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Arabian Sands

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  2,562 ratings  ·  155 reviews
"Arabian Sands" is Wilfred Thesiger's record of his extraordinary journey through the parched "Empty Quarter" of Arabia. Educated at Eton and Oxford, Thesiger was repulsed by the softness and rigidity of Western life-"the machines, the calling cards, the meticulously aligned streets." In the spirit of T. E. Lawrence, he set out to explore the deserts of Arabia, traveling a ...more
Published November 20th 2000 by HarperCollins (first published 1959)
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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
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
Lynne King
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
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 British background (his father had been ambassador to Abyssinia) he was an alien in the deserts of Arabia. His access to some areas was restricted, if I remember correctly the then Sultan of Oman was hostile to non-Muslims travelling on his territory.

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
Bill Hammack
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
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
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
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
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
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
Scott Smith
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
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.
April Khaito
I just returned from the Empty Quarter, the setting for ARABIAN SANDS, and truly feel that this book embodies the spirit of the region. A lot has changed since Thesiger's travels. The discovery of oil has forced the Bedu tribes from the land they had inhabited for centuries and they now occupy government-provided housing. While some argue modernization has allowed a better life for these peoples, Thesiger's experiences point to a solace the people found in self-sufficiency and tradition. While i ...more
Daniel Simmons
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
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
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
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
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
Nov 20, 2011 C. rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
Scott Munden
I've always wanted to read Thesiger. He was such an odd duck. I thought Arabian Sands would be a good start. The book is interesting and I wonder to what extent it depicts a world that still exists. At its weakest, it does read like a catalogue of regional tribes and their petty disputes. I'm not sure I'll dig any deeper into Thesiger's oeuvre.
The author travelled in eastern Saudi Arabia and Oman and the Trucial Coast in 1948, one of the first Europeans ever to visit this ultimate of deserts. His observations of pre-oil Beduin life and the landscape of the Empty Quarter will always remain classics, not just of travellers, but descriptions of a time and place which no longer exist. His ability to observe with something close to neutrality is quite commendable. If one wants to know the "roots" of Arab peoples, one could not find a bett ...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
There are some incredible passages in this book - Thesiger was an amazing and thoughtful explorer. Much of what he wrote about his kinship with the Bedu tribes of Arabia is quite poignant given our recent history.

I enjoyed the book up through the end of his first crossing of the Empty Quarter. After that the narrative slowed down considerably and became repetitive, so I stopped reading.
Nasser Al qahtani
من اجمل الكتب اللتي قرأتها يحكي الكثير من الجوانب الاجتماعية لدى سكان الجزيرة العربية

انصح بقرأته

أحاديث حميمية لويلفرد عن الصحراء العربية والبدو وسبب تأليفه الكتاب مع بعض الصور

لم أتوقّع أني سأعجب بهذه المذكرات، غريب حبّ ويلفرد للصحراء والأغرب حينما يتسائل وهو في أشد اللحظات جوعاً وبؤساً مع بدوِ أغراب أنه لايمكن أن يكون هنالك أفضل من هذا المكان.. لاأريد أن أكون في مكان آخر! حب الاستكشاف

بسم الله:
تكلم في بداية الكتاب عن ارتباط حبه لحياة الاستكشاف والمغامرة الصعبة مجهولة النهاية بمولده في اثيوبيا 1910 إزّاء عمل والده هناك وبقي فيها حول 11 سنة حتى عادوا
J. Dunn
This guy was just nuts, in an amazing way. I read his obit in the Guardian awhile back, and had to check out one of his books. He grew up as a foreign service brat in what is now Ethiopia, and then went to school at Eton. Upon graduating at like 22, he promptly decided to go explore a corner of Ethiopia that had never been mapped, because it was populated by cannibalistic tribes. And pulled it off. Then he traveled all over the Sudan and the Sahara, and throughout the Middle East during WWII in ...more
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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...
The Marsh Arabs The Life of My Choice Across the Empty Quarter (Penguin Great Journeys) A Vanished World Among the Mountains: Travels Through Asia

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“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.” 13 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.” 4 likes
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