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Only the Camels

Robert Irwin: Wilfred Thesiger

6 April 2006
Wilfred ThesigerThe Life of the Great Explorer 
by Alexander Maitland.
HarperCollins, 528 pp., £25, February 2006, 0 00 255608 1
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... WilfredThesiger was born in Addis Ababa in 1910 and spent the first nine years of his life in Abyssinia. Visions of Abyssinian barbarism and splendour were to stay with him for the rest of his life, in particular ...

Abel the Nomad

Bruce Chatwin

22 November 1979
Desert, Marsh and Mountain 
by Wilfred Thesiger.
Collins, 304 pp., £9.95
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... WilfredThesiger’s Arabian Sands and The Marsh Arabs are classics in line with Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta. Yet his new autobiographical sketch, Desert, Marsh and Mountain, though it borrows large chunks ...
4 June 1987
The Life of My Choice 
by Wilfred Thesiger.
Collins, 459 pp., £15, May 1987, 9780002161947
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Worlds Apart: Travels in War and Peace 
by Gavin Young.
Hutchinson, 344 pp., £14.95, April 1987, 0 09 168220 7
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... In the eyes of WilfredThesiger, the world has all but succumbed to galloping and indiscriminate Westernisation. He is grateful to have completed his wanderings just in time. Unlike Chesterton’s Last Hero, the Last Explorer will ...

Seeing Things

John Bayley

18 July 1996
The World, the World 
by Norman Lewis.
Cape, 293 pp., £18.99, April 1996, 0 224 04234 3
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Omnibus: ‘A Dragon Apparent’, ‘Golden Earth’, ‘A Goddess in the Stones’ 
by Norman Lewis.
Picador, 834 pp., £9.99, January 1996, 0 330 33780 7
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... when it comes to exploring. His admirable series of travel books and travel novels, informative, neatly written, and full of a dry detached humour, make Lawrence of Arabia or Bruce Chatwin, even WilfredThesiger and Freya Stark, look like the most tremendous show-offs, auto-destructive as wildlife films on TV. But then flamboyance – or flamboyant understatement – is usually what travel writing ...
19 December 1991
In Search of Conrad 
by Gavin Young.
Hutchinson, 304 pp., £17.99, October 1991, 0 09 173524 6
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... fine episode concerns Schomberg, the rascally innkeeper in Victory, and the devilish Jones, whose traces Young discovers in Pulan Laut in 1977. Along with Young on that trip there is also WilfredThesiger, the celebrated traveller who spent years among the desert Arabs; he seems withdrawn and strangely out of place on the yacht Fiona, as it prowls the Makassar strait among the Bugis tribespeople, who ...


R.W. Johnson: Magdalen College

19 November 2009
... at the top of the results table and students blithely assumed that it had been a pillar of academic excellence for centuries past. Although it continued to attract an unusual variety of people, from WilfredThesiger to Dudley Moore, it was as likely to be known for the radicalism of its fellows as anything else: A.J.P. Taylor liked to argue that the college chapel should be turned into a swimming-pool ...

High Spirits

E.S. Turner

17 March 1988
Living dangerously 
by Ranulph Fiennes.
Macmillan, 263 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 333 44417 5
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The Diaries of Lord Louis Mountbatten 1920-1922: Tours with the Prince of Wales 
edited by Philip Ziegler.
Collins, 315 pp., £15, November 1987, 0 00 217608 4
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Touch the Happy Isles: A Journey through the Caribbean 
by Quentin Crewe.
Joseph, 302 pp., £14.95, October 1987, 0 7181 2822 2
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... not without relief, to a resourceful traveller who tours the world in a wheelchair. Quentin Crewe, his publishers say, was the fourth European to cross the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia (shades of WilfredThesiger); he has also memorably traversed the Sahara. Touch the Happy Isles is a refreshingly acerbic account of island-hopping in the Caribbean, one of the notable pleasures of life for those who ...


Michael Gilsenan: In Yemen

1 October 1998
... of smugglers bringing goods in from the Gulf and the murafiq knows it well. It’s his territory, but it can still be dangerous. After some hours of night driving, and just when I’m thinking that WilfredThesiger would really despise this four-wheel drive voyage across Arabian sands, the murafiq suddenly shoots ahead of us to the right and switches off his lights, disappearing instantly in the total ...

One Enduring Trace of Our Presence

Maya Jasanoff: Governing Iraq

5 April 2007
Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq 
by Rory Stewart.
Picador, 422 pp., £17.99, June 2006, 0 330 44049 7
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... literary gifts. One could compare him with a man famous for his encounters with the Marsh Arabs: the blue-blooded, imperially-reared, Eton and Oxford-educated traveller, administrator and writer WilfredThesiger. Most of all, Stewart shares the passion for the ‘Orient’ that has long exerted its pull on British male travellers; it inspired his first book. Stewart opens The Places In Between with ...


Kathleen Jamie: In the West Highlands

14 July 2011
... Maxwell’s dog dies, leaving a vacancy. I had assumed, in my ignorance, that the book’s otters were lured from the nearly burns and inlets, but no: Early in the New Year of 1956, I travelled with WilfredThesiger to spend two months or so among the little known Marsh Arabs, or Ma’dan, of Southern Iraq. By then it had crossed my mind … that I should like to keep an otter instead of a dog … ...

Making history

Malise Ruthven

19 June 1986
Gertrude Bell 
by Susan Goodman.
Berg, 122 pp., £8.95, November 1985, 0 907582 86 9
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Freya Stark 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Viking, 144 pp., £7.95, October 1985, 0 670 80675 7
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... Freya’s great pre-war journeys are essays in self-exposure and self-revelation. It is partly this quality, and its attendant self-centredness, that makes Freya Stark (with, some might say, WilfredThesiger) second only to Doughty as an Arabian travel-writer. Where Gertrude Bell, a grand Victorian lady who believed that it was essential for the natives to know that one came ‘from a great and ...

A Ripple of the Polonaise

Perry Anderson: Work of the Nineties

25 November 1999
History of the Present: Essays, Sketches and Despatches from Europe in the Nineties 
by Timothy Garton Ash.
Allen Lane, 441 pp., £20, June 1999, 0 7139 9323 5
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...  can be an advocate, without being an admirer. Where the roles blend in any given individual, it is rarely hard to see which is dominant. Evelyn Waugh in Ethiopia was an adventurer sans phrases. WilfredThesiger, although unquestionably adventurous, was an admirer. In 1916, at the age of six, he had watched Ras Tafari’s triumphal entry into Addis Ababa, his enemies hauled behind him in an ...

A Common Assault

Alan Bennett: In Italy

4 November 2004
... Moroccans?’ ‘I don’t know.’ The nurse cleans me up while medicine and the law confer. ‘I would not go to a country where I did not speak the language,’ says the doctor, confirming that WilfredThesiger he isn’t. Now Rupert and the nurse help me up from the table and suddenly seeing us side by side, a solution to the crime presents itself to the policeman, a solution (the police being the ...

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