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The desert explorer and author of Khartoum recounts the disastrous nineteenth century French expedition to establish a Trans-Saharan Railway.
In 1880, the French government ordered a surveying expedition for a railway that would transport the fabulous wealth of Timbuktu to Paris—and spread French culture and morality among the Sahara Desert’s nomadic tribes. Expecting to find riches for his country and immortal glory for himself, French Army veteran Paul Flatters led a crew of a hundred men into a horrifyingly deadly fiasco.
Under-armed in hostile territory, and foolishly employing the enemy as guides, the expedition was ambushed and stranded without camels or supplies in the deserts of southern Algeria. Many were killed outright, and for four months the survivors were menaced by the Tuareg, the “lords of the desert,” robbed, starved, and tricked into eating poisoned fruit.
To escape, the men hid in the wastelands of the Sahara with little hope of finding food or water. They were finally forced to eat their own dead, or, worse, the merely weak. Only a dozen malnourished men lived to tell their tale of their harrowing, one-thousand-mile journey. With a “superb grip of narrative and uncanny ability to evoke battle scenes,” historian and desert explorer Michael Asher has written an amazing true story that is as dramatic as it is frightening (The Guardian).