For all the desert’s dreamlike beauty, to travel here was not just to pitch yourself into oblivion: it was to grind away at yourself until nothing was left. It was to aspire to the condition of sand. One third of the earth’s land surface is desert, much of it desolate and inhospitable.
What is it about this harsh environment that has captivated humankind throughout history? From the prophets of the Bible to Marco Polo, Lawrence of Arabia to Gertrude Bell, travellers have often seen deserts as cursed places to be avoided, or crossed as quickly as possible. But for those whose call deserts home, the ‘hideous blanks’ described by explorers are rich in resources and significance. Travelling to five continents over three years, visiting deserts both iconic and little-known, William Atkins discovers a realm that is as much internal as physical.
His journey takes him to the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter and Australia’s nuclear-test grounds; the dry Aral Sea of Kazakhstan and ‘sand seas’ of China’s volatile north-west; the contested borderlands of Arizona and the riotous Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert; and the ancient monasteries of Egypt’s Eastern Desert. Along the way, Atkins illuminates the people, history, topography, and symbolism of these remarkable but often troubled places. Reviving the illustrious British tradition of travel writing, The Immeasurable World is destined to become a classic of desert literature.
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Faber & Faber
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