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Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival

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"On a calm May morning in 1815, Captain James Riley and the crew of the Commerce left port in Connecticut for an ordinary trading voyage. They could never have imagined what awaited them." Their nightmare began with a dreadful shipwreck off the coast of Africa, a hair-raising confrontation with hostile native tribesmen within hours of being washed ashore, and a hellish confinement in a rickety longboat as they tried, without success, to escape the fearsome coast. Eventually captured by desert nomads and sold into slavery, Riley and his men were
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New York 2004 Hardcover 1 New in new dust jacket. Signed on label from Desert Literary Society at local event in Palm Springs. Books appears unread and there are no markings or ... scratches etc on jacket. Gift quality. Read more Show Less

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Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival

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Overview

"On a calm May morning in 1815, Captain James Riley and the crew of the Commerce left port in Connecticut for an ordinary trading voyage. They could never have imagined what awaited them." Their nightmare began with a dreadful shipwreck off the coast of Africa, a hair-raising confrontation with hostile native tribesmen within hours of being washed ashore, and a hellish confinement in a rickety longboat as they tried, without success, to escape the fearsome coast. Eventually captured by desert nomads and sold into slavery, Riley and his men were dragged along on an insane journey through the bone-dry heart of the Sahara - a region unknown to Westerners. Along the way the Americans would encounter everything that could possibly test them: barbarism, murder, starvation, plagues of locusts, death, sandstorms that lasted for days, dehydration, and hostile tribes that roamed the desert on armies of camels. They would discover ancient cities and secret oases. They would also discover a surprising bond between a Muslim trader and an American sea captain, men who began as strangers, were forced to become allies in order to survive, and, in the tempering heat of the desert, became friends - even as the captain hatched a daring betrayal in order to save his men.
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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Skeletons is a page-turner, replete with gruesome details about thirst, a diet of dried locusts and animal bone marrow, relentless exposure to the sun and the changes in bodily functions that result. King's plot is right out of Homer: Will the stalwart captain and his mates ever see home again? … Even armchair adventurers satiated with exotic travelogues will appreciate heroism amid adversity in this fast-paced account of slow torture -- and an almost-happy ending. — Grace Lichtenstein
Publishers Weekly
When the American cargo ship Commerce ran aground on the northwestern shores of Africa in 1815 along with its crew of 12 Connecticut-based sailors, the misfortunes that befell them came fast and hard, from enslavement to reality-bending bouts of dehydration. King's aggressively researched account of the crew's once-famous ordeal reads like historical fiction, with unbelievable stories of the seamen's endurance of heat stroke, starvation and cruelty by their Saharan slavers. King (Patrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed), who went to Africa and, on camel and foot, retraced parts of the sailors' journey, succeeds brilliantly at making the now familiar sandscape seem as imposing and new as it must have been to the sailors. Every dromedary step thuds out from the pages with its punishing awkwardness, and each drop of brackish found water reprieves and tortures with its perpetual insufficiency. King's leisurely prose style rounds out the drama with well-parceled-out bits of context, such as the haggling barter culture of the Saharan nomadic Arabs and the geological history of Western Africa's coastline. Zahara (King's use of older and/or phonetic spellings helps evoke the foreignness of the time and place) impresses with its pacing, thoroughness and empathy for the plight of a dozen sailors heaved smack-hard into an unknown tribalism. By the time the surviving crew members make it back to their side of civilization, reader and protagonist alike are challenged by new ways of understanding culture clash, slavery and the place of Islam in the social fabric of desert-dwelling peoples. Maps, illus. (Feb. 16) Forecast: A major media campaign, including ads in the New York Times Book Review, USA Today and Time; radio and TV interviews; and a six-city author tour will ignite interest in this captivating adventure tale. The book has earned advance praise from Nathaniel Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea) and Doug Stanton (In Harm's Way). Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1815, 12 men boarded the merchant ship Commerce in Connecticut, bound for the Cape Verde Islands after a brief stopover in Gibraltar. Weather and unfamiliar surroundings, however, caused the ship to wreck on the inhospitable coast of what is now Mauritania. Taken as slaves by regional nomads and separated (some never to be seen again), the dozen sailors endured great hardships. King (Patrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed) rivets with this account of Captain Riley's nine weeks of captivity: traveling inland nearly 800 miles, then back west, and finally north to Morocco, where he was luckily ransomed by an American consul. Referencing Riley's journals and those of crewman Robbin (which became best sellers in their day), King writes an astoundingly researched treatise on Islamic customs, nomadic life, and desert natural history, as well as detailed descriptions of dehydration, starvation, and caloric intake. Included are an 85-title bibliography, detailed maps of the northwest coast of Mauritania and Morocco, a glossary of Arabic terms, and wonderful photographs of King's own trip as he retraced Captain Riley's journey of enslavement. A wonderful, inspiring story of humankind's will to survive in spite of inhospitable conditions and inhumane treatment, this work should be in all public libraries, maritime libraries, and African collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/03.]-Jim Thorsen, Weaverville, NC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The horrendous ordeal of 11 American seamen, shipwrecked on the Atlantic coast of North Africa and then sold into slavery, grippingly chronicled by adventure writer King (Harbors and High Seas, 1996, etc.). The War of 1812 had just ended, and Captain James Riley was hungry to get back to work on the brig Commerce, sailing out of Connecticut to buy cheap and sell dear in the wake of the British wartime blockade. But strange weather and bad luck sent Riley's ship onto the rocks of Atlantic Africa, then more bad luck put him and ten shipmates in the hands of nomads who took them into slavery. What happened over the next two months was so extraordinary that the narrative flies under its own steam, though King ably guides its progression and the reader's absorption, using two firsthand accounts published after the event as his source material. The degree of privation the men suffered was so absurd it's a wonder the nomads kept them at all, for their work value as slaves was scant. Yet there they are: sun-blasted, sand-blasted, wind-blasted, thighs chafed to bleeding ribbons from riding camels, feet shredded to the bone by sharp rocks, so thirsty that drinking urine was a comfort, so hungry they ate pieces of infected flesh that had been cut off the camels and the skin peeling off their own bodies. The men were split up, briefly reunited, then rudely separated; King plays these episodes like stringed instruments upon the reader's taut occupation with the proceedings. A lifetime of misery was packed into two months, after which six of the seamen, led by the worthy Riley, managed to convince a trader to buy them for the bounty he will receive from the European consul in Morocco. A jaw-droppingstory kept on edge, along with the reader: exquisite and excruciating screw-turning. (b&w maps and illustrations) Author tour. Agent: Jody Rein/Jody Rein Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316835145
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 1/15/2004
  • Pages: 320
  • Age range: 13 years
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Meet the Author

