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Posted October 22, 2011
Not as dry as you may think
The first thing that comes to one's mind when thinking about deserts are the vast expenses of sandy dunes, with an occasional palm-tree oasis and a few hardy souls on camel backs traversing them. This romantic image has more than a grain of truth to it, but deserts are in fact very diverse geographical areas. This very short introduction aims to explore deserts and explain what makes them so unique and fascinating. Despite what one may think, deserts as geographical locations are not that easy to define. The prime characteristic of all the deserts is their incredible dryness, so aridity is used as the primary criterion for distinguishing deserts from other areas. Even so, it turns out that there is much more of continuity between deserts and non-deserts than one may think. However, the dryness criterion does distinguish the two of the World's most prominent deserts - the Sahara Desert and the Arabian Desert.
The book's more interesting chapters deal with life and human presence in deserts. Deserts may not be the liveliest of places, but many life forms have managed to evolve strategies of survival suited for this extreme environment. Even more fascinating is the fact that humans have for millennia not only survived but actually thrived in deserts. According to this book, about one billion people live in deserts today. Another fascinating topic covered in this book (albeit very briefly) is the fact that three of the World's major religion - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - have their origins in deserts. There is probably a lot more that can be said about this fact, but it's probably better left for a stand-alone treatment.
On the surface of it deserts may not be the most fascinating geographical location, and writing about them is not bound to elicit a lot of excitement, but they are unique places and this book does a very good job of introducing them to the general readership.
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