Cover image for The sword and the cross
The sword and the cross
Fleming, Fergus, 1959-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, 2003.
Physical Description:
x, 349 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DT333 .F58 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



"The Daily Telegraph (U.K.) called The Sword and the Cross. ""an extremely enjoyable and illuminating read, full of crazed schemes and desperate acts. There can be no doubting Fleming's passion or his diligence, while his lucid style keeps driving the story forward."" At the end of the nineteenth century, the Sahara Desert remained largely unexplored by Europeans. The Sword and the Cross is the story of two friends who set out to tame the desert-Charles de Foucauld, a layabout sensualist and womanizer turned monastic saint; and Henri Laperrine, a stern career soldier whose exploits in the desert became legendary. This is a haunting narrative of a forgotten period in Europe's colonial crusade, a story of selfsacrifice and cruelty, hatred and friendship, discovery and delusion."

Author Notes

Fergus Fleming is the author of Barrow's Boys, Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps, and Ninety Degrees North: The Quest for the North Pole. He lives in London

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Fleming's chronicle of France's fight to cross the Sahara to colonize North Africa focuses on two men, Charles de Foucauld and Henri Laperrine. De Foucauld is described as an aristocratic playboy turned hermit and monk. Laperrine, a shadowy figure, was the creator of the Camel Corps and was seen as a pragmatic man, violent and scheming. This story of two extraordinary men who lived in\b an extraordinary place at an extraordinary time follows Laperrine's travels across the desert between 1904 and 1909 with de Foucauld as his guide and interpreter. Drawing on many of de Foucauld's letters and other writings, Fleming describes building a cabin of palm branches, then constructing one with stones and mud; de Foucauld bitten by a horned viper (taking a month to walk again); the shortage of food and water presenting a serious problem; and a lack of hygiene causing concern. When the camels lagged, Laperrine told his men to eat them. It was a question of sacrificing men or animals. I did not hesitate. This adventure story reads like the finest fiction. --George Cohen Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Adventure writer and historian Fleming (Barrow's Boys, etc.) turns to French colonial Africa for his latest chronicle of historical (mis)adventure. His meticulous research and fascination with the physical hardships faced by men bent on discovery and conquest are on impressive display. Following the sometimes parallel, sometimes intertwining biographies of Charles de Foucauld and Henri Laperrine, Fleming reconstructs the French colonial crusade in northern Africa that began with France's conquest of Algeria in 1830. Following a series of disgraces in the imperialist race, France needed the Sahara to resurrect its honor on the world's stage. Fleming concludes, "France was conquering Africa just for the sake of it." Foucauld and Laperrine met as soldiers during the Bou-Amama war in Algeria in 1881, and while Laperrine became a career soldier and Foucauld matured from a hedonistic womanizer into an evangelical ascetic, they remained friends until Foucauld's assassination by Muslim fundamentalists in 1916. Until their deaths (Laperrine died of thirst amid the dunes after a plane crash), the two men dedicated themselves to France's cause with zeal. As Fleming writes, "Evangelization was the mortar that imperialists hoped would turn the desert from conquered territory to complaisant colony," and while Foucauld became "a pawn in the colonial game," Fleming recognizes that most likely "he used the military as much as they used him." What emerges most notably from this dense, detailed history is Fleming's description of the colonialists flirting time and time again with a desert seemingly inimical to human life. As Fleming concludes, "The tragedy of their existences lay not so much in time as in landscape... the Sahara was the same after their deaths as before." 3 maps. Agent, Gillon Aitken. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this riveting story of French ambitions in the Sahara at the turn of the 20th century, freelance writer Fleming (Ninety Degrees North) focuses on two Frenchmen who hoped to conquer the desert but were instead transformed by that vast expanse of searing nothingness. Charles Foucauld was a corpulent aristocratic army officer who sought adventure in North Africa in the 1880s. Gradually, the desert took possession of his soul and transformed him into an ascetic monk who sought to bring Saharan tribesmen into the Christian fold through example. Henri Laperrine was an iconoclastic French officer whose goal was not to conquer the people of the Sahara but to earn their respect through strength and genuine friendship. In their separate ways, Foucauld and Laperrine were the best the French had to offer the Saharan culture. Inevitably, their nation's ruthless imperial ambitions doomed their struggle to conquer the Sahara, and the desert once again became the domain of the people who had lived there for thousands of years. Ably told and well researched, this telling of a unique and timely story should be in every academic and public library. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/03.]-Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgementsp. vii
Mapsp. xii
1 Absinthe and Barracksp. 1
2 A Painful Voidp. 20
3 Into the Desertp. 28
4 Reconnaisance au Marocp. 41
5 Senegalese Hooligansp. 63
6 The Monk's Friendp. 78
7 From Algiers to the Congop. 96
8 'Think that you are going to die a martyr'p. 119
9 Beni Abbesp. 132
10 Laperrine's Commandp. 156
11 A Tour of the Interiorp. 167
12 Towards the Hoggarp. 184
13 'I choose Tamanrasset'p. 198
14 White Maraboutp. 219
15 Djanetp. 238
16 Hermit of Assekremp. 254
17 'It is the hour of my death'p. 269
18 Dune Flightsp. 283
19 The Dying Daysp. 301
Sources and Referencesp. 315
Bibliographyp. 333
Indexp. 336