Magazine article The Spectator

'Great Desert Explorers', by Andrew Goudie - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Great Desert Explorers', by Andrew Goudie - Review

Article excerpt

The great deserts of the world hold a compelling attraction for a rare breed of men who are 'unwise and curiously planned'. Once under the spell of that seemingly infinite arena of sand and stone, many are helplessly hooked. It is an arena where the sun burns down relentlessly during the day, to be replaced at night by a hauntingly beautiful backdrop of brilliant stars. Where the moon shines with a light which softens the austere outline of rocks and hills and casts a diffused greyness over the desert sands.

This well-organised and beautifully produced book lists many of the men and women who have been hopelessly seduced by the desert's spell; romantics, explorers, adventurers, solitaries and escapees -- all victims of desert seduction -- many who 'travel for lust of knowing what should not be known'.

Neatly divided into areas of the world where vast deserts are found, the concise biographies of great explorers who were the first to venture on to the 'desert's dusty face' are inserted into their respective areas. There are some wonderful quotations; from Wilfrid Blunt's description of the Great Nafud Desert in Saudi Arabia as the colour of 'rhubarb and magnesia', to Lady Blunt's assertion that 'a Persian riding a camel is the most ridiculous sight in the world'. Blunt was the great uncle of Anthony Blunt, whose co-traitors included Kim, the son of another great Arabian explorer, Harry St John Philby. Spying was also an occupation of the extraordinary Gertrude Bell, who combined 'high intelligence and political skill with archaeology and masculine vigour'.

There are 64 entries in all and many of the excellent photographs, maps and line drawings have come from the archives of the Royal Geographical Society.

In the Gobi there is Przhevalsky, who rode unflinchingly and imperiously through the harshest desert, where he discovered the wild horse and the wild camel. …

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