Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival

Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival

by Dean King
4.4 40

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Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King

A masterpiece of historical adventure, Skeletons on the Zahara chronicles the true story of twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815, captured by desert nomads, sold into slavery, and subjected to a hellish two-month journey through the perilous heart of the Sahara.
The western Sahara is a baking hot and desolate place, home only to nomads and their camels, and to locusts, snails and thorny scrub--and its barren and ever-changing coastline has baffled sailors for centuries. In August 1815, the US brig Commerce was dashed against Cape Bojador and lost, although through bravery and quick thinking the ship's captain, James Riley, managed to lead all of his crew to safety. What followed was an extraordinary and desperate battle for survival in the face of human hostility, starvation, dehydration, death and despair.
Captured, robbed and enslaved, the sailors were dragged and driven through the desert by their new owners, who neither spoke their language nor cared for their plight. Reduced to drinking urine, flayed by the sun, crippled by walking miles across burning stones and sand and losing over half of their body weights, the sailors struggled to hold onto both their humanity and their sanity. To reach safety, they would have to overcome not only the desert but also the greed and anger of those who would keep them in captivity.
From the cold waters of the Atlantic to the searing Saharan sands, from the heart of the desert to the heart of man, Skeletons on the Zahara is a spectacular odyssey through the extremes and a gripping account of courage, brotherhood, and survival.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780759509696
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 02/16/2004
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 69,353
File size: 4 MB

About 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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Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
rcbn More than 1 year ago
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.
Tom Honken More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best book i have ever read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Texas-Buckeye More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mooseMe More than 1 year ago
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
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
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.
Shelly_M More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Compelling story and very well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down. I love stories woven around factual history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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