Dean King is the author of the national bestseller Skeletons on the Zahara. He has written for many publications, including Men's Journal, Esquire, Garden & Gun, Granta, Outside, New York Magazine, and the New York Times. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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Read an Excerpt

SKELETONS OF THE ZAHARA

A True Story of Survival
By Dean King

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2004 Dean H. King
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-83514-5


Prologue

In his five crossings of the Sahara, Sidi Hamet had never seen worse conditions. Forty days out of Wednoon, the sand had turned as fine as house dust and as hot as coals of fire. With their heavy loads, the camels labored up shifting dunes in spine-buckling bursts, then stumbled down the other side. With each step, the dromedaries thrust in to their knees, their wide, padded feet, designed by Allah to skim over sand, sinking like stones.

Despite his experience on the desert, Hamet had had no say in choosing this, the most direct route to Tombuctoo, about twelve-hundred miles in all, one that would take many months to travel. Having dropped south from Wednoon, then east around the AntiAtlas Mountains in six days, the caravan of a thousand men had halted on the edge of the desert, collecting many tons of the date-size argan fruit. The men had extracted oil from the argan pits to fortify their food. They had roasted the meat of the pits, rolled it into balls, and packed these in tent-cloth sacks to serve as camel fodder and fuel for their fires.?After ten days of preparations, the caravan headed southeast, navigating the trackless waste by moon, sun, and stars.

Hamet and his younger brother Seid, merchants from the north, near the city of Morocco, had only ten camels. Eight were their own and were richly loaded. The other two belonged to Hamet's father-in- law, Sheik Ali, and they carried barley. There were four thousand other camels in the caravan, many of them milk camels to feed the men en route and four hundred to bear the provisions and water. About half belonged to a powerful warlord who was a friend of the caravan's chief, Sidi Ishrel.

