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Sahara: A Natural History

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  91 ratings  ·  16 reviews
In the parched and seemingly lifeless heart of the Sahara desert, earthworms find enough moisture to survive. Four major mountain ranges interrupt the flow of dunes and gravel plains, and at certain times waterfalls cascade from their peaks. Even the sand amazes: massive dunes can appear almost overnight, and be gone just as quickly. We think we know the Sahara, the larges ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 1st 2002 by Walker Books (first published 2002)
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 ·  91 ratings  ·  16 reviews

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Tim Martin
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature, reviewed, africa
_Sahara_ by Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle is an interesting and thorough book on the natural and human history of the Sahara. Very informative and comprehensive in scope, the authors tackled a variety of subjects relating to a land known also as the Endless Emptiness or the Great Nothingness.

The Sahara is vast, stretching from the "dried-blood-red cliffs" of Mauritania on the Atlantic coast to the "bleached bone" of Egypt's Eastern Desert on the Red Sea, from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco
Dec 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anthro, 2000s, africa
The following quotes represent what I sought ... the writing by Villiers and Hirtle flowed clearly, encouraging me to read far more than intended.

“In Chad … shells as large as dinner plates litter the former riverbed, as do the fossilized bones of fish six feet or more in length. Paleolithic fishing settlements dating back fifty thousand years … stone harpoon-heads … desert ancient bottoms of Lake Chad …

Nile: “The end of the last glacial period, about fifteen thousand years ago, was everywhere
Lierin Falzoni
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely beautiful portrayal of the vast geography and cultures embraced within the boarders if the Saraha. The authors ask questions that I never would have even considered. "Where is all of the sand from, anyway?" among the ones that stood out to me.

Highly recommend, especially ahead of any trip that you might be taking to one of the region's nations. If only to give yourself a great background on the desert's geography and ecology.
Aug 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: everyone!
Shelves: nature, non-fiction
I enjoyed the chapters about the physical nature of the Sahara much more than the chapters about the peoples of the Sahara. I think that it came down to an impossible task, which was to summarize the histories of dozens of different tribes, invaders, and cities all in a single section of a single book. By necessity the coverage of each group/city had to be brief, and this gave very little feeling for what they were really like. The nature chapters, however, were outstanding.
Martin Budd
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book well worth investing time and effort in. There is some quite technical detail on the geology and structure of the desert itself and I would have liked to have read a little more about specific individuals lives and personal interactions but it is a good solid read and with an Amazon fire or similar to help illustrate places and people its a jolly good read.
Forgive me for saying this, but it's a bit...dry.
The authors clearly intend to conjure the sweep of the Sahara through languorous prose, piling descriptor after descriptor onto each sentence, sometimes adding random facts, or backtracking and changing the topic of the sentence entirely, leading to something overstuffed with information and yet oddly incomplete, no thought having been fully developed, only the haze of romanticized description remaining to mask the essential infodump nature of the
Apr 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a wonderful read - at least for one with a (healthy!) obsession with the Sahara. The life of the great desert, as its subtitle goes, is divided into two parts: The Place Itself which is about the geography and natural history and The People which is rather self-explanatory.

The part on geography is especially notable for debunking several myths about the desert - especially that it is just a huge sea of sand (sand in fact covers only c.15% of the Sahara and the rest is mountains and mass
Marie  Ash-Evans
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Natural history of the Sahara; fascinating read. Author is a journalist with a definite geographic bent to his nature. This is one of several of his and his often co-author Sheila Hirtle's books that I have read. If you are interested in natural history, geology, anthropology and/or geography, you will enjoy this book - you will also enjoy it if you are just naturally curious about the wider world in which we live.
Mar 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Initially I thought how interesting could a book about a large empty desert be?

How wrong. This book was absolutely fascinating and enthralling in every sense of the word. The subject matter is certainly not empty nor desolate, but a rich ecosystem and cultural melting pot in many respects.

I look forward to reading it again.
May 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book lives up to its title. The authors re-tell the story of the Sahara from earliest times to the present. Did you know that there are massive amounts of evidence that show the Sahara, as recently as 13,000 years ago had a climate like the American/Canadian great plains or even moister? The salt trade still flourishes. The Tuareg are still blue. Read this book and find out.
K.A. Doore
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014-reads, favorites
Very thorough and well-written overview of the Sahara - not only its natural history (how it was formed, etc), but the history of its people and cultures. A good place to start when researching the Sahara for the first time.
Sep 23, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of the movie Ishtar; homesick djinns
Well-written summary of the entire Sahara region -- geography, history and ethnography. Great place to start if you have a general interest, but if you want more in-depth information (or if you've already watched several Discovery/History Channel specials about it), you'll want to look elsewhere.
Nov 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Dec 28, 2012 marked it as put-aside  ·  review of another edition
This book requires more maps. Somewhat frustrating to read without maps to give me a sense of place.
May 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
interesting topic, but not the smoothest read...
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Born in South Africa, Marq de Villiers is a veteran Canadian journalist and the author of thirteen books on exploration, history, politics, and travel, including Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource (winner of the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction). He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Moscow and through Eastern Europe and spent many years as editor and then publisher of Tor ...more

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