, 2016 Awab AlSaati rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Well, the funny thing about this book is that whenever I'm reading it I'm imagining my grandfather who came to Saudi Arabia in the same period as Thesiger did.
I really liked the vivid description of the Bedu and how he explained their mentality. And how his convection made him cross the most literally deserted place perhaps on the planet.
Thesiger detested modernisation for the Bedu, he wanted them to stay just the way they are, completely out of touch from the world and ignorant of its achieve
Frank Jacobs
Mar 10, 2016 Frank Jacobs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A classic in the forbidding sense of that word, Thesiger's travelogue is as sparse and at times difficult to traverse as the empty landscapes he describes. But the repetitive minutiae of desert life – wells visited, tribesmen encountered, sufferings endured – are exactly the point, underscored by the author's laments that modernity would soon wipe out a timeless way of life, as exacting of the body as it is rewarding for the soul. Whether or not Bedu life as described by Thesiger has indeed vani ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels
  • News From Tartary
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush
  • The Road to Oxiana
  • Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea
  • My Life as an Explorer
  • Travels in West Africa
  • Travels into the Interior of Africa
  • Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah
  • Through the Brazilian Wilderness
  • Kabloona
  • Running the Amazon
  • My Journey to Lhasa: The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City
  • The Royal Road to Romance: Travelers' Tales Classics
  • Travels in Arabia Deserta, Volume 1
  • In Trouble Again: A Journey Between the Orinoco and the Amazon
  • The Mountains of My Life (Modern Library Exploration)
  • No Picnic on Mount Kenya: A Daring Escape, A Perilous Climb
Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger, CBE, DSO, was a British explorer and travel writer born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

Thesiger was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford University where he took a third in history. Between 1930 and 1933, Thesiger represented Oxford at boxing and later (1933) became captain of the Oxford boxing team.

In 1930, Thesiger returned to Africa, havin
More about Wilfred Thesiger...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »

“I had learnt the satisfaction which comes from hardship and the pleasure which derives from abstinence; the contentment of a full belly; the richness of meat; the taste of clean water; the ecstasy of surrender when the craving of sleep becomes a torment; the warmth of a fire in the chill of dawn.” 27 likes
“Yet I wondered fancifully if he had seen more clearly than they did, had sensed the threat which my presence implied – the approaching disintegration of his society and the destruction of ‘his beliefs. Here especially it seemed that the evil that comes with sudden change would far outweigh the good. While I was with the Arabs I wished only to live as they lived and, now that I have left them, I would gladly think that nothing in their lives was altered by my coming. Regretfully, however, I realize that the maps I made helped others, with more material aims, to visit and corrupt a people whose spirit once lit the desert like a flame.” 5 likes
More quotes…