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Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert

4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  252 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
It is as vast as the United States and so arid that most bacteria cannot survive there. Its loneliness is so extreme it is said thatmigratory birds will land beside travelers, just for the company. William Langewiesche came to the Sahara to see it as its inhabitants do, riding its public transport, braving its natural and human dangers, depending on its sparse sustenance a ...more
Paperback, 324 pages
Published June 24th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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Community Reviews

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Cathi Davis
Nov 11, 2015 Cathi Davis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book best read slowly. My copy is underlined, annotated, illustrated, and memorable quotes rewritten on the fly ends. To whit,

the desert teaches by taking away.

History in Africa lies on the land like a trap.

I felt threatened, weakened, overwhelmed. The heat had sharp edges.

It is the desert of more so, drier, fiercer, and wilder.

He lived unrestrained by a proper upbringing, unrestricted by family or friendship, unconcerned with his dignity or comfort, and un afraid of dying.

I made no de
Nov 08, 2011 Natalie rated it really liked it
Recommended to Natalie by: Jenelle
Shelves: adventure, travelogue
Anthro-dreamboat: this book is like reading the travel journal of your sexiest professor, the rugged one who lived a way cooler life before he began teaching you at some hallowed institution, you know, the one with BETTER THINGS TO DO. The vignettes in this would make for beautiful movie scenes: the French couple with their long-suffering pet scorpion-in-a-shoebox; all the cafe scenarios wherein the author is drinking some sort of bad, mud-tasting coffee and chewing on a stale baguette. These ar ...more
Sep 18, 2011 Jenelle rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Natalie
Recommended to Jenelle by: the desert
really good preparation for my voyage. Langewiesche goes and figures out every corner of the desert, from Algeria to Senegal, does it to the confusion of everyone he encounters. I get it. laced with history & folklore, back- & forward-narrative in a natural, flowing progression. never gets too dense with reference like Sebald's Vertigo. felt more like Sans Soleil, like real travel, like the way a brain works or at least mine, than maybe anything I've read. there are moments when Langewie ...more
Clark Hays
Feb 13, 2014 Clark Hays rated it it was amazing
The Sahara: unwelcoming refuge to survivors and dreamers and outcasts

As much as I might like to, I will never travel across the Sahara desert.

It sounds beautiful and amazing and romantic and inspiringly desolate, but I will never willingly submit myself to 120 degree temperatures unless I’m wearing a fully air-conditioned suit of clothes AND I’m riding inside a fully air-conditioned car that can’t ever break down. And that car would need a mini-bar. Other reasons I probably won’t visit the Saha
Dec 13, 2008 Hthayer rated it it was amazing
For ages now I have loved the idea of the Sahara, the vastness, the emptiness, the dryness, the people. In part this interest stemmed from, or at least was fueled by, a lengthy article in the Atlantic Monthly that I read about 20 years ago, cut it out of the magazine, and read it again and again until it was in tatters. About half way through "Sahara Unveiled," I realized that the author of this book was the author of that article, and this was the "book length" version. This is an honest, unrom ...more
Chris Scott
Aug 20, 2014 Chris Scott rated it really liked it
Shelves: sahara
Having got to know Algeria as a commercial pilot (or so one presumes, we learn nothing about the author apart from the existence of a wife and son), William Langewiesche travels from Algiers to Dakar in the early 1990s, as Islamic revolution and Tuareg unrest spread paranoia along the trans-Saharan Highway.

He revisits old friends, including the neglected and now destitute wife of a once respected Mr Fixit who suffered brain damage following a car crash with his mistress. Along the way we learn a
Apr 06, 2007 Sue rated it liked it
Shelves: 3rd-shelf
I read this because I absolutely love this author's articles in The Atlantic Monthly and other magazines. Even if he writes about subjects I don't have interest in, he can make me be interested in them on the strength of his writing. That said, I was a tad disappointed with this book overall. It didn't seem quite up to snuff with his other works. I'd still recommend it to anyone interested in the area or anyone interested in the author.
Dec 03, 2014 HBalikov rated it liked it
Langewiesche provides a mostly quiet journey full of small delights and surprises as he travels (basically) two legs (one south, one west) of a triangle from Algiers to Dakar to give us an up close and personal Sahara Desert experience. We meet locals; we encounter cultures; we hear of individual and collective aspirations.

