Book review: Libyan Sands ~ Ralph Bagnold


Ralph Bagnold (Eland, 2010)

See also this archive film


Ralph Bagnold really was quite an exceptional guy and Libyan Sands must be the best Saharan yarn written by a Brit (although he did not consider it the Sahara – see Warm Deserts, below). It describes his motor-car adventures and explorations in the Libyan Desert while stationed in Egypt in the 1920s and early 30s. Using Model T Fords loaded down at times with 150 gallons of fuel, Ralph and his chums spent every spare moment of leave exploring the Libyan Desert of Egypt and northern Sudan. His enthusiasm for (often literally) pushing the spindly, steaming Fords across uncharted ergs helped develop today’s desert driving techniques such as sand ladders and low tyre pressures.


What is striking is that his passionate attraction for the desert is most contemporary, while his energy and curiosity led, among other things, to The Physics of Blown Sand, the definitive account of sand formations and features – for geology graduates only. Bagnold comes across in the much-admired mould of the self-effacing Brit hero, never complaining or boasting while enacting extraordinary feats of exploration. The book includes his potted history of the exploration of the Libyan Desert up to that time, as well as a prescient spin on the enduring Zerzura legend. An underrated classic.


In the late 80s Sand, Wind, And War: Memoirs Of A Desert Explorer was published in the US just as the author died. It’s hard to find online at a normal price though libraries will have it. You get the feeling it would be as great a read as Libyan Sands.