Libyan Sands, By RA Bagnold

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The Independent Culture

First published in 1935, this Buchan-esque account of Cairo-based British officers braving the desert in their Model-T Fords during leave periods is set in a world scarcely conceivable today. "The [British] Governor of Sinai warmed instantly to anyone taking an interest in his province, provided they were not going to be a nuisance."

Lured by the words "Petra, ruins of" on a map, Bagnold and chums headed for the dunes. The rose-red city did not work its magic: "It is too modern, too incongruous." Aqaba proved to be "a malarious mud village".

He found greater reward in Persia and Egypt's western desert. A cover quote maintains that the book "rivals Thesiger". This is an overstatement, though Libyan Sands has great appeal in its own right.