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Friday, December 17, 2010

Skeletons on the Zahara- book review

Looking for some good survival literature, check out the book by Dean King- "Skeletons on the Zahara".

When I was guiding professionally throughout the Southwest for the university, I had a couple from New England who spoke highly of this book. With each bend in the canyon trails we were on, they recounted the tales of hardship and resourcefulness from the book. After that, I forgot about the title only to graciously receive a copy a few months later from those two kind folks.

Once begun, you are not likely to put the book down. The gist: twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815 (yeah, before SAT phones, Leatherman, and spark-rods) and have to survive not only the elements but the hostile nomads roaming the region. They figured they were better off turning themselves over to the locals and being made into slaves than to perish in the desert and that is when the tale of survival really begins. The crew then endures two months of hellish conditions while journeying across some of the most inhospitable landscape on the planet while contending with barbarism and starvation.

There is a lot of insight into "primitive skills" along with providing a look into the harshness of life in the unforgiving desert for those not familiar with this trying land.

Originally taken from the sea Captain James Riley whose journal "Sufferings in Africa" were unearthed by author King, and turned into this riveting account of survival, endurance, and brotherhood. Riley's journal was published shortly after the War of 1812 and gained considerable notoriety, attracting such followers as Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, and Abraham Lincoln, the latter of whom said it was one of the most influential books of his youth.

This tale reminds me of when I was pouring over the story of the Bielski brothers (the movie "Defiance" was based them) and Shackelton's story years ago and thinking- "What is there to complain about in life!!"

If you're looking for some literature on the triumph of the human spirit and survival, and from a time when people's ingenuity and skills ruled, then check it out. Just have a cool glass of water handy for the chapter called "Thirst."

Enjoy the wilds!

Tony Nester
Ancient Pathways, LLC

About Ancient Pathways

Tony Nester is the author of numerous books and DVDs on survival. His school Ancient Pathways is the primary provider of survival training for the Military Special Operations community and he has served as a consultant for the NTSB, Travel Channel, Backpacker Magazine, and the film Into the Wild. When not on the trail, he lives in a passive-solar, strawbale home in northern Arizona. For information on Tony’s books, gear, or bushcraft courses, visit

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