Book review: Call of the Desert ~ Philippe Bourseiller


Philippe Bourseiller, 2004 (28 x 36cm, 444pp)

Call of the Desert is a stonker. At around 4kg it is heavy enough to stun a full-grown horse and is packed with glossy, full-page portraits, close-ups and wide-angle vistas from the Atlantic to the Nile. All the mainstream Saharan shots all here in one book: the culture and landscapes of the Moors, some lovely Moroccan kasbahs, the Niger delta as well as Ounianga and the Ennedi and Meroe in Sudan – though not, noticeably the rich imagery of the Gilf and Uweinat – so falling short of being the absolutely ultimate Saharan picture book.

And the writing isn’t bad either. Rather than let the author do the talking which often results in flowery eulogies attempting to parallel the images, they’ve shipped in some experts who – being French (the longest-established source of Saharan scholarship) or Saharan – know better than most what they’re talking about. So you get surprisingly good accounts of the geology, pastoral society and one of the best accounts of human occupation, from the 7 million year old proto-human bones found in Chad (predating those of the Rift Valley) right up to the historic period.

It has to be said, the shop copy at Stanfords London (£30) had split its spine – the book may be too heavy for its binding – even the box it was posted to me in had split open. pictured a different cover on its website but what you get is the book as left. They are going there from just £18 (presumably from the US where it is $31 new) which makes this the best Sahara picture book bargain since Civilisation in the Sands went for a fiver.


Also available: CALL OF THE DESERT – THE SAHARA (2005, 75pp). Extracted from the above collection (as many travel photographers do), this is a sort of school text book on the Sahara covering various themes and places like Ghadames, sand, nomads and camels, salt, ruins and even the Chad war with drawings and maps and of course great pictures.