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Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  240 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" Seasonal Pick

An American's life-or-death adventure to the salt mines of the Sahara Desert
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 1st 2006 by Lyons Press
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really liked it 4.00  · 
Rating details
 ·  240 ratings  ·  47 reviews

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Dec 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, six-stars
This book is amazing! Men of Salt is a role model of what every travel book should be, an exotic fairy tale, but real.
This book is amazing! I know I said it before, but I need to say it again - AMAZING! Men of Salt is informative without being overwhelming, imaginative without being falsifying, descriptive but not overly so, and so deliciously perfect it hurts. I learned so much about the Sahara from this book. It's all I've been talking about for days. I've gone over every sentence of this book
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. love love love. The author portrays the Malians he meets with such candor and subtle love, which is exactly how everyone who ever spends time in Mali feels. His description of the trek across the desert, peppered with descriptions of the dunes to reflections on his meals, dreams, relationships, goals is so well done I am transported back to Mali (Peace Corps) and both thankful that I've been to Timbuktu so I have a sense of what he's talking about and that I will never, ever ha ...more
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best travel+adventure narratives I have read. A very enjoyable book to read.

Books of this sort ideally have a number of ingredients, ideally balanced so that the shifting back and forth between them isn't distracting (or even annoying). While the main focus is typically on the description of the travel in a narrative, the author needs to provide enough background about himself to provide the narrative context and to provide some historical and other description of where the tr
Kat Kiddles
Jul 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
There’s something so empowering about seeing the extraordinary in the everyday. Salt is something we so readily take for granted. Doctors advise us to limit it for the sake of our hearts, restaurants feel pressured to overuse it in a depressing attempt to please the ravenous appetites of over-consumption and greed, while artisans still rely on it to cure the meats and salt the fish that we nostalgically consume in a futile attempt to reconnect to a world of handcrafted dishes and face-to-face co ...more
Mar 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
I saw this book on display at the library and was intrigued by it. The author travels by camel across about 500 miles of open desert to a working salt mine. I was amazed at the skills of the guide, the serviceability of the camels, the know-how of the nomadic people. There is wonderful description of the desert, a bit of humor, and interesting cultural and historical information about that part of the world. Very readable, very enlightening.
May 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fast read for me! A good sign since I'm such a slow reader. A glimpse into a place I will never visit. Michael very respectful of all he encountered - people, environment, camels. Have discovered his photos on the web. Beautiful.
Zora O'Neill
Apr 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Really fascinating. I missed my subway stop both ways because I was so engrossed. Particularly good background on Tuareg culture.
Cathy Kristiansen
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent account of an adventurous trip across the Sahara, by an American traveler fulfilling a dream. You feel his awkwardness and pain from the camel riding, sense his frustration at his limited ability to communicate and being kept in the dark about changing plans, and also see through him the beauty of the desert and an ancient lifestyle that, although not on the endangered list quite yet, can hardly survive more than a few decades. He mulls the dilemma of wanting to preserve the deep ro ...more
Galactic Hero
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Benanav recounts a 5-week camel round trip from Timbuktu to salt mines in the middle of the Sahara, on which he was accompanied by his guide, Walid, and various other "azalai" (salt traders).

Saharan salt caravans not being anything resembling an area of personal expertise, the novelty of this story and setting were the primary appeal to me. Still, there's only so much story to be milked from slogging through dune after dune with stone agers you can barely understand. Not a trip I'd ever conside
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An enjoyable and educational look at the salt caravans crossing the Sahara. Benanav's descriptions of the sunrises, sunsets and surrounding landscapes as he crosses a truly inhospitable place are breathtaking.
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was the first book I felt I couldn't put down for at least one year. I enjoyed the author's sense of humor. His writing style made me feel like I was taking the journey with him.
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Finished this book in about 24 hours. It fit perfectly with the unit I am currently teaching my kids, about ancient Mali, built around the salt/gold trade.
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Too soon for a definitive rating, however I am enjoying the premise and thinking about how ancient the location and the ritual are, wondering where I can get the disposable income to make my own trek. The narration showed insight and suggested the author got lots of time to contemplate both during and after the journey as he made sense of his experience and give a realistic portrayal of what it would be like to be the tourist on deck for the real experience and story of this phenomena.
Mary Overton
"As though we'd entered a different room in the desert, the scenery changed dramatically. Here, rows of red sand ridges poured like ribs from both sides of a spine of ancient black rock. A few flat-topped mesas abruptly broke the northern horizon line, jutting more than a thousand feet from the desert floor....
".... Since we were in the midst of the most stunning terrain we had yet crossed, I asked Walid and Baba if they, too, thought it was beautiful.
"They each grimaced involuntarily, looked at
Jul 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Michael Benanav's book, Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of white Gold, turned out to be a complete and wonderful surprise to me. I picked it from a challenge list for July's reading and I am so glad I did. I don't read many travel memoirs but this one is not just that alone. Benanav combines some history of both the Sahara and the salt trade with the retelling of his travels with the Tuareg tribesmen from Timbuktu to Taoudenni in Mali. Intent on joining the salt caravan and spend ...more
Jul 29, 2011 added it
This book is at its best when Benanav describes his adventures. There are beautifully written sections focusing on the stark landscapes of the Sahara and on his firsthand experiences digging in the remote salt mines of Mali. The narrative provides some insights into what it takes to survive in the desert as well as some unexpected humor regarding the food Benanav ate during the trip.