Langewiesche, as a pilot has roamed the world. As a correspondent for Atlantic Monthly and Vanity Fair, he has honed his narrative and background reasearch skills. Though thi
Jan 05, 2012 Leah rated it liked it
I surprised myself by not enjoying this as much as I expected to. I'm not sure if I wanted to hear the author romanticize the Sahara or not, but even though he constantly reminded us NOT to romanticize the desert, I thought he did it all through the book.

The language of the book is very spare, perhaps an attempt to reflect the atmosphere of the desert itself. I found this distracting, and almost stopped reading, but luckily I found the chapter on the Tuaregs.

This chapter made the book worth read
Apr 21, 2013 Otto rated it really liked it
I am currently obsessed with deserts in general and the Rub' al-Khali and the Sahara in particular. And I loved this book; but I fear my obsession with deserts might have coloured my view of this book to an unacceptable degree. This is a fairly straightforward narrative about Langewiesche's trip through the core of the Sahara from Algiers to Dakar. He interlaces the narrative with a few Tuareg stories and a little bit of politics mainly dealing with how the desert peoples interact (or don't) wit ...more
Thurston Hunger
Sep 18, 2010 Thurston Hunger rated it really liked it
Coming out watching a How the Earth Was Made overly dramatic documentary on the Sahara with my 8-year old boys, I wanted to explore the Sahara in a more subtle (and remote via reading) fashion.

Just happened to select this from the stacks at the library, unaware of the author or anything, and the wandering paid off. Despite its subject, the writing is never dry, often it veers into lyrical quality. The description of people surrendering their homes to the sand, opening the windows and doors and p
Feb 07, 2012 Andrea rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I am in awe of William Langewiesche (pronounced long-gah-vee-shuh). This is an amazing book where you are taken on a journey and meet a complete cast of characters that not even the best of authors could create in fiction. He shares with us the many stories of those who inhabit the desert. We learn the history of the inhabitants, the political climate, the way of life that would seem foreign to those of us in the west. There is humour, adventure, danger and resolution. I have always been fascin ...more
Dec 22, 2011 Ensiform rated it really liked it
The author takes a trip from Algiers to In Salah, south to Agadez, Niger and west to Dakar. His desert trek is readable and well researched. African folklore, scientific treatises on thirst and sand, and poetic ruminations about how towns can also be “deserts” in their way enrich this quite good travel book.

The main flaw is Langewiesche’s apparent smugness. He doesn’t, it appears from reading the text, deal with the natives on an equal footing. He pities or despises them, but he doesn’t just let
Joseph Gendron
Jul 13, 2013 Joseph Gendron rated it it was amazing
This book opened a whole new part of the world to me and I appreciate so much the author's ability to describe the scene, reflect on historical events and persons, and take the reader on an incredible journey along what looks like a 2,000 mile route thru and on the edges of the great Sahara. The place names were so wonderful; a sampling: Oargla, M'Zab, Tamanrasset, Tchin-Tabaradene, Dogondoutchi, Nouakchort. This is "back-world" adventure writing at its best, done in the raw. The descriptions of ...more
This book was easily one of the best books that I have read this year. It is Paul Theroux like from the standpoint of adventure and cultural travel and gives great insight to the people of the Sahara desert. He begins his travel in Algiers and winds his way hundreds of miles through the desert oasises south through Niger and then by boat, bus and train through Timbuktu, Bamako ]where a terrorist attack occurred just a few days ago 11/15] and to the Atlantic coast at Dakar. The heart of the book, ...more
Fred Gumminger
May 07, 2016 Fred Gumminger rated it it was amazing
I don't know how this guy has managed to stay alive s long as he has. His work must be read.
Bill Lenoir
Jul 06, 2014 Bill Lenoir rated it really liked it
Great background for the region. The events in Algeria, Mali and Niger make more sense now.
Jul 24, 2014 Ashli added it
Very interesting
Oct 17, 2011 Joe rated it really liked it
This book really should be called just "Algeria Unveiled," because 80 percent of the book takes place there. This isn't a criticism per se; in fact, I wish he'd just focused on Algeria because most of the rest of the book then seems thrown in just to round out the journey. The Algeria part is excellent though; full of details, characters, great descriptions of the desert and more. On it's own I would have given it five stars. The rest isn't bad, it just doesn't fit.
Jan 18, 2014 Bridget rated it really liked it
The author knows the way to Timbuktu - and would like to inform you that it's not worth the trip. This detailed travelogue of a trek in the Sahara illuminates the challenges presented by the desert and the desert's continued expansion into the lives and homes of people already living on the edge of subsistence.
Oct 19, 2007 Rachel rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Africaphiles
This was something I picked up at random walking by the travel section. I very much enjoyed it--I've been leaving books unfinished lately, and this was one I made it through. I appreciated that he didn't fall into the romanticize-the-indigenous-desert-inhabitants-and-their-ancient-way-of-life trap.

