- Paperback: 354 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2nd ed. edition (22 Jun. 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374128790
- ISBN-13: 978-0374128791
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 691,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Conquest of the Sahara Paperback – 22 Jun 2005
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"The Conquest of the Sahara is almost everything a book should be-an adornment for your home, a blitz of information for your brain, a diversion and a hoot, and, finally, balm for your soul." --The Los Angeles Times
"A bravura account...Readers with a taste for exotic popular history will savor Porch's wry sense of irony." --Newsweek
"In this admirable book, Douglas Porch sets the record straight." --The Washington Post Book World
"Porch is knowledgeable. . .and a fine writer with a dramatic style . . .[he] has done a superb job." --The Boston Globe
"[Porch] presents a vivid blow-by-blow account of how this arid, inhospitable land was penetrated at a terrible cost." --The San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
Douglas Porch is a military historian and the author of The Path to Victory: The Mediterranean Theater in World War II (FSG, 2003). He is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
Top customer reviews
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The first few chapters set the context and these are both useful and coherent, but I found them incomplete and would have found a glossary very useful. I also found the single map irritating as it failed to show several of the key towns and sites under discussion.
The remaining chapters offer a blow by blow account of each major incident as the French Saharan forces attempted, with or without the agreement and knowledge of the French government, to attempt to annex new parts of the desert and its margins. These chapters were really very fragmentary, with mini-biographies of key individuals mixed in with narrative tales of incidents, odd facts and chunks of contemporary diaries and documentation. This would have been more digestible if each chapter had been tied together more clearly so that the book offered a sense of what was being achieved and how it fitted in chronologically, strategically and politically with other incidents and campaigns. As it was I had no sense of how the Saharan forces were moving forward or what they were actually achieving with their campaigns, or quite what relationship they had to each other.
When I came to the end of the book I found that I had been entertained by some of the narratives and many of the facts and figures, but I was frustrated by the author's failure to tie together of all the different threads represented by the key actions and individuals in any coherent way.
For me, the book would have been helped by more and better maps, some illustrations/photos of the key geographic components which offered challenges to the campaigns, a good glossary of terms, and a list of key dates, people and events.
Not a bad book, but I would think twice before buying another of Porch's histories.
Of course, this means that I read an awful lot of rubbish, but it has the benefit that occasionally I run across something good, like this. A history of the French expansion into the Sahara from early intrepid tourists to later full scale military imperialism, Conquest of the Sahara tells a tale of hubris, Imperialist ambition, national pride and individual ambition.
Accessibly written with a dry sense of humour, Douglas Porch outlines a century of Empire building to no end; each of the reasons for building a French Empire in the Sahara were rebutted at the time, never mind now. A railway to the French holdings in Chad could never happen, there were simply no economic benefits to trade in one of the poorest regions on earth, and ferrying troops south to counter british holdings in Nigeria proved pointless due to a British/French entente against an agressive Germany.
Nevertheless, the French carved out an enormous holding at great personal and economic cost with spuroius or even nonexistant reasons for doing so. It's a fascinating tale.
If this book could be improved it would be with a good editor; a number of times players in this game appear with no background or indication who they are, and several major places do not appear on the map at the front making it occasionally troublesome to keep an eye on what is going on.
A minor quibble, though, in what is a highly accessible and interesting piece of popular history.
The tale is told with dry wit and is peppered with bizarre facts. I was left marvelling at the tenacity and daring of the French officers and, on occasion, at their barbarity. Driven by greed and justified by a spurious railroad to nowhere in particular, the officers carved out an empire for France without permission or official backing. If you are interested in the desert and the history of France and North Africa then this is a must. The book is littered with the bleached bones of the French and their opponents.
Anyone interested in a readable, entertaining and enlightening story of what really went on in this corner of the scramble for Africa, or even just after a great read, get this book.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This book covers the land, the individuals who eeked a living out of the land (e.g. the Tuaregs), and the explorers who traveled, fought, and many died traveling through the land.
I especially liked the descriptions and stories about the individuals, Lamy, Pein, et al. These individuals were very eccentric and would stop at nothing to reach their goal - often doing this without official backing.
If you like well written history, I highly recommend this book for you.
You are a great military historian, Professor Porch - particularly of the French Army. and you did your homework on this, but at the end of the day it seems to me the Sahara is just as it was in 1880 when the French wanted to build a railway from Biskera where the desert begins south of Algiers to Equatorial Africa. There wasn't one then, and there isn't one now. In fact in this huge expanse of the earth's suface (which, placed on the map of the Unted States, would extend from San Francisco to the Ohio River) there are still only three north-south "roads" noted on my map of the Sahara from the National Geographic Atlas of the world and they are the thinnest of red lines placed over the dotted red lines where the trails used to be; and there isn't one that goes east to west. The Sahara is as empty now as it was a hunded years ago, except we now look down on it from 30,000 feet.
Every one of us who was a boy in the 1920s read Beau Geste or Beau Sabreur of Beau Ideal or one or all of them and everyone of us who did was captivated by the romance of the French Foreign Legion. Remember the movie staring Ronald Coleman with Brian Donlevy as the sadistic evil sargeant? And who can forget Beau Geste propping up the dead men in the parapets to make the Arabs think the fort was still functioning, or Beau putting the body of Donlevy at the foot of Beau's brother's bier then setting it afire because a Geste dies with a dead dog at his feet!
Alas,those books are almost as irrelevant to the story of the Sahara as this rather dreary recitation of successive failure and thwarted and foolish colonial enterprise, an irelevant footnote to history.
But should you read it? Yes you should - by all means. I became fascinated by the Taureg, by the desert, with immense space, with Porch's dry descriptions of skirmishes which he calls "battles", with caravans of a thousand people - men women and children - bringing slaves and gold and ivory from Central Africa to the Mediterranean littoral and with the peoples of the desert - people who lived on dates and little water and traveled hundreds of miles to pillage or trade or tend their scrawny flocks. It is the Sahara which was for me the interest in this book. Don't look for Beau Geste. He wasn't there.