Skeletons on the Zahara

Skeletons on the Zahara

A True Story of Survival

Book - 2005
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A masterpiece of historical adventure, Skeletons on the Zahara chronicles the true story of twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815, captured by desert nomads, sold into slavery, and subjected to a hellish two-month journey through the perilous heart of the Sahara.
The western Sahara is a baking hot and desolate place, home only to nomads and their camels, and to locusts, snails and thorny scrub--and its barren and ever-changing coastline has baffled sailors for centuries. In August 1815, the US brig Commerce was dashed against Cape Bojador and lost, although through bravery and quick thinking the ship's captain, James Riley, managed to lead all of his crew to safety. What followed was an extraordinary and desperate battle for survival in the face of human hostility, starvation, dehydration, death and despair.
Captured, robbed and enslaved, the sailors were dragged and driven through the desert by their new owners, who neither spoke their language nor cared for their plight. Reduced to drinking urine, flayed by the sun, crippled by walking miles across burning stones and sand and losing over half of their body weights, the sailors struggled to hold onto both their humanity and their sanity. To reach safety, they would have to overcome not only the desert but also the greed and anger of those who would keep them in captivity.
From the cold waters of the Atlantic to the searing Saharan sands, from the heart of the desert to the heart of man, Skeletons on the Zahara is a spectacular odyssey through the extremes and a gripping account of courage, brotherhood, and survival.
Publisher: New York : Back Bay Books, c2005.
Edition: 1st Back Bay pbk. ed.
ISBN: 9780316159357
Characteristics: xi, 351, 16 p. : ill., maps ; 21 cm.


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Apr 07, 2019

Although extremely interesting how these nomads live and the fact that they take slaves,and how badly they are treated, it was too historical and I had to skip over the boring parts to continue to stay in the meat of the book.

Dec 12, 2018

A must read. Great story telling about the darkness and resilience of human nature.

SPPL_János Mar 22, 2018

Tells with horrific detail the 1815 ordeal of 12 American sailors whose ship founders on the barren coast of northwestern Africa. The men endure starvation, dehydration, culture shock, and enslavement by the Saharan nomads. King, who recreated part of their journey himself, gives insightful historical and cultural context, and reveals the intercultural bonding that got the survivors to safety.

May 28, 2015

Very good book. If you want to read accounts of whites being put into slavery by Muslim northern Africans then read the book. The descriptions of the suffering and treatment is excellent as they are forced to travel through the desert.

Feb 27, 2015

Not the cross between Laurence of Arabia and Master and Commander that "People" magazine claimed it was, and I found myself wanting to stop reading it because I know there are some exciting survival stories out there ("Endurance" comes to mind). I finished to give the author and the captain the benefit of the doubt, but they couldn't make a happy ending where none was available. It could have been written in a more engrossing style, too.

Oct 09, 2013

It's one of the best books I ever read. I doubt I'd have been able to push my way through reading the original, 1817 or so, accounts of their adventures by either Capt. James Riley or Able Seaman Archibald Robbins. The early-19th century literary language used by both seamen was too flowery and dense for me. Therefore, I admire Dean King for reading both books in detail, plus many others to add to his knowledge of the times. Then King traveled along parts of the nomadic routes across the Sahara Desert, sometimes on camels. After all that research, he wrote the story of the dozen men who sailed in 1815 from New England, were shipwrecked off Morocco, sold into slavery on the Sahara Desert, and, for some of them, sailed back to Connecticut. I've rarely felt so caught up in a story. The abuse the Americans suffered at the hands of their nomadic Arab owners was almost unbelievable. How the men endured it, plus starvation, extreme thirst, scurvy, illness of the sort we don't even think of any more such as typhus and cholera, all the while hoping desperately that a British consulate officer with access to money will ransom them -- and this just 3 years after the US fought a war with England -- well, it kept the pages turning for me. In fact, so caught up was I with which men suffered which fate, that as soon as I rushed through the first reading, then I took my time and read it again. I was most impressed with Captain Riley's intense loyalty to his men in trying to see that they were all rescued, even though some of them treated him rather badly. He just wouldn't give up on them, even when it meant he suffered even more because of it.
It's an intense and thoroughly worthwhile read.

May 25, 2012

This was a little bit slow to start out, but once their ship hit the rocks off the coast of the Zahara, I simply couldn't put it down. This is a true recounting of the captain and sailors of the "Commerce", their survival as slaves to the people of the desert and the eventual ransom and rescue of some of these men through their own increasing knowledge of the culture they had been thrown into and the friendships they managed to develop. Such a good read.

Oct 01, 2011

well written.
very detailed, yet still captivating.


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