Not for the faint of heart, the faint of stomach or those put off by relentless descriptions of battle scenes.



French colonialism goes awry in a saga of hope, betrayal, slaughter and cannibalism in 19th-century North Africa.

British desert explorer and Morocco resident Asher (Khartoum: The Ultimate Imperial Adventure, 2008, etc.) tracks the French government’s ambitious plan to build a railroad from Algiers to Timbuctoo (as it was spelled in those days). The Trans-Saharan Railway was intended not so much to carry human passengers as to convey French commercial goods into the vast markets of African nations and return with exotic natural resources to be shipped to Paris. Not so incidentally, the railroad’s planners expected that it would speed the spread of French morality among the Sahara Desert’s tribes, whom they viewed as benighted heathens. In 1880, Paul Flatters led a mission into the populated portion of Algeria and from there into the desert to map the proposed railway route. A veteran of the French Army of Africa, Flatters craved renown and saw this as his chance: “The man who led the Trans-Saharan survey mission would go down in history as the last of the great Saharan explorers.” Flatters felt certain he could negotiate with nomadic tribes that controlled the desert, even though the Tuareg in particular were known for their hostility to interlopers on their land. His naiveté cost him and dozens in his party their lives; on February 16, 1881, more than 300 Tuareg warriors attacked the expedition. Asher builds the tension slowly but inexorably toward this climactic battle, during which Flatters was murdered. It occurs slightly before the book’s midpoint; after that, the narrative devolves into a gruesome account of the survivors’ struggles against thirst and starvation as well as lethal tribesmen. The agony was relentless as they dragged themselves toward safety, their camels stolen or dead. The survivors’ desperate resort to cannibalism will horrify, but not surprise, readers.

Not for the faint of heart, the faint of stomach or those put off by relentless descriptions of battle scenes.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-60239-630-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?