Like all successful caravan drivers, Ishrel was tough but just. Imposing and erect of bearing, the Arab leader had flashing eyes beneath an ample turban and a thick beard to his chest. He wore a long white haik of good cloth, befitting his status, drawn tight around his body and crisscrossed by red belts carrying his essentials: a large powder horn, flints, a leather pouch with musket balls, and his scabbard with a broad and burnished scimitar. He carried his musket night and day, always prepared for a sudden attack from the wild bedouins of the desert. His constant nemeses, however, were the terrain and the sun.

For six days, Ishrel's caravan weltered in the deep drifts, the cameleers alternately singing to their camels and goading them with clubs, constantly dashing on foot here and there to square the loads. They gave violent shoves to bulges in woven sacks and tugged on ropes with the full weight of their bodies. For all their efforts, uneven loads were inevitable, causing strains to the camels' joints and bones. It did not take long for an inattentive master to lame a camel, and a lame camel was a dead camel, a communal feast. In that way, Allah provided for them all. It was his will, and there was no compensation for the camel's owner in this world. "We only feed you for Allah's sake," says the Quran. "We desire from you neither reward nor thanks."

On the seventh day, the irifi roared in from the southeast, and the sand swirled. Sidi Ishrel ordered the camels to be unloaded and camp made. In a hurry, the Arabs stacked their goods-iron, lumber, amber, shotguns, knives, scimitars, bundles of haiks, white cloth and blue cloth, blocks of salt, sacks of tobacco and spices - in a great pile. They circled up the camels and made them lie down.

All around them the sand blew so hard that the men could not open their eyes, and if they did, they could not see their companions or their camels even if they were nearly touching them. It was all they could do to breathe. Lying on their stomachs, Hamet and Seid inhaled through the sheshes wrapped around their heads and across their faces, which they pressed into the sand.

They did not fear much for their camels, which have their own defenses: deep-set, hirsute ears and long eyelashes that protect against flying grit, collapsible nostrils that add moisture to the searing air they breathe, and eyes with lids so thin that they can close them during a sandstorm and still see. They did not worry about them overheating either, for camels have a unique ability to absorb heat in their bodies while their brains remain insulated and stable. They conserve their body water by not sweating or panting, instead retaining the heat during the day and releasing it later. On bitterly cold nights, their owners often took refuge in their warmth. As all good cameleers knew, these prized beasts were as impervious to the abuse of the desert as it was possible to be, and they were as long-lived as they were ornery, some reaching half a century in age. Many would outlive their masters.

During the long hours of howling wind, Hamet recalled his reluctance to join Ishrel's caravan. After he had returned to Wednoon from a previous Tombuctoo caravan, which had lasted eighteen moons, his father-in-law had punished him severely for not bringing him a suitable return on the goods he had sent. The caravan, nearly as large as this one, had traveled south on a western route, near the sea, where the poor coastal tribes were too weak to attack them. They had fed, watered, and rested the camels before leaving the north. Only three hundred camels of the three thousand died of thirst and fatigue on the journey, but Hamet and Seid lost two of their four. They returned with two slaves, gold dust worth six camels, and jewelry for their wives. Hamet's father-in-law, Sheik Ali, had demanded both slaves as part of his share. When Hamet refused, Ali destroyed his home and took back his wife along with their children.

Hamet had then fled back to his tribal home near Morocco, a depressed city still feeling the devastation of the Great Plague of 1800. He had sworn off the risky life of a caravan merchant and had begun accumulating livestock. A year later, Ali returned his family to him, but Hamet stayed in the north. Then, after another two years, a friend who had been with them on the caravan persuaded the two brothers to try again. Time had washed away the memory of the cuffing sands and the sting of Ali's unjust demand and swift reprisal.

Drawn by an unnameable urge to return to the desert and counting on better luck this time, Seid and Hamet had sold their cattle and sheep, bought merchandise to trade, and joined this caravan.

And now this. For two days, sand filled their long-sleeved, hooded wool djellabas and formed piles on their backs until they shifted to ease the weight. Hamet and Seid and the rest of the traders and cameleers beseeched, "Great and merciful Allah, spare our lives!"

When the wind at last halted and the sand fell to the ground, three hundred men lay dead on the desert. Hamet and Seid, who were strong, rose and joined the rest of the survivors in prayers of thanksgiving to Allah for saving them. They spent two more days burying the dead men, always on their sides, facing east toward Mecca, and topping their graves with thorny brush to keep the jackals away. All but two hundred of the camels had been spared. As the men dug them out, the beasts rose, grunting and snapping madly, weak-kneed, snorting out the beetlelike parasites that grew in their nostrils. There were no plants for the camels to eat where they had stopped, so the men watered and fed them from the dwindling provisions.

