Arabia Felix by Thorkild Hansen
The Danish Expedition of 1761-1767 (NYRB Classics)

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It can be tough sometimes to root for these guys. Their failings can be deeply frustrating to watch, and their astute observations are matched only by their blithe obliviousness...
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Synopsis

A riveting account of a landmark expedition that left only one survivor, now back in print for the first time in decades.

Arabia Felix is the spellbinding true story of a scientific expedition gone disastrously awry. On a winter morning in 1761 six men leave Copenhagen by sea—a botanist, a philologist, an astronomer, a doctor, an artist, and their manservant—an ill-assorted band of men who dislike and distrust one another from the start. These are the members of the Danish expedition to Arabia Felix, as Yemen was then known, the first organized foray into a corner of the world unknown to Europeans. The expedition made its way to Turkey and Egypt, by which time its members were already actively seeking to undercut and even kill one another, before disappearing into the harsh desert that was their destination. Nearly seven years later a single survivor returned to Denmark to find himself forgotten and all the specimens that had been sent back ruined by neglect.

Based on diaries, notebooks, and sketches that lay unread in Danish archives until the twentieth century, Arabia Felix is a tale of intellectual rivalry and a comedy of very bad manners, as well as an utterly absorbing adventure.

Arabia Felix includes 33 line drawings and maps.
 

About Thorkild Hansen

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Thorkild Hansen (1927–1989) was born in Ordrup, Denmark, and studied literature at the University of Copenhagen for two years before moving to Paris in 1947. In France, Hansen supported himself by writing dispatches for the Copenhagen-based tabloid Ekstra Bladet. He returned to Denmark in 1952 and published his first full-length novel, Resten er Stilhed (The Rest Is Silence) in 1953. Hansen would go on to write more than two dozen books, many of which drew on the historical record to interrogate Denmark’s record of imperialism, including Pausesignaler (Pause Signals, 1959); Jens Munk (1965), which won the Golden Laurel Award; a trilogy about the Danish slave trade (1967–1970), the final volume of which won the Nordic Council Prize; and Processen mod Hamsun (The Case Against Hamsun, 1978). He died aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean in 1989.James McFarlane (1920–1999) studied modern languages at Oxford and was the first dean of the school of European studies at the University of East Anglia. Britain’s preeminent Ibsen scholar, he edited the eight-volume The Oxford Ibsen, translating a number of the books himself. He and Kathleen Crouch were married in 1944.Kathleen McFarlane (1922–2008) was a translator and a celebrated weaver and artist from Sunderland. One of her fabric sculptures hung in Norwich Castle for thirty years.Colin Thubron is the president of the Royal Society of Literature. Among his books are The Lost Heart of Asia, Shadow of the Silk Road, and most recently, Night of Fire. He is also, with Artemis Cooper, the co-editor of The Broken Road, the final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Walking Trilogy.
 
Published June 13, 2017 by NYRB Classics. 401 pages
Genres: History, Education & Reference, Travel, Science & Math. Non-fiction
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Reviewed by Colin Dwyer on Jun 17 2017

It can be tough sometimes to root for these guys. Their failings can be deeply frustrating to watch, and their astute observations are matched only by their blithe obliviousness...

Read Full Review of Arabia Felix: The Danish Expe... | See more reviews from NPR

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