Read Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold by Michael Benanav Online


Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" Seasonal PickAn American's life-or-death adventure to the salt mines of the Sahara Desert ...

Title : Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781592287727
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold Reviews

  • Michael
    2019-01-06 19:03

    This is one of the best travel+adventure narratives I have read. A very enjoyable book to read.Books of this sort ideally have a number of ingredients, ideally balanced so that the shifting back and forth between them isn't distracting (or even annoying). While the main focus is typically on the description of the travel in a narrative, the author needs to provide enough background about himself to provide the narrative context and to provide some historical and other description of where the travel is taking place (again, for context). The trick is getting the balance right - many such books (in my view) provide too much historical background for the relevant region which often feels like it was copied out of other sources - you almost feel like you are reading a different book. This is not a problem here; Benanav takes a minimalist, but I think sufficient, approach. (I suppose it possible that some readers who are not at all familiar with this part of the world might want a bit more . . . )In the narrative, ideally you have description of what happened in the different places along the way, and the people the author interacts with, plus some description of what the author learned, both practical and personal - that is all well done in this book. You get to share Benanav's distinct impressions of the people he met and spent time with in particular and his thinking about how they live.It helps that Benanav writes well.Towards the very end there are several pages where the author gets expansive in his musings about the significance more globally (literally) of some of what he has encountered that feels a bit overdone - I realized that it was jarring mostly because it confirmed that I was coming to the end of a book that I had enjoyed - one can't really fault an author for two high-flown pages out of 200+.

  • Pamela
    2019-01-23 21:03

    Michael Benanav's book, Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of white Gold, turned out to be a complete and wonderful surprise to me. I picked it from a challenge list for July's reading and I am so glad I did. I don't read many travel memoirs but this one is not just that alone. Benanav combines some history of both the Sahara and the salt trade with the retelling of his travels with the Tuareg tribesmen from Timbuktu to Taoudenni in Mali. Intent on joining the salt caravan and spending some time with the miners observing and joining in their way of life, he journeyed across America to Mali, hired a guide, Walid, and set out to have the 1000 mile adventure of his life. He has written a book that allows us to also experience his adventure. Beautiful descriptions of the Sahara by day and night, humorous reflections on his own unsuitability for this rugged and dangerous lifestyle, and warm, human reflections on the people and the interconnection we all have with one another make this an excellent reading experience.To sum up is to quote Michael Benanav's own words:"...there is more to being human than buying precut meat at the grocery store, marrying someone over the age of eighteen, and using electrical appliances. As these to-our-eyes-exotic civilizations vanish one by one, the human tapestry becomes more monochromatic, more bland. Humanity as a whole becomes less beautiful. It's the loss of this beauty that saddens me."

  • Kat Kiddles
    2018-12-31 14:47

    There’s something so empowering about seeing the extraordinary in the everyday. Salt is something we so readily take for granted. Doctors advise us to limit it for the sake of our hearts, restaurants feel pressured to overuse it in a depressing attempt to please the ravenous appetites of over-consumption and greed, while artisans still rely on it to cure the meats and salt the fish that we nostalgically consume in a futile attempt to reconnect to a world of handcrafted dishes and face-to-face conversations.I’ve never had a very good relationship with salt, so I thought that perhaps learning about part of its history would help me appreciate its place in my life. Although I must admit, I find it incredibly ironic that I’m starting my journey with Benanav shortly after deciding to eliminate added salt from my diet. In any case, thanks to Sherna Khambatta for recommending the book.(To read the complete review, see

  • Devyn
    2019-01-23 12:56

    This book is amazing! Men of Salt is a role model of what every travel book should be, an exotic fairy tale, but real.This book is amazing! I know I said it before, but I need to say it again - AMAZING! Men of Salt is informative without being overwhelming, imaginative without being falsifying, descriptive but not overly so, and so deliciously perfect it hurts. I learned so much about the Sahara from this book. It's all I've been talking about for days. I've gone over every sentence of this book verbally with my Mom, coworkers, complete strangers, and my indifferent cat, ( who has no interest in camels or deserts.)I've never heard of the salt mines in Africa and had no interest in any deserts before this book. Now, I have the urge to run off to Timbuktu and join a caravan of camels to dig up a kind salt that I'm sure I've never tasted before in my life. O, what power the written word holds.This book is a reread for sure.