For twenty-four more days they racked through deep, hot sand. To keep the camels from flagging under their loads, they gradually dumped tons of the salt they carried for trading. Although they encountered no more sandstorms, they found little forage for the suffering camels, whose humps grew flaccid and sagged. Before they had even reached Haherah, a celebrated watering place perhaps two-thirds of the way to Tombuctoo, they had lost three hundred more camels.

As they neared the oasis, those who had been there before described its verdure and big wells to those who had not. From the lush oasis they would, replenished, continue on to Tombuctoo and its great riches. They would return to the north with elephants' tusks, gold dust and jewelry, gum senegal, ostrich feathers, and many slaves. A fine male slave could be bought for a two-dollar haik and sold back home for a hundred dollars. Yet now thirst coursed so deeply through their veins that greed for Tombuctoo's treasures no longer motivated them. They dreamed not of gold dust but only of purging their cracked throats of dust. To encourage them, Sidi Ishrel let it be known that they would rest the caravan there for twenty days.

When they arrived in Haherah, the news spread like flying sand to the back of the caravan, reaching many of the men before they had even set foot in the much-anticipated valley: There had been no rain in over a year. Haherah's famous wells were dry.

The cameleers panicked. For many, like Hamet and Seid, the camels and goods with them represented their whole fortune, all they possessed for the future support of their wives and children. The caravan disintegrated as men abandoned their stations and set out on their own, frantically scouring the brown valley for water.

After two fruitless days of searching, they realized that such an effort was hopeless. The despondent men made their way back to the caravan, where Sidi Ishrel marshaled them together in teams to remove sand and stones from the old dry wells and mine them deeper. For five days, the teams dug in unison but still found no water. Sidi Ishrel concluded that they had no hope of salvaging the caravan. They could only try to save themselves, so he ordered all but three hundred of the best camels to be slaughtered. They would drink their blood and the fluid stored in their rumens, and they would eat and dry as much of the meat as they needed.

Though aggrieved at what his losses would be, Hamet believed that this was, truthfully, their only choice. Thirty elders selected the camels to be spared, and the slaughter of the rest began. In the heat of the moment, with blood spilling from bellowing beasts and swirling dung dust burning the men's eyes, coating their tongues, and inflaming their minds, they began to quarrel. At first they only brandished their scimitars threateningly, but it was as if death must beget death. Once the crescent-shaped blades clashed, friends joined friends. There was no escaping the feverish battle that resulted. It engulfed the men like a fire sucking in oxygen, leaping from one pocket to the next. Some maimed and killed to slake their helpless frustration; others fought back in self-defense. Seid was stabbed in the arm with a dagger and badly wounded. In their fury, some of the men murdered Sidi Ishrel. More than two hundred others died that day. The survivors drank their blood and butchered five hundred camels for their fluid.

Early that evening, in the exhaustion and despair after the bloodbath, Hamet decided to gather his friends and leave Haherah on his own. He had been made a captain in his previous caravan and knew how to navigate the desert. He and his wounded brother spread the word among their allies to quietly prepare to depart that night. Hamet and Seid killed four of their six remaining camels and fed their blood and water to the two strongest. Hamet packed as much of their barley and merchandise as they could reasonably carry, for they could not arrive at Tombuctoo empty-handed.

Around midnight, Hamet led thirty men and thirty-two camels silently out of the valley into the inky, cloud-dark night. The plain roared with Allah's thunder as they went, but no rain fell.

North of the Niger River in the land Seid and Hamet called Soudan (now Mali), the merchants of Tombuctoo searched the horizon anxiously for the season's caravan. The famous walled city brimmed with fresh stores of gold and slaves to be exchanged for the goods they coveted from the far side of the great void. Once a seasonal camp of the central-Saharan Tuareg nomads, Tombuctoo had risen to prominence in the fourteenth century as the continent's chief marketplace and a locus of African Islam, with learned men and fine books. But its riches also made it a target, and it was sacked by Moroccan invaders in ????, precipitating a slow but steady decline. Nonetheless, two centuries later, the caravans still came and were sometimes even larger than the one Hamet and Seid had set out in. When the brothers' small company finally limped into Tombuctoo, a total of twenty-one men and twelve camels had survived. They were weary, starving, broke, and alone. No one from their once mighty caravan had preceded them and no one followed.

