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Best Books - The Week

The writer and publisher Barnaby Rogerson chooses six of his favourite biographies (or auto-biographies) of travellers. His biography of The Prophet Muhammad has just been published by Little, Brown in hardback at £14.99

  • The Life Of My Choice by Wilfrid Thesiger. In this bewitching narrative, such otherwise world famous travels (as chronicled in Arabian Sands and Marsh Arabs) get no more than a passing nod compared to Thesiger’s lifelong devotion to the Christian Empire of Abyssinia. A loyalty first inflamed when as a boy he witnessed Ras Tafari’s army march back from their victory over Ras Michael in 1916.
  • Jackdaw Cake (an autobiography) by Norman Lewis (Picador). The 20th century’s most brilliant travel writer reveals the bizarre normality of his North London childhood, which assisted by three madly eccentric Welsh aunts, his spiritualist parents and an Essex squire, gave him such innate sympathy for the world’s so-called primitive cultures.
  • My Early Life by Winston Churchill (Eland £9.99). From skirmishes in the North-West frontier to the charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman, from the Boer War to the silver-spoon political heritage of Edwardian High Society. Churchill’s best – and most self-revealing book.
  • Gavin Maxwell: A Life by Douglas Botting. Never has ‘the simple life’ been pursued by such a complicated character. And seemingly only Botting can unite the multiple strands that Maxwell offered up to the world; aristocrat, poet, secret-agent, painter, otter-loving naturalist, social renegade, shark-hunter and travel writer into one man.
  • The Devil Drives by Fawn Brodie (Eland £12.99). The greatest of the Victorian explorers was also a brilliant linguist, a mesmeric lover, a spy and a publisher of erotica. But the man who witnessed human sacrifices in Dahomey was also married to a pious Catholic and even whilst mapping the last dark corners of the 19th-century globe, he had started on mankind’s next quest: the psychology of the mind within.
  • Journey into the Mind’s Eye by Lesley Blanche (Sickle Moon £9.99). Partly a love story and partly a mystery; this fragment of autobiography is also enthused with the many spirits of Russia: Asiatic, Soviet and emigré. It excavates the passionate obsessions that create a traveller.

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Recent Books
by Barnaby Rogerson

The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad: And the Roots of the Sunni-Shia Schism

Book of Numbers

The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography