Sahara by Marq de Villiers
A Natural History

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In the parched and seemingly lifeless heart of the Sahara desert, earthworms find enough moisture to survive. Four major mountain ranges interrupt the flow of dunes and gravel plains, and at certain times waterfalls cascade from their peaks. Even the sand amazes: massive dunes can appear almost overnight, and be gone just as quickly. We think we know the Sahara, the largest and most austere desert on Earth—yet it is full of surprises, as Marq de Villiers reveals in his brilliant and evocative biography of the land and its people.

“If you traveled across the United States from Boston to San Diego, you still wouldn’t have crossed the Sahara,” writes de Villiers, painting a vivid picture of this most extraordinary place. He charts the course of Atlantic hurricanes, many of which are born in the Tibesti Mountains of northern Chad, and offers a fascinating disquisition on the physics of windblown sand and the formation of dunes. He chronicles the formation of the massive aquifers that lie beneath the desert, some filled with water that pre-dates the appearance of modern man on Earth. He marvels at the jagged mountains and at ancient cave paintings deep in the desert, which reveal that the Sahara was a verdant grassland 10,000 years ago—a cycle that has been repeated several times.

Woven through de Villiers’s story is a chronicle of the desert’s nations and people: the Berbers and Arabs of the north; its black African south, whose ancestors peopled the greatest empires of Old Africa; and the extraordinary nomads—the Moors, the Tuareg (the famous “blue men”), and the Tubu—who call the desert home today. Illuminated by the eloquent written testimonies of past travelers, Sahara is a glittering geographic tour conveying the majesty, mystery, and abundance of life in what the outside world thinks of as the Great Emptiness.

About Marq de Villiers

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Marq De Milliers is the author of six books on travel, exploration, history, & contemporary politics, including "Into Africa: A Journey Through the Ancient Empires" & "White Tribe Dreaming", his award-winning memoir of growing up in South Africa. He lives in Nova Scotia.
Published September 1, 2002 by Walker & Company. 320 pages
Genres: History, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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A fully versed and admiring portrait of the Sahara, by travel-writer de Villiers (Water, 2000, etc.) and Hirtle (with de Villiers, Into Africa, not reviewed).

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The Guardian

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Valley of the Casbahs: A Journey Across the Moroccan Sahara by Jeffrey Tayler 352pp, Little, Brown, £16.99 Sahara: The Life of the Great Desert by Marq de Villiers & Sheila Hirtle 224pp, HarperCollins, £16.99 Jeffrey Tayler succumbed to the mystique of the Sahara long before he eve...

Apr 12 2003 | Read Full Review of Sahara: A Natural History

Publishers Weekly

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F or the Victorians, Timbuktu, a town in central Mali, evoked visions of mysterious, faraway lands, but in fact it has been in a gradual decline since the Moroccan invasion more than 400 years ago.

May 14 2007 | Read Full Review of Sahara: A Natural History

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