It was a land of much hardship, and there was little remorse to spare for lost foreigners and even less sympathy for those who had had the fortune to be spared by Allah. The king of Tombuctoo conscripted Hamet, Seid, and ten of their companions and dispatched them in a caravan into the interior. They worked for nearly a year, each earning two haiks and some gold, and then joined a caravan of merchants from Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Fez, returning to the north with turbans, ivory, gum, gold, and two thousand slaves.

On the deep desert, a large party of Tuareg, the Sahara's most feared raiders, armed with muskets, spears, and scimitars, had lain waiting for them for months. They attacked quietly at night, holding their fire until the last minute and then pouring a furious storm of musket balls into the circled-up caravan. Hamet took one in the thigh. One of the Tuareg stabbed Seid in the chest with a dagger. The caravaneers fought for their lives. The raiders killed 230 men and wounded many more before being repulsed, but both brothers survived. Seid assuaged his anger by helping himself to one dead raider's fine musket.

Two years after they had set out in Sidi Ishrel's grand caravan, Hamet and Seid returned to Wednoon with one camel and a trifling amount of merchandise. Sheik Ali had once again failed to profit. This time, he cast Hamet and his brother out onto the Sahara with bundles of haiks and blue cloth to trade with the fierce Kabyles, the desert tribes who raised and raided for camels, hunted ostrich, and on occasion salvaged shipwrecks. Ali had instructed the brothers to trade for ostrich feathers to sell in Swearah or Morocco.

Hamet and Seid wandered south some three hundred miles. One sweltering late-September afternoon in 1815, they spied a cluster of worn-out tents and decided to seek shelter from the sun. They rode into the camp, where to their surprise, they discovered among some Arab women two Christian sailors. One of them was the captain of a merchant ship that had wrecked on the shores of Cape Bojador.

Through his deference to them and his overriding concern for his men, the captain quickly demonstrated that he was a brave and worthy man, no matter how diminished by the Sahara. He approached them with a proposition: He would pay them many pieces of silver if they would render him and his crew, who were scattered nearby among the nomads, a service.

Continues...


Excerpted from SKELETONS OF THE ZAHARA by Dean King Copyright © 2004 by Dean H. King. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
The Officers and Crew of the Connecticut Merchant Brig Commerce, 1815
Places
Prologue: 1812 3
1 A Good Yankee Crew 13
2 Omens 27
3 Shipwreck on Cape Bojador 40
4 A Hostile Welcome 53
5 Misery in an Open Boat 66
6 Purgatory 85
7 Captured 98
8 Thirst 109
9 The Sons of the Father of Lions 125
10 Sidi Hamet's Feast 141
11 Is It Sweet? 163
12 Honor Among Thieves 187
13 Skeletons 206
14 Wednoon and the Atlas 217
15 Valley of the Locusts 239
16 Sheik Ali 253
17 The Captain Has Long Been Dead 261
18 From the Mouth of a Moor 280
19 The Road to Swearah 292
Epilogue: Homecomings 304
App The Publishing of Riley's Narrative 317
Glossary of Arabics Terms 320
Notes 322
Selected Bibliography 335
Acknowledgments 341
Index 344
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 39 )
Rating Distribution

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(23)

4 Star

(13)

3 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 26, 2011

    Amazing story, one of the best true stories available

    If you are thinking about picking this one up, stop thinking and do it. Intelligently written, this is an amazing survival story that rivals The Ice Master, except rather than the cold arctic tundra, the tale unfolds in the Sahara desert in Africa. Dean King brings the well defined characters to life in this story of a unfortunate adventure. After grounding their brig on the shores of Africa, Capt Riley and his men are taken as slaves, starved, and traded for camels, food, money and anything else the nomadic natives can think of. It's a story not only of survival, but human endurance and will under extreme torturous conditions. Amazing what men will do when faced with the unimaginable. "Skeletons" is as well written and researched as Hillenbrand's book on Seabiscuit.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2005

    Stop thinking about it! Just get this book!

