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The Immeasurable World

Journeys in Desert Places
Narrated by: Jonathan Cowley
Length: 13 hrs and 30 mins
Categories: History, World
3.5 out of 5 stars (6 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year (UK) 

"William Atkins is an erudite writer with a wonderful wit and gaze and this is a new and exciting beast of a travel book." (Joy Williams)

In the classic literary tradition of Bruce Chatwin and Geoff Dyer, a rich and exquisitely written account of travels in eight deserts on five continents that evokes the timeless allure of these remote and forbidding places. 

One-third of the Earth's surface is classified as desert. Restless, unhappy in love, and intrigued by the Desert Fathers who forged Christian monasticism in the Egyptian desert, William Atkins decided to travel in eight of the world's driest, hottest places: the Empty Quarter of Oman, the Gobi Desert and Taklamakan deserts of northwest China, the Great Victoria Desert of Australia, the man-made desert of the Aral Sea in Kazkahstan, the Black Rock and Sonoran Deserts of the American Southwest, and Egypt's Eastern Desert. Each of his travel narratives effortlessly weaves aspects of natural history, historical background, and present-day reportage into a compelling tapestry that reveals the human appeal of these often inhuman landscapes.

©2018 William Atkins (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"The Immeasurable World courts comparisons with the capaciously learned nature writing of John McPhee. But there’s also an open-ended spiritual quest to Mr. Atkins' sojourns, which follow closely in the footsteps of religious and literary forerunners who were lured by the rewards of extreme renunciation.... Peace of mind, isolation, a heightened attentiveness spurred by the proximity to death - these are conditions for clear, beautiful writing, and Mr. Atkins frequently meets the high standards of his precursors." (Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal)  

"[Atkins] deftly turns his detouring into unified and potent storytelling.... His descriptions...are, at times, intoxicating...[and] leavened by drily comic observations.... If the aim of modern travel writing - that most open-ended of genres - is to teach readers something new of the world...then this book has richly succeeded." (The Times Literary Supplement, London)  

"Atkins is not in thrall to deserts...but loves them for their austerity, and the clarity of thought they grant.... Gorgeous." (Gavin Francis, The Guardian

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A mixed bag

I thoroughly enjoyed those parts of the book where the author described his experiences in the deserts, and some of his historical accounts are interesting. But, some were so detailed and lengthy they interfered with the flow of his narrative. For example, the micro-details of all the atomic explosions set off around the world seemed unnecessary, and the endless discussion of illegal immigrants in the US had me longing for a return to the story for which I bought the book. Had I been editing this book, it would have been shorter in these tangents! One last observation: yes, the reader did have a British accent, but still. . .he should have learned proper pronunciations of our Native peoples (Paiute was mangled) and vegetation (Saguaro does not have a hard g in either English or Spanish).