Lands of extremes, contrasts, metaphor and myth, deserts cover nearly a third of our planet’s land area and are home to more than half a billion people. The desert as an idea has long captured the Western imagination, but too often in ways that fail to grasp the true scope and diversity of these spaces and the realities of the lives of people for whom arid lands are home. For the outsider, stories of the desert are about the exotic, about adventures into hostile territory. Few of us consider the perspectives of those who make their livelihoods in the desert each day. This book attempts to bridge the gaps, both scientific and cultural, between perception and reality, while celebrating the fascination, excitement and diversity of arid lands and their inhabitants.
Though generally seen as arid and infertile, deserts have been the birthplaces of critical evolutionary adaptations, civilizations, ideologies and agricultural and social progress. Deserts play active roles in the continued evolution of our climate and societies, demanding that we think seriously about these barren lands and their future. Does the botanical and microbial diversity of arid lands provide keys to food supply, new pharmaceuticals and our planet’s carbon budget? Would the city of Phoenix not exist if the advice of John Wesley Powell had been heeded? What can we learn from the writing of a female cross-dressing drug addict who drowned in the Sahara? And who was Hi Jolly and what were “little fellah bums”?
From the Gobi to the Sonora, via the Sahel and the Australian outback, The Desert: Lands of Lost Borders relates the tales, truths, folklore and facts of arid lands in an analysis that is at once informative and surprising – and, during the United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification, extremely timely.
‘In this impressively illustrated scientific and cultural history, [Welland] sets out the bigger picture, harnessing geology, climate science, botany, zoology, ecology, and anthropology to reveal places of natural and cultural abundance, with rich