This was a nice addition to the book I read a while back by Paul Theroux on East Africa (Dark Star Safari).
Nov 14, 2007 Pat rated it liked it
I read this before a trip across the interior of Mauritania. It was instructive but underwhelming. Langewiesche is a writer whose subjects I'm almost always interested in, but whose actual writing doesn't do much for me. A little like Mark Bowden -- another Atlantic writer -- in that sense.
Jan 12, 2011 Josh rated it really liked it
Great book. What an amazing corner of the world. The people that live there are some kind of tough. As with any story of Africa, there's a heavy sadness, but that's me projecting my feelings. Langewiesche himself is interested in the places and people, and rigorously unsentimental.
Jan 27, 2011 Brian rated it really liked it
A must-read for anyone who has traveled in or around the Sahara. A good mix of history, personal anecdotes and stories he heard from locals. Unlike many travel writers, he doesn't come off as a braggart, and his presence isn't a distraction from the reports of everything around him.
Art King
Aug 27, 2007 Art King rated it really liked it
This book contains a series of compelling stories, woven together in travel. You will find vivid mental pictures of the people and the landscape. I bought this book after reading Langewiesche "Unbuilding" articles in the Atlantic magazine. Langewiesche is a gifted writer.
Feb 25, 2012 Mikee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The author traveled through the Sahara from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, writing about what he saw and mixing historical facts with parables and contemporaneous characterizations. He shuns embellishments and writes of what he sees.
Apr 22, 2008 Katie rated it it was amazing
Revisiting this classic, one of my favorite books of all time. Includes a section highlighting what incredible creatures scorpions are. And the physics of sand dunes. And an fantastic perspective on the people and places of the Sahara.
Oct 21, 2015 Dan rated it really liked it
Fantastic read. Occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and well-observed, with a refreshing tendency to avoid romantic cliches of the travel genre, and shed a slightly more realistic light on the countries of Northwest Africa.
Dec 18, 2007 Zack rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
this is the kind of travel book that i wish i could write, without actually having to travel across the sahara -- 'cause that shit is ka-razy. read this and the world won't feel so small and safe no more.
Mar 17, 2013 Noah rated it liked it
Langewiesche writes some great, lyrical prose about the soul of the desert and its inhabitants. In terms of real narrative arc, though, there's not much there. Not particularly recommended.
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William Langewiesche is a journalist who has written for Vanity Fair and The Atlantic Monthly.
More about William Langewiesche...

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“Some think of Islam as an expedient jobs program that moves the female half of the population out of the way.” 1 likes
“Do not regret the passing if the camel and the caravan. The Sahara has changed, but it remains a desert without compromise, the world in its extreme. There is no place as dry and hot and hostile.” 0 likes
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