  • Kate
    2019-01-10 14:50

    I love this book. love love love. The author portrays the Malians he meets with such candor and subtle love, which is exactly how everyone who ever spends time in Mali feels. His description of the trek across the desert, peppered with descriptions of the dunes to reflections on his meals, dreams, relationships, goals is so well done I am transported back to Mali (Peace Corps) and both thankful that I've been to Timbuktu so I have a sense of what he's talking about and that I will never, ever have to endure a caravan 2 weeks north of Timbuktu to know what it's like. I stop myself from finishing the book every night so I can look forward to one more day of the journey.

  • Lynne
    2019-01-18 12:57

    I saw this book on display at the library and was intrigued by it. The author travels by camel across about 500 miles of open desert to a working salt mine. I was amazed at the skills of the guide, the serviceability of the camels, the know-how of the nomadic people. There is wonderful description of the desert, a bit of humor, and interesting cultural and historical information about that part of the world. Very readable, very enlightening.

  • LauraEllen
    2019-01-18 13:43

    Fast read for me! A good sign since I'm such a slow reader. A glimpse into a place I will never visit. Michael very respectful of all he encountered - people, environment, camels. Have discovered his photos on the web. Beautiful.

  • Zora O'Neill
    2019-01-11 17:58

    Really fascinating. I missed my subway stop both ways because I was so engrossed. Particularly good background on Tuareg culture.

  • Cathy Kristiansen
    2019-01-14 12:39

    An excellent account of an adventurous trip across the Sahara, by an American traveler fulfilling a dream. You feel his awkwardness and pain from the camel riding, sense his frustration at his limited ability to communicate and being kept in the dark about changing plans, and also see through him the beauty of the desert and an ancient lifestyle that, although not on the endangered list quite yet, can hardly survive more than a few decades. He mulls the dilemma of wanting to preserve the deep roots and incredible skills involved in running a camel caravan, but also recognizing that children of these in-tune-with-nature nomads are drawn to the cities and an entirely different lifestyle -- and that is their right to choose.

  • Hali
    2019-01-23 20:55

    This was the first book I felt I couldn't put down for at least one year. I enjoyed the author's sense of humor. His writing style made me feel like I was taking the journey with him.

  • Wendy
    2018-12-23 13:50

    Too soon for a definitive rating, however I am enjoying the premise and thinking about how ancient the location and the ritual are, wondering where I can get the disposable income to make my own trek. The narration showed insight and suggested the author got lots of time to contemplate both during and after the journey as he made sense of his experience and give a realistic portrayal of what it would be like to be the tourist on deck for the real experience and story of this phenomena.

  • Mary Overton
    2018-12-25 14:00

    "As though we'd entered a different room in the desert, the scenery changed dramatically. Here, rows of red sand ridges poured like ribs from both sides of a spine of ancient black rock. A few flat-topped mesas abruptly broke the northern horizon line, jutting more than a thousand feet from the desert floor....".... Since we were in the midst of the most stunning terrain we had yet crossed, I asked Walid and Baba if they, too, thought it was beautiful."They each grimaced involuntarily, looked at me as if I were crazy, and simultaneously said 'No.'"I'm sure I looked at them as if they were crazy, and Walid asked, 'Why? Do you?'"'Yes,' I said, 'it's very beautiful. It's my favorite place so far.'"Walid shook his head in befuddlement and the three of us laughed in mutual disbelief at the vast discrepancy between our impressions. For them, the most beautiful places in the Sahara are those where enough vegetation grows to support herds of goats and sheep and camels. Everywhere else is the region of death, too terrible to be beautiful. This was as profound as any other cultural difference between us, for I thought that the landscape surrounding us made a powerful case for the objective nature of beauty, which nobody could deny. We grew to appreciate this difference in each other, and it became the source of a comedy routine we'd enact when Walid wanted to make other people laugh: He'd mention this place and ask me what I thought of it. Happy to play my part, I'd praise it in the most poetic terms I could muster. Without fail, our audience would widen their eyes in surprise, then crack up at the fool ideas of a foreigner." pp. 113-114"The next five days and nights [of travel with the caravan] were a grueling exercise in endurance...."There were times when thinking about the rest of the day, the rest of the journey, became overwhelming. As I fought to put one weary foot in front of the other, to bear the sun staring me in the face, or to stay seated atop Lachmar [the camel] when ready to drop from exhaustion, it was impossible to imagine making it to the next camp, let alone all the way back to Timbuktu. In order to slip from beneath the crushing weight of future thoughts, I adopted a technique of focusing solely on the moment I was living. In itself, removed from the time line that stretched forward and backward from the present, no single moment was that bad. Perhaps I was walking under a starry sky at 2 AM; forgetting that we'd already been on the move for five hours, and probably had another twelve to go, I could find pleasure in being exactly where I was, right then. Maybe because I was so tired it was easy to achieve an altered state of consciousness; with a little focus I was able to travel through the desert as though in a temporal bubble, totally immersed in the present, as though past and future no longer existed. It became something of a spiritual practice - the transcendence of suffering by meditating on 'the now' - and I nearly signed on wholeheartedly to the cliched mantra of 'Live the moment.' Then I realized that, while I spent half my time doing just that, I spent the other half of the time escaping the moment - distracting myself with mind games, reading while I rode - and that that was just as crucial to maintaining my sanity." pp.164-165

