Cover image for Skeletons on the Zahara : a true story of survival
Skeletons on the Zahara : a true story of survival
King, Dean.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Waterville, ME : Thorndike Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
619 pages : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DT189 .K56 2004B Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

On Order



A crucial, forgotten chapter of American history--immortalized in a survivor's firsthand account that became one of the bestselling books in 19th-century America and influenced Abraham Lincoln's thoughts on slavery--is brilliantly retold for a new generation.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This shipwreck-and-survival saga occurred in 1815 in the wind-tortured territory of the modern Western Sahara and was promptly written down by American brigantine captain James Riley. So popular it appeared in six different editions, Riley's account is revived here with the benefit of author King's journey to retrace, in part, the 800-mile desert trek of Riley and his shipwrecked crew. King provides animated descriptions of the desert environment while covering the events Riley related, which included being sold into slavery. The dramatic incidents are supported with relevant details, such as the way the body reacts to dehydration and sun poisoning. Perhaps the story's most intriguing element is the mutual understanding that developed between Riley and his eventual master, Sidi Hamet. A debt Hamet owed to his father-in-law propels the entire drama, as Hamet spirits his slaves through lands of scimitar-swinging brigands for ransoming to a Western consul. This is both a forcefully visceral and culturally astute account. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

When the American cargo ship Commerce ran aground on the northwestern shores of Africa in 1815 along with its crew of 12 Connecticut-based sailors, the misfortunes that befell them came fast and hard, from enslavement to reality-bending bouts of dehydration. King's aggressively researched account of the crew's once-famous ordeal reads like historical fiction, with unbelievable stories of the seamen's endurance of heat stroke, starvation and cruelty by their Saharan slavers. King (Patrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed), who went to Africa and, on camel and foot, retraced parts of the sailors' journey, succeeds brilliantly at making the now familiar sandscape seem as imposing and new as it must have been to the sailors. Every dromedary step thuds out from the pages with its punishing awkwardness, and each drop of brackish found water reprieves and tortures with its perpetual insufficiency. King's leisurely prose style rounds out the drama with well-parceled-out bits of context, such as the haggling barter culture of the Saharan nomadic Arabs and the geological history of Western Africa's coastline. Zahara (King's use of older and/or phonetic spellings helps evoke the foreignness of the time and place) impresses with its pacing, thoroughness and empathy for the plight of a dozen sailors heaved smack-hard into an unknown tribalism. By the time the surviving crew members make it back to their side of civilization, reader and protagonist alike are challenged by new ways of understanding culture clash, slavery and the place of Islam in the social fabric of desert-dwelling peoples. Maps, illus. (Feb. 16) Forecast: A major media campaign, including ads in the New York Times Book Review, USA Today and Time; radio and TV interviews; and a six-city author tour will ignite interest in this captivating adventure tale. The book has earned advance praise from Nathaniel Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea) and Doug Stanton (In Harm's Way). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

King is an expert on the seaworthy Patrick O'Brian, but here he heads to the desert to chronicle the ordeal of 12 shipwrecked American sailors marched into slavery across the Sahara in 1815. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.