The best books on deserts that capture their beauty and loneliness

Nick Hunt Author Of Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes
By Nick Hunt

Who am I?

Nick Hunt is a walker and writer about the landscapes and cultures of Europe. He is the author of Walking the Woods and the Water, Where the Wild Winds Are (both finalists for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year), and a work of gonzo ornithology, The Parakeeting of London. His latest book, Outlandish, is an exploration of four of the continent’s strangest and most unlikely landscapes: arctic tundra in Scotland, primeval forest in Poland and Belarus, Europe’s only true desert in Spain, and the grassland steppes of Hungary.


I wrote...

Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes

By Nick Hunt,

Book cover of Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes

What is my book about?

In Outlandish, acclaimed travel writer Nick Hunt takes us across landscapes that should not be there, wildernesses found in Europe yet seemingly belonging to far-off continents: a patch of Arctic tundra in Scotland; the continent's largest surviving remnant of primeval forest in Poland and Belarus; Europe's only true desert in Spain; and the fathomless grassland steppes of Hungary.

The books I picked & why

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Desert Solitaire

By Edward Abbey,

Book cover of Desert Solitaire

Why this book?

Anarchist and eco-activist Edward Abbey spent a season working as a park ranger in Arches National Monument, Utah, in the 1950s. His account of solitary life in the desert has become a classic of nature writing, a passionate, and often angry, defence of the wilderness he sees vanishing from the American West as civilisation encroaches on every side. One memorable chapter describes a boat journey down the pristine river of Glen Canyon months before it is destroyed by the Glen Canyon Dam, now one of the largest reservoirs in the United States.

Desert Solitaire

By Edward Abbey,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Desert Solitaire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'My favourite book about the wilderness' Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

In this shimmering masterpiece of American nature writing, Edward Abbey ventures alone into the canyonlands of Moab, Utah, to work as a seasonal ranger for the United States National Park Service.

Living out of a trailer, Abbey captures in rapt, poetic prose the landscape of the desert; a world of terracotta earth, empty skies, arching rock formations, cliffrose, juniper, pinyon pine and sand sage. His summers become spirit quests, taking him in search of wild horses and Ancient Puebloan petroglyphs, up mountains and across tribal lands, and down the…


The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places

By William Atkins,

Book cover of The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places

Why this book?

Long fascinated by the accounts of travellers drawn to the world’s arid zones, as if by a strange magnetism, William Atkins immerses himself in deserts from Oman to Australia, Kazakhstan to the United States. The book is both a study of extreme environments and a deeply personal journey that often touches on the political: the Australian chapter becomes an excoriating attack on the British government’s use of the desert as a nuclear testing ground, which devastated Aboriginal communities. There are also some extremely funny parts, as when Atkins ends up in the debauchery of Nevada’s Burning Man festival, surely the most reluctant and awkward festival-goer who has ever graced its playa.

The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places

By William Atkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Immeasurable World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE STANFORD DOLMAN TRAVEL WRITING AWARD 2019

One third of the earth's land surface is desert, much of it desolate and inhospitable.

What is it about this harsh environment that has captivated humankind throughout history?

Travelling to five continents over three years, William Atkins discovers a realm that is as much internal as physical. From the contested borderlands of the USA to Australia's nuclear test zones, via Nevada's riotous Burning Man festival and the ancient monasteries of Egypt, he illuminates the people, history, nature and symbolism of these remarkable but often volatile places.


The Oblivion Seekers

By Isabelle Eberhardt,

Book cover of The Oblivion Seekers

Why this book?

With vivid, dream-like lucidity, these vignettes, stories and fragments describe the life and adventures of a truly extraordinary traveller: the daughter of Russian nihilists who moved to North Africa at the end of the nineteenth century, dressed and lived as a man, drank and smoked kif to excess, had numerous affairs, converted to Islam, was initiated into a Sufi sect, survived an assassination attempt and died in a freak flash flood at the age of only twenty-seven. The writing that survives is as fierce and as gloriously intense as the desert itself.

The Oblivion Seekers

By Isabelle Eberhardt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Oblivion Seekers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stories and journal notes by an extraordinary young woman-adventurer and traveler, Arabic scholar, Sufi mystic and adept of the Djillala cult.

"Not long before her death Isabelle Eberhardt wrote: "No one ever lived more from day to day or was more dependent upon chance. It is the inescapable chain of events that has brought me to this point, rather than I who have caused these things to happen." Her life seems haphazard, at the mercy of caprice, but her writings prove otherwise. She did not make decisions; she was impelled to take action. Her nature combined an extraordinary singlness of…


Wind, Sand and Stars

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery,

Book cover of Wind, Sand and Stars

Why this book?

As an aviation pioneer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flew some of the first mail routes across Africa and South America, piloting planes without instruments and navigating by the landmarks of mountains, rivers and coastlines. Wind, Sand and Stars is an autobiographical account of his life as a pilot, but is also a paean to the stark beauty and deadly dangers of the Sahara: the book culminates with his crash landing in the Libyan desert, near-death from dehydration and exposure, and miraculous rescue by a passing Bedouin. The experience went on to inspire The Little Prince, a book about a character who, like Saint-Exupéry himself, seems to carry the beauty and loneliness of desert landscapes within him.

Wind, Sand and Stars

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Wind, Sand and Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The National Book Award-winning autobiographical book about the wonder of flying from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of the beloved children's classic The Little Prince.

A National Geographic Top Ten Adventure Book of All Time

Recipient of the Grand Prix of the Académie Française, Wind, Sand and Stars captures the grandeur, danger, and isolation of flight. Its exciting account of air adventure, combined with lyrical prose and the spirit of a philosopher, makes it one of the most popular works ever written about flying.

Translated by Lewis Galantière.

"There are certain rare individuals...who by the mere fact of their existence put…


Seven Pillars of Wisdom

By T.E. Shaw,

Book cover of Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Why this book?

T.E. Lawrence, better known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, was an archaeologist, explorer, soldier and spy who played a key role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a war memoir but also an account of an obsession, as Lawrence, deeply immersed in Arab and Bedouin culture, becomes consumed by the desert which scorches his English identity away. His love for the Arabs is tinged by guilt, as he knows that – despite British and French promises of independence – his friends will inevitably be betrayed once the dust has settled.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

By T.E. Shaw,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Seven Pillars of Wisdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an Introduction by Angus Calder.

As Angus Calder states in his introduction to this edition, 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom is one of the major statements about the fighting experience of the First World War'. Lawrence's younger brothers, Frank and Will, had been killed on the Western Front in 1915. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, written between 1919 and 1926, tells of the vastly different campaign against the Turks in the Middle East - one which encompasses gross acts of cruelty and revenge and ends in a welter of stink and corpses in the disgusting 'hospital' in Damascus.

Seven Pillars of…


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