  • Rachel
    2018-12-23 18:48

    This book is at its best when Benanav describes his adventures. There are beautifully written sections focusing on the stark landscapes of the Sahara and on his firsthand experiences digging in the remote salt mines of Mali. The narrative provides some insights into what it takes to survive in the desert as well as some unexpected humor regarding the food Benanav ate during the trip.However, I have to dock the author a couple of stars for his clumsy attempts to draw bigger conclusions about the lives of Muslim nomads or about American consumer culture based on what he saw in just over a month. The portions that read more like a memoir are disastrously bad; I just didn't like him enough to care whether he was planning to break up with his girlfriend when he returned from the trip and so forth.The edition I read included just a few black-and-white photographs. An insert featuring color photos would have been a welcome addition.

  • Linda
    2018-12-27 18:38

    Michael Benanav is a writer, photographer, and adventurer whose account of traveling across the Sahara in a camel caravan is fascinating to read. Starting from Timbuktu in Mali, they trek 450 miles to northern Mali to a salt mining town named Taoudenni, in the middle of nowhere. Michael is fluent in French and speaks some Arabic. He travels with a guide named Walid, whose ability to plot a route to their destination through the vast Sahara amazes Michael. On their return trip, the camels carry huge forty pound slabs of salt from the mines. From Timbuktu the salt is shipped up the Niger river to the port of Mopti, where it is sold to people from a wide area of West Africa. Benanav writes well. He has also traveled in the Himalayas and has written a book about that trip, but the library doesn’t own it. He speaks about “those of us who don’t so much take journeys as are taken by journeys, hearing the call of a particular place for a particular purpose that will not be denied.”

  • Miranda
    2019-01-20 16:41

    This was not bad as someone's acount of thier trip to the Taoudeni salt mines. It did not have a lot history, or background reasearch and that's okay if it wasn't inteded too. There was however one glaring error that made me cringe from pg. 6 where if first apeared to the end of the book. He states that Azali is a camel driver and uses it as such. It is NOT a camel driver it is the salt caravan. It coveres the whole process from the preparation to the treck to obtaining the salt at the mines to the triumphal return and sale thereafter of the salt. In it's simplest for it is the string of camels and men-the caravan- that go and come back; but it is not the camel drivers and even the most ignorent of sedentary people in Timbuktu know this all other books, from guide books to histories to other travelers who made the trek use it this way so how he got it wrong baffles.

  • Linda
    2019-01-14 14:44

    Men of Salt. Michael Benanav writes a wonderful account of his journey with a camel caravan in 2003. He joined a caravan to get slabs of salt from salt mines outside a small village called Taoudenni in Mali. The route stretched across the barren desert 450 miles to Timbuktu! Wells were few and far between. On the return trip the camels went 12 days without any water. When they were given water they sucked up gallons of it until their stomachs were swollen. The trip was brutal,(sometimes travelling 20 hours at a time), yet many of the landscapes were beautiful. Benanav found a peaceful, cooperative people who were hospitable and caring. Although the men who worked in the salt mines lived without their families in incredibly sparse conditions with limited food, they found reasons to laugh and dance. It seems like people unite and cooperate when their survival is at stake!

  • Nancy
    2019-01-09 12:58

    A book for an older reader, but nonetheless, very interesting! Nonfiction. The author, Michael Benanav, loves to travel and loves adventure in remote areas of the world. In this book he travels to Timbuku, Mali to join a camel caravan with the nomadic people, the Taureg. These are the people that travel to the salt mines and bring back slabs of precious salt on their camels. This is know n as the Caravan of White Gold. He spends 5 weeks in an incredible difficult climate of the Sahara desert, only able to commicate with his guide through some basic Arabic. No tent, no fancy outdoor equipment, and a very basic diet of peanuts, dates, millet, and occasional goat meat (which they carry with them hanging on the side of a camel!). All in all, a fascinating story.