However, I have to dock the author a couple of stars for his clumsy attempts to draw bigger conclusions about the
Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Michael Benanav is a writer, photographer, and adventurer whose account of traveling across the Sahara in a camel caravan is fascinating to read. Starting from Timbuktu in Mali, they trek 450 miles to northern Mali to a salt mining town named Taoudenni, in the middle of nowhere. Michael is fluent in French and speaks some Arabic. He travels with a guide named Walid, whose ability to plot a route to their destination through the vast Sahara amazes Michael. On their return trip, the camels carry ...more
Jul 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa
This was not bad as someone's acount of thier trip to the Taoudeni salt mines. It did not have a lot history, or background reasearch and that's okay if it wasn't inteded too. There was however one glaring error that made me cringe from pg. 6 where if first apeared to the end of the book. He states that Azali is a camel driver and uses it as such. It is NOT a camel driver it is the salt caravan. It coveres the whole process from the preparation to the treck to obtaining the salt at the mines to ...more
Jan 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Men of Salt. Michael Benanav writes a wonderful account of his journey with a camel caravan in 2003. He joined a caravan to get slabs of salt from salt mines outside a small village called Taoudenni in Mali. The route stretched across the barren desert 450 miles to Timbuktu! Wells were few and far between. On the return trip the camels went 12 days without any water. When they were given water they sucked up gallons of it until their stomachs were swollen. The trip was brutal,(sometimes travelli ...more
Oct 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A book for an older reader, but nonetheless, very interesting! Nonfiction. The author, Michael Benanav, loves to travel and loves adventure in remote areas of the world. In this book he travels to Timbuku, Mali to join a camel caravan with the nomadic people, the Taureg. These are the people that travel to the salt mines and bring back slabs of precious salt on their camels. This is know n as the Caravan of White Gold. He spends 5 weeks in an incredible difficult climate of the Sahara desert, on ...more
Oct 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: school-2k8-2k9
This is one of the few non-fiction books I have read. It is about the salt caravans in the Saharan desert. The author chronicles his journey into unfamiliar territory. His stories include his personal revelations, getting over the language barrier and earning his keep in a land unfamiliar to him. He questions himself and those around him wondering what he was thinking when he decided to spend five weeks in the desert.

Interesting concept. Lots of interesting things happen while he is there. It i
i really enjoyed this book, and waffled back and forth between wishing i was on a camel trek adventure and being grateful i wasn't.

let's be honest- a book about spending 5 weeks- most of which was almost completely alone- in the sahara has the potential to be rather boring. this wasn't at all, and even the insertions of the author's own thoughts helped keep hours and hours of riding on the back of a camel from putting me to sleep.

the little glimpses into the lives of the nomads, the salt miners
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing story. I read it when I was on BBYA as an adult book for young adults. It was not to be put down...had to read until I was finished. Salt is "white gold" and the author traveled with the caravans that cross the Sahara to the mines in Mali. It is incredible to think that for 1000s of years men (usually men) have faced these perils to get salt. Before leaving Timbuktu Benanav has to sign a statement that he understands that if anything happens, there is no "phone a friend" to r ...more
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
I first learned about this book from one of those 'Favourite books from 2013' lists (this one was at World Weaver Press' blog --> Since one of my goals this year is to read more non-fiction it sounded like a good fit. And it really, really was. This is a travel memoir, but it's also a really GOOD story, and I felt like it truly introduced me to a place I'll never likely see in my lifetime (the Sahara). Fantastic reading, the pages flew by.
Jun 17, 2010 rated it liked it
"That wealth is not a prerequisite for joy or self-respect;that each moment is ours in which to create delight, regardless of our circumstances; that living in balance with the natural world is the key to long term survival; that it's possible to embrace tradition and modernity for what they each have to offer, without forsaking either."

I can brew tea in the Sahara :)
Robert Kinosian
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting book, a good look at nomad life in the Sahara through the travelogue of one man who joins a caravan to the most desolate spot on Earth. What could be dryer than the middle of the Sahara? Only a salt mine in the middle of the Sahara. The nomad life is not as desolate and soul-destroying as you might imagine, but it's not over-romanticized either.
Jun 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Interesting adventure--I gave the book four stars rather than three because of a fantastic description of the author waking up one morning. If you remove the tremendous physical pain from riding a camel across a desert and the Malian man who makes tea for him, it's an exact description of how I feel about waking up on weekdays.
Oct 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure I would have picked up this book but of rthe strong recommendation of my daughter's 7th grade core teacher. It is an amazing journey -- one I can't imagine taking myself. Special bonus is author's close connection to local Del Rey mom ...
Diane Robinson
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
I really thought this book would make me feel better about the summer of 2011 in Kansas, but Saharan temps were only 10 or so degrees higher than ours, and their nights were MUCH cooler - even COLD!!! I ended up being jealous. Very interesting book, though.
Christina Hurley
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Who knew that actual salt mines still existed today. This book is fascinating -- how the camel drivers have a clue where they are going amid a sea of sand is just unimaginable. I'm not a big non-fiction fan -- but loved this book.
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“Camels can go many weeks without drinking anything at all. The notion that they cache water in their humps is pure myth—their humps are made of fat, and water is stored in their body tissues. While other mammals draw water from bloodstreams when faced with dehydration, leading to death by volume shock, camels tap the water in their tissues, keeping their blood volume stable. Though this reduces the camel’s bulk, they can lose up to a third of their body weight with no ill effects, which they can replace astonishingly quickly, as they are able to drink up to forty gallons in a single watering.” (pp.69-70)” 5 likes
“You travel faster alone, but farther together.” 4 likes
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