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The Mammoth Book of Travel in Dangerous Places: Arabia

John Keay

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Prose: non-fiction, Travel writing

Escape from Riyadh - William Gifford Palgrave
A scholar and a solider, a Jesuit and a Jew, a French spy and a British ambassador- Palgrave was a man of contradictions, all of them highly compromised when in 1862-3, fortified by Pius IX's blessing and Napoleon III's cash, he attempted the first west- east crossing of the Arabian peninsular. To steely nerves and a genius for disguise he owed his eventual success; but not before both were sorely tested when, as a Syrian doctor, he became the first European to enter Riyadh. The desert capital of the fanatical Wahabis, dangerous for an infidel at the best of times, was then doubly so as the sons of the ageing King Feisal intrigued for power.

Desert Days - Charles Montagu Doughty
During two years (1875-7) wandering in Central Arabia Doughty broke little new ground; dependant on desert charity, his achievement was simply to have survived. Yet his book, Arabia Deserta, was instantly recognized as a classic. Its eccentric prose proves well suited to that minute observation and experience of Bedouin life which was Doughty's main contribution to exploration. T.E. Lawrence called it "a bible of a kind"; both syntax and subject matter have biblical resonances, as in this description of a day's march, or rahla.

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