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Skeletons On The Zahara Paperback – 2 Jun 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (2 Jun. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099435926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099435921
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 108,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Some stories are so enthralling they deserve to be retold generation after generation. The wreck in 1815 of the Connecticut merchant ship, Commerce, and the subsequent ordeal of its crew in the Sahara Desert, is one such story. With Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival, Dean King refreshes the popular 19th-century narrative once read and admired by Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper and Abraham Lincoln. King's version, which actually draws from two separate first-person accounts of the Commerce's crew, offers a page-turning blend of science, history and classic adventure.

The book begins with a seeming false start: tracing the lives of two merchants from North Africa, Seid and Sidi Hamet, who lose their fortunes—-and almost their lives—-when their massive camel caravan arrives at a desiccated oasis. King then jumps to the voyage of the Commerce under Captain Riley and his 11-man crew. After stops in New Orleans and Gibraltar, the ship falls off course en route to the Canary Islands and ultimately wrecks at the infamous Cape Bojador. After the men survive the first predations of the nomads on the shore, they meander along the coast looking for a way inland as their supplies dwindle. They subsist for days by drinking their own urine. Eventually, to their horror, they discover that they have come aground on the edge of the Sahara Desert. They submit themselves, with hopes of getting food and water, as slaves to the Oulad Bou Sbaa. After days of abuse, they are bought by Hamet, who, after his own experiences with his failed caravan (described at the novels opening), sympathises with the plight of the crew. Together, they set off on a hellish journey across the desert to collect a bounty for Hamet in Swearah.

King embellishes this compelling narrative throughout with scientific and historical material explaining the origins of the camel, the market for English and American slaves, and the stages of dehydration. He also humanises the Sahrawi with background on the tribes and on the lives of Hamet and Seid. This material, doled out in sufficient amounts to enrich the story without derailing it, makes Skeletons on the Zahara a perfectly entertaining bit of history that feels like a guilty pleasure. --Patrick O'Kelley, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Known for his biography of the elusive Patrick O'Brian...Dean King has emerged from the great man's shadow with a compelling work in his own right... Once ashore, King's narrative, like Riley's leadership, grows in stature and certaintly... As King notes, the understanding, respect and compassion between these representatives of the Christian and Muslim worlds offers a timely example in our own troubled age." (Sunday Times)

"Genuinely gripping, full of twists and turns of fate ... mesmerising ... The torturous journey, with parched tongues and aching bones, in constant fear of bandits who might capture and enslave them, is described in unsparing detail ... The game of bluff and double bluff kept the crewmen's lives on a knife-edge. If you want to know the ending, the Hollywood movie can't be too far behind." (Daily Mail)

"Dean King has brought to life one of the great, true-life adventure stories - a riveting tale of suffering and redemption" (Nathaniel Philbrick)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a really fascinating story in the vein of all the best survival books. What differentiates it from most survival stories is its setting in the Sahara, not an icy waste, and the date it occurred - 1815.
The treatment of the shipwrecked sailors is nothing short of shocking by today's standards. They were treated as a commodity to be traded, and yet this is eerily similar to the treatment doled out to black africans by white slavers. In an uncomfortable table-turning, we come to appreciate some of the injustices doled out by humanity.

The fact that some of the sailors survived is nothing short of miraculous, and fortitude of the ship's captain, Riley is the key to this. There is no doubt that those who escaped were extremely fortunate and this is what keeps this book gripping. The other fascinating element of the book is the attitude of the sailors to their captors. Some captors were better than others, and the blinkered viewpoint of sailors to start with was considerably broadened by their experiences, particularly the strength and commitment to some of the locals to freeing them.
Read this book and enjoy - and be grateful you're not enslaved in the Sahara.
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Format: Paperback
Dean King blends two first-hand accounts with copious research to recount the 1815 wreck of the U.S. merchant ship Commerce off the west coast of Africa and the crew's captivity. What follows is a great description of the desert climate, local customs, nomadic life, heatstroke, starvation, and cruel enslavement endured by the sailors.

This classic of when the U.S. Commerce was shipwrecked near Cape Bojador should be required reading list. The story is riveting enough to capture and hold anyone's attention. The crew was captured by Sahrawi Arabs then sold into slavery. After which they experience travel across eight hundred miles of the Sahara Desert. Pressed into labor and fed meager portions of food we follow their story as they face dehydration, starvation, barbarism, murder, insects, sandstorms, ethnic hostility and death around every corner.

A true tale of endurance and adventure that will make you want to continue reading. This is a must read today as Riley's book "Narrative of the Loss of the American Big Commerce" in 1816. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln wrote that he had read Riley's book and that it influenced his attitudes concerning slavery.
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Format: Hardcover
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 last 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.
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Format: Paperback
Possibly one of the best non-fiction adventure books written.
Sadly it was spoilt for me as I saw the documentary on the Discovery Channel some time previously.
But as survival stories go this really does take some beating.
Having read "white gold" this really did bring the horrors of ship wrecked mariners tales home.
Treated less than dogs, to be bought and sold like cattle and classed as less than sub human
You won't put it down
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Format: Paperback
Dean King's Skeletons of the Zahara is a captivating story of survival, determination and courage in the face of extreme adversity. This book unearths a once famous story of a shipwrecked crew who is captured and enslaved in the Sahara Desert of western Africa. The tale of survival was widely known when Captain Riley first published the story in 1817. In fact, President Abraham Lincoln listed the original narrative as one of the most prominent works shaping his perspective on slavery. Over time, this story was lost. Author Dean King uncovered the forgotten tale and after extensive research, which included travelling to the Sahara to experience the rugged region first hand, he published Skeletons of the Zahara. It is a gripping story that I thoroughly enjoyed - I would highly recommend it to others.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is esentially a rewrite of Captain James Rileys 1817 book entitled "An Authentic Narative of the Loss of the American brig Commerce"
The Commerce set sail from Gibralter for the Cape Verde Islands in August 1815 but because of ill winds and fog it drifted off course and was wrecked on the west African coast. All 11 crew and the 1 passenger got ashore but the passenger waskilled by nomads. The crew sailed a damaged whaler further down the coast but on going ashore were captured and enslaved then suffered several months of cruelty, starvation and neglect.
Eventuallt 5 including the captain were ransomed to the British Consul and 2 others survived later.4crew disappeared and were never heard of again.
This is a gripping story of bravery and endurance.When the book was published in 1817 the captain became an American hero.
A book to be recommended.
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