    I love to read, but am a slow reader. Takes me a while to get through a book, but not this one! So incredibly fascinating that I got through it in 3 nights. The book immediately draws you right in and you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief that anyone can endure what these men went through. If this book were a movie, it would be a year's best with all it contains: intrigue, deception, amazing courage and will, suspense, shipwreck, friendship based on self-serving motives that turns into one of honor and respect, unbelievable methods of survival, gut wrenching drama of human suffering taken to its limits, a thrilling ending combining tears of joy and tears of sadness mingled in with pride. I had never known of 'Rais' James Riley before, but now I wonder why every kid in America does not know about him and the men of the 'Commerce' . What more can be said? A truly great book. For anyone wanting a story that will grab you like nothing else can, you don't have to go too far, just get this book!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2005

    Another View of Slavery

    I read this 300+ page book in one day. That is a record for me. I could not put this story down! I had to find out what happened to the crew of the Commerce. Great research by the author, outstanding editing,...a clear picture of the suffering, slavery and captivity of American sailors by Islamic nomads in 1815 North Africa. Should be read by all American history students.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2004

    Great true story ! Abraham Lincoln considered it one of his favorites !

    I would like to say that I have had a form of schizophrinia called rapid thought since 1988 that knocked out my attention span and concentration. Ever since then all I could do is try to retrain myself to read. But in the last 17 years I have only found one other non-fiction book that has kept my attention span and interest so strong as Mr. Kings book 'Skeletons on the Zahara'. Except for the bible I have never found a book so true and interesting until now. Better than fiction. I love the faith the men hold onto, it is very inspirational. I love the depth the book goes into. After you read it you will come away with a little knowledge of the history of the people , some background info on the geography where the story takes you, the plants and animals that survive in the Zahara and etc. The book to me is very complete. It has even inspired me to take up a little spanish and maybe even learn a little arabic. I wish I could write the writer himself. If Mr. King reads this I would like to thank him for his writing.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 1, 2013

    Great,easy reading. Try it, you'll like it.

    Fast read. East coast of Africa 1815, sailing ship wrecks against the coast, there are many survivors, some make it to the end. Oh! What a story, from the time they set sail to earn a living to their final rescue, barely alive: much suffering, cruelty, the power of faith, the time immemorial practice of slavery, this time, of white skinned people.
    You get a clear view of how hard life can really be sometimes.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2013

    FANTASTIC

    This is the best book i have ever read

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Highly recommended

    If you like survival stories this is really the book for you. The author updates the language of the original account by the survivor of a merchant shipwreck on the coast of North Africa in the early 1800s.
    Really riveting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Awe Inspiring

    This true story of disaster and survival reads more like a novel than a ture account of ship wreck, slavery, torture, and survival. It is little wonder that the account of Captain Riley of the brig Commerce, whose narrative is the basis for this book, inspited a your Abraham Lincoln so deeply.

    The story is very appropriate for today as well. In it we can see how the customs of today's world so much in the news from the Middle East is not new but centuries old. This book is as exciting and as stimulating to me as any Tom Clancy novel, but the difference are that these events really happened and they were not unusual in the world of the early ninteenth century. It is an inspiring courage of danger, compassion, but above all faith.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2005

    A suspenseful page turner, nonfiction at its finest

    This book was hard to put down and was extremely well-written. As great nonfiction can do, it both entertains and enlightens. My father and husband also loved it! I will save this to read again, and to share with my sons when they get older. Reminds me of Caroline Alexander's book on Shackleton!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2004

    A tale with grit

    After a frustrating run with a dozen or so mediocre books (three best-selling thrillers, two famous name memoirs, three populist science and the universe curios and assorted easy-digest sex and violence trash teasers) I've read TWO brilliant books in the one week! SKELETONS OF THE ZAHARA was one of them. Survival stories can be a real drag after a while, as the miseries begin to mount with no end, but King has managed to make this tale sing with the excitement of legend. There are times when there's something spiritual about the trials of these men, especially when they go out of their minds and into a trippy state with thirst and anxiety. A superb tale. The other book that has simply stunned me is IN THE GHOST COUNTRY. It's about Peter Hillary's heart-breaking journey to the South Pole, the loneliest and most disturbing oddysey of his life on the edge. Hillary has survived where many, many of his friends have died in the mountains -- and many of them who were at his side at the time. On the body-wrecking and mind-warping haul to the bottom of the world, the ghosts of friends and family rise up to walk with him. Shocking, sad, captivating and a very trippy experience. Too many amazing stories to go into here.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2004

    A Great Story - and It's True

    If you read about Shackleton last summer, read this book next winter! Dean King has obviously learned a few lessons from Patrick O'Brien, and puts them to use to tell an epic tale.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2014

    very interesting

    This story shows the cruelty of man along with the compassion of man. I loved the discriptions of the treatmeant and hardships of the Sahara. I will be looking for pther books by dean king

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  • Posted August 9, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Anne Boling for Readers' Favorite Skeletons On The

    Reviewed by Anne Boling for Readers' Favorite

    Skeletons On The Zahara was written by Dean King and read by Michael Prichard. This is the true story of twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815. Captain Riley and eleven American crewmen set sail from Connecticut on what should have been an uneventful voyage. However, they were shipwrecked on the west coast of the Sahara where they faced aggressive, thieving nomads. They managed to escape by taking to their longboats. When they ran out of food and water, they were forced to land south of Bojador. They were captured by tribesmen who made them slaves. Riley is eventually captured by Sidi Hamet. Riley convinced Hamet that he knew people that would pay a ransom for him and his crew. Hamet promised to slit Riley’s throat if the ransom was not paid. The hardships the crew and their captain faced are extreme: sunburn, dehydration, hunger, and pain. The captain weighed only ninety pounds when he was rescued, having lost a hundred and fifty pounds.

    Dean King, author of Skeletons On The Zahara, studied the firsthand accounts of Captain James Riley and crewman Archibald Robbins. After reading Riley’s account, Dean King followed the man’s journey. It is amazing that the men survived their ordeal. The details of how they survived will shock and appall many. This is a heart wrenching tale filled with riveting details. Dean King brings Captain Riley and his crew to life. This is a review of the audio book. I highly recommend this book.

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  • Posted May 17, 2014

    Paperback (edit) review This book is one of the very best boo

    Paperback (edit)
    review This book is one of the very best books I've ever read. It is the true story of twelve American sailors shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815. They faced incredible odds when they were captured by Arab nomads and sold into slavery. They crossed the Sahara (called the Zahara back then) and faced starvation, beatings, dehydration, sunburn, and hostile tribes. They did incredible things in order to survive. I started this book and was about 40 pages into it and put it down for a week as I was very busy. Yesterday afternoon I picked it back up again and I read until I finished the book at 2:30 am. I could not put it down. It felt as if I was with the sailors every step of the way. I was anxiously awaiting their fate. The author did a great job of telling this true tale of extreme survival in a far off land, in a culture that is so different from the American culture. This is a GREAT read!!! I highly reccomend it. If I could give it 10 stars, I would!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2014

    Thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating story. Sailors shipwrecked o

    Thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating story. Sailors shipwrecked on the west coast of Africa leave the dangers of a turbulent sea for the brutality of slavery in the desert. Bit of a slow start with some historical background, but once the Commerce sets sail the story does not let up. Riley is eventually acquired by a master who can identify somewhat with the Captain's experiences. Interesting to see how the Arabs navigate the desolate stretches of desert in much the same way as the sailors navigate the vast ocean. Wish Spielberg would option this story -- it would make an amazing adventure film. Although Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips gave an outstanding performance, his story has nothing on Captain Riley!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2013

    Good one

    Some personal and political opinions of the author are obvious, which readers of history can often recognize and hopefully set aside. All in all a fascinating story thats hard to put down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2013

    Excellent

    Compelling story and very well written.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    Another excellent story from King!

    I couldn't put it down. I love stories woven around factual history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2013

    This is a riveting true story of a shipwrecked crew on the west

    This is a riveting true story of a shipwrecked crew on the west coast of Africa. It is gritty and real and complex. Ultimately, it provides an amazing lesson in bridging religious and cultural gaps and  provides lessons that are useful to examine in our current East-West relations. 

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  • Posted June 16, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Get me outta here! Make no mistake, this is well written and (a

    Get me outta here!

    Make no mistake, this is well written and (as far as I know) researched book. So you can imagine my surprise when, 200 pages in, I suddenly couldn't take it anymore.

    I realized I was forcing myself to read this, like it was a math textbook. If other people can make it all the way through and enjoy it, good for them! I wish I could have persevered, but I grew tired of the endless plodding, the merciless heat, the horrific sun burns and relentless thirst. Ugh. I feel bad about it, but I just couldn't do it anymore.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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