  • Lindsey
    2018-12-24 16:46

    This is one of the few non-fiction books I have read. It is about the salt caravans in the Saharan desert. The author chronicles his journey into unfamiliar territory. His stories include his personal revelations, getting over the language barrier and earning his keep in a land unfamiliar to him. He questions himself and those around him wondering what he was thinking when he decided to spend five weeks in the desert. Interesting concept. Lots of interesting things happen while he is there. It is a bit of a slow but I think it would be more interesting for your camping, hang out outside and thrive in the wilderness kind of people.

  • Kandyce
    2019-01-14 14:40

    i really enjoyed this book, and waffled back and forth between wishing i was on a camel trek adventure and being grateful i wasn't.let's be honest- a book about spending 5 weeks- most of which was almost completely alone- in the sahara has the potential to be rather boring. this wasn't at all, and even the insertions of the author's own thoughts helped keep hours and hours of riding on the back of a camel from putting me to sleep. the little glimpses into the lives of the nomads, the salt miners and the camel drivers make this book rare. it's not just about the actual trek to the salt mines, but also about those who make it.

  • Jeanette
    2018-12-23 13:51

    This was an amazing story. I read it when I was on BBYA as an adult book for young adults. It was not to be put down...had to read until I was finished. Salt is "white gold" and the author traveled with the caravans that cross the Sahara to the mines in Mali. It is incredible to think that for 1000s of years men (usually men) have faced these perils to get salt. Before leaving Timbuktu Benanav has to sign a statement that he understands that if anything happens, there is no "phone a friend" to rescue him. And then he is on a camel crossing an area that is 4 times larger than England.

  • Rhonda
    2019-01-03 19:38

    I first learned about this book from one of those 'Favourite books from 2013' lists (this one was at World Weaver Press' blog --> Since one of my goals this year is to read more non-fiction it sounded like a good fit. And it really, really was. This is a travel memoir, but it's also a really GOOD story, and I felt like it truly introduced me to a place I'll never likely see in my lifetime (the Sahara). Fantastic reading, the pages flew by.

  • Lalitha
    2019-01-01 20:38

    "That wealth is not a prerequisite for joy or self-respect;that each moment is ours in which to create delight, regardless of our circumstances; that living in balance with the natural world is the key to long term survival; that it's possible to embrace tradition and modernity for what they each have to offer, without forsaking either."I can brew tea in the Sahara :)

  • Robert Kinosian
    2019-01-23 19:50

    This was a very interesting book, a good look at nomad life in the Sahara through the travelogue of one man who joins a caravan to the most desolate spot on Earth. What could be dryer than the middle of the Sahara? Only a salt mine in the middle of the Sahara. The nomad life is not as desolate and soul-destroying as you might imagine, but it's not over-romanticized either.

  • Ann
    2019-01-08 17:44

    Interesting adventure--I gave the book four stars rather than three because of a fantastic description of the author waking up one morning. If you remove the tremendous physical pain from riding a camel across a desert and the Malian man who makes tea for him, it's an exact description of how I feel about waking up on weekdays.

  • Whitney
    2019-01-06 13:50

    I'm not sure I would have picked up this book but of rthe strong recommendation of my daughter's 7th grade core teacher. It is an amazing journey -- one I can't imagine taking myself. Special bonus is author's close connection to local Del Rey mom ...

  • Diane Robinson
    2019-01-18 19:35

    I really thought this book would make me feel better about the summer of 2011 in Kansas, but Saharan temps were only 10 or so degrees higher than ours, and their nights were MUCH cooler - even COLD!!! I ended up being jealous. Very interesting book, though.

  • Christina Hurley
    2019-01-09 14:51

    Who knew that actual salt mines still existed today. This book is fascinating -- how the camel drivers have a clue where they are going amid a sea of sand is just unimaginable. I'm not a big non-fiction fan -- but loved this book.

  • Tamra
    2018-12-27 16:38

    Good description of crossing the Sahara for salt slabs. I liked the author and his observations of the camel caravan and his observations of life in general

  • Melody
    2019-01-17 17:01

    This was fun! I enjoyed Benanav's adventure in the desert very much as I sat in a soft chair with water nearby. What a forbidding place the Sahara is, and how glad I am that I don't have to go there.

  • Fabio Bertino
    2018-12-23 20:03

    Con una carovana di cammelli da Timbuctu alle miniere di sale di Taoudenni.