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Wheels Across the Desert: Exploration of the Libyan Desert by Motorcar 1916-1942 [Paperback]

Andrew Goudie
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

9 Dec 2008
In between the search for the Poles, the climbing of Everest and the Space Race, the exploration of the Sahara a huge swathe of terrain, the size of India by motor car is one of the untold chapters in the history of twentieth-century exploration. The entertaining and informative text is complemented by original black and white photographs showing the characters and their vehicles, and maps covering the main features of the desert and the routes the great explorers took. For anyone who loves tales of intrepid explorers, battling it out against the odds, Wheels Across the Desert will not disappoint. Many people have also become fascinated by the African desert since falling in love with the scenery and romance of The English Patient. The book also follows the military and colonial history of North Africa of the era as well as the history of the motor car. With its enduring appeal, academically researched text and lively illustrative content, this book is set to become a lasting authority on the subject.

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Wheels Across the Desert: Exploration of the Libyan Desert by Motorcar 1916-1942 + Libyan Sands: Travel in a Dead World + Light Car Patrols 1916-19: War and Exploration in Egypt and Libya with the Model T Ford
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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Society for Libyan Studies; First edition. Paperback. edition (9 Dec 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1900971070
  • ISBN-13: 978-1900971072
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 1.3 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 619,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

It is generally known that the Libyan Desert covers a large, arid land mass, but in Wheels Across the Desert Exploration of the Libyan Desert by Motorcar 1916 1942 Andrew Goudie puts the immensity of the desert into helpful perspective, showing, for example, a map of India to the same scale overlying a map of Libya. He provides a brief geographical and historical background: the people, the landforms, the water resources, and the dust storms on which he is an authority. Indeed Goudie devotes an early chapter to giving the reader a true feeling for that vastness. He illustrates it by describing one of the most daring and successful raids of the Second World War. He has also amassed a splendid cross-section of characters, giving enormous colour to the book. One, whom he says never received the appreciation he deserves, is Dr John Ball, who Goudie points out, was named John Bell in Michael Ondaatje s The English Patient. He travelled with the Light Car Patrols and accompanied Prince Kemal el-Din on his early journey. Goudie describes the battle to conquer the Great Sand Sea using motor cars to surmount the long lines of seif (sword) dunes forming a deep barrier along much of the desert boundary between Egypt and Libya. Bagnold s approach using Ford cars was to charge the dune at great speed. Hassanein Bey accompanied the redoubtable Rosita Forbes by camel to the oasis of Kufra, some 400 miles from the Libyan coast in 1921. Another of the characters brought so vividly to life in the book was the short, smart, and rather silent Major C. S. Jarvis, the colonial administrator who strolled around hitting his riding breeches with his swagger stick and taking notes. Goudie describes with relish the formation of the Long Range Desert Group, recounting part of the astonishing interview that Bagnold had with the far sighted Wavell, who gave him authority to acquire whatever he needed to form the new unit. There followed the difficult task of finding the right vehicles and the unusual collection of accessories such as sand channels, theodolites, and sun compasses. One has the feeling that Goudie, himself deeply involved with the science of deserts, would, had he lived in an earlier age, have volunteered for the LRDG like a shot. His love of the terrain and his interest in the problems facing those early motor borne journeys comes across clearly in the book. The author has vividly described a group of colourful and committed people who combined daring adventurousness with a spirit of serious scientific enquiry. Through his wide research, as evidenced by his extensive bibliography, he has unearthed a mass of interesting material which is complemented by an excellent selection of photographs. --David N. Hall

About the Author

Professor Andrew Goudie is the Master of St. Cross College, Oxford, and since 1984 has been Professor of Geography in the University of Oxford. He is currently President of the International Association of Geomorphologists, has a DSc from the University of Oxford, is an Honorary Fellow of Hertford College, and is a recipient of the Founder's Medal from the Royal Geographical Society and of the Mungo Park Award from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. In 2007 he received the Farouk el-Baz Award for Desert Research from the Geological Society of America.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spirit of adventure 24 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback
I have done a bit of driving across the Libyan Desert, now criss-crossed by millions of vehicle tracks which have accumulated over the last 100 years. I have often tried to imagine what it must have been like for the first explorers, venturing into the great unknown in their primitive motorcars when there were no comforting vehicle tracks for them to follow. Andrew Goudie captures the spirit of adventure of these intrepid pioneers in this wonderful book, covering the period from the first forays of the Light Vehicle Patrols against the Sanussi, right up to the more well-known exploits of the Long Range Desert Group and the SAS in World War II. What I really like about this book is the revealing portrayal of the people behind the adventures. The story of motorized exploration of the Libyan Desert involved an astonishing cast of characters It is no surprise that several had their identities plundered for the purposes of fiction, notably in Ondaatje's `English Patient'. The men and women who mapped the Libyan Desert, ranging from the mildly eccentric to the out-and-out sociopathic, are brought vividly to life by Goudie's well-chosen anecdotes. The quality of the photographs, maps and figure is excellent. This is essential reading for anyone interested in deserts, exploration, and adventure.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ripping Yarns. 20 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback
For anyone who has been seduced by the desert, Andrew Goudie's book brings back to life the truly epic journeys made in the last century by several noble explorers armed with little more than a stiff upper lip, well starched khaki shorts and a pith helmet. Detailed accounts of several pre WW2 trips with old monochrome photographs, first hand accounts and quotes, give a fascinating insight into the life threatening situations encountered by the first motorised desert explorers. In these days of well equipped 4x4 expeditions to remote parts of the Sahara it is also interesting to see that with all our advanced navigational aids, the desert and the challenges it throws at the intrepid traveller remain as relevant today as a hundred years ago. Goudie's book opens with a most pertinent quote from the Egyptian explorer, Hassanein Bay. `The desert is terrible and it is merciless, but to the desert all of those who once have known it must return'. This well written and concise book will satisfy the curiosity of seasoned desert travellers and equally fire the enthusiasm for the armchair explorer .
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 20 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very goof
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great overview of the exploration of the Western Desert and WW1 / WW2 Light Car Patrols / LRDG 11 Aug 2010
By Kiwi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Libyan Desert covers a large, arid land mass, but in "Wheels Across the Desert: Exploration of the Libyan Desert by Motorcar 1916-1942" Andrew Goudie puts the immensity of the desert into perspective, showing, as an example, a map of India to the same scale overlying a map of Libya. The book provides a brief geographical and historical background: the people, the landforms, the water resources, and the dust storms on which the author is an authority. Goudie devotes an early chapter to giving the reader a true feeling for that vastness and space. He illustrates it by describing one of the most daring and successful raids of the Second World War.

He has also put together a great cross-section of characters, which gives enormous colour to the book. One, whom he says never received the appreciation he deserves, is Dr John Ball, who Goudie points out, was named John Bell in Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient". He travelled with the Light Car Patrols and accompanied Prince Kemal el-Din on his early journey. Goudie describes the battle to conquer the Great Sand Sea using motor cars to surmount the long lines of seif (sword) dunes forming a deep barrier along much of the desert boundary between Egypt and Libya. He includes accounts of the WW1 Light Car patrols and Armored Car Units that operated in the Desert, then moves to the inter-war years, where the now lost art of traveling by vehicle through the desert was recreated (after WW1 ended, all institutional knowledge that was gained by painful experience during the war was completely lost as the units were disbanded).

The author includes Bagnolds expeditions, the journeys of Hassanein Bey, who was accompanied by the redoubtable Rosita Forbes on camel to the oasis of Kufra, some 400 miles from the Libyan coast, in 1921. Another of the characters brought so vividly to life in the book was the short, smart, and rather silent Major C. S. Jarvis, the colonial administrator who strolled around hitting his riding breeches with his swagger stick and taking notes.

Goudie goes on to describe the formation of the Long Range Desert Group, recounting part of the astonishing interview that Bagnold had with the far sighted Wavell, who gave him authority to acquire whatever he needed to form the new unit. There followed the difficult task of finding the right vehicles and the unusual collection of accessories such as sand channels, theodolites, and sun compasses. Also covered are Vladimir Peniakoff & his unit (Popski's Private Army). All in all, it's a good compilation and summarisation of information that can be found in a range of different books and source material. Having many of the old source books myself (Bagnolds and Jervis' books as well as material on the Light Car Patrols and Armored Cars in the Desert), I personally think the author has done an excellent job of putting this all together in one package that's a very enjoyable read.

One has the feeling from reading the book that Goudie, himself deeply involved with the science of deserts, would, had he lived in an earlier age, have volunteered for the LRDG like a shot. His love of the terrain and his interest in the problems facing those early motor borne journeys comes across clearly in the book. The author has vividly described a group of colourful and committed people who combined daring adventurousness with a spirit of serious scientific enquiry. Through his wide research, as evidenced by his extensive bibliography, he has unearthed a mass of interesting material which is complemented by an excellent selection of photographs.
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book 17 May 2014
By Eastofthemississippi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
By and large this book seems to give a quick overview of the many desert explorers, travelers and adventurers of the N. African deserts. It doesn't go into great detail about any of them in particular so you are unlikely to turn up any new information about your favorite 'desert rat' but you might discover the existence of someone you'd never heard of before and an odd fact does show up here and there throughout. I am enjoying reading it.
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