The Sahara is the quintessence of isolation, epitomizing both remoteness and severity of environment unlike any other place on the face of the earth. Replete with myths and fictions, it is a wild land, dotted with oases and camel trains trudging through sand dunes that roll like the waves on a sea, as far as the distant horizon. But this is just part of the picture. The largest desert in the world, the Sahara ranges from the river Nile running through Egypt and Sudan in the east, to the Atlantic coast from Morocco to Mauritania in the west; stretching from the Atlas Mountains and the shores of the Mediterranean in the north, to the fluid Sahelian fringe that delineates the desert in the south.
Invaders and traders have come and gone for millennia, but the Sahara is also the place that some people call home. While larger than the United States, this vast area contains only three million people: Africans and Arabs, Berber and Bedu, Tuareg and Tebu. Eamonn Gearon explores the history, culture, and terrain of a place whose name is familiar to all, but known to few.
Conquered and Cursed: from the 50,000-strong army of Cambyses, swallowed in a sandstorm in the sixth century BC, to the US Marines' first foreign engagement, in 1805; Hannibal and his elephants, Caesar against Anthony and Cleopatra, Alexander the Great, the armies of Islam, Napoleon, and Rommel versus Monty.
Myths and Mysteries: from whales in the White Desert to the arrival of camels in the Great Sand Sea; chariots of the gods and colonialists' motor-cars; from the Land of the Dead to Timbuktu; salt and gold mines, fields of oil and gas and a man-made river.
Artists, Writers, and Filmmakers: from the ancient rock art of the Tassili frescoes to the modernism of Matisse and Klee; from Ibn Battuta to Paul Bowles; from Beau Geste's French Foreign Legion to Star Wars.
About the Author
Eamonn Gearon is an Arabist, author, and camel expert. For the past twenty years, he has lived in the Greater Middle East, focusing on policy issues as an analyst and special advisor.
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments
A Quick Tour of the Sahara
Flora and Fauna
Part One: Landscapes
Whales in the Desert
The Green Sahara
Iconography and Graffiti
Part Two: History
Conquests and Empires
From Ancient Egypt to the Arab Invasion
Land of the Dead; The Phoenicians; Persian and Ptolemaic
Dynasties; The Romans; The Garamantes;
Camels; Christian North Africa; The Vandals; The Armies of Islam
Travellers, Chroniclers, Geographers
Gilded Empires; Timbuktu
Part Three: History
Exploration, Imperialism and Independence
European Forays: The African Association and Napoleon
Further Horizons: Exploration and the European Land
Caillié, Barth and Rohlfs; Algeria and Abd al-Qadir;
The Scramble for Africa
War and Peace and War
Motors, Maps and Planes
The Second World War
Heaven and Hell: Independence and Since
The French Legacy
Part Four: Imagination
Riddle of the Sphinx
"The Brutish Desert": War Poets
A Brilliant Palette
Fromentin and the Orientalists: "Dangerous Novelties"
Oriental Delights, Strange Worlds and Spy Stories
Tales of the Legion; Desert Espionage
Silver Screen Sahara
Beau Geste; Desert Epics
Part Five: Encounters
Indigenes and Visitors
Men with a Mission
Literary Travellers and Tourists
Early Observers; Wilfred Thesiger; Adventure Tourism
People of the Sahara
The Tuareg; Toubou and Sahrawi ; Two Incomers: Isabelle
Eberhardt and Paul Bowles
Index of Literary & Historical Names
Index of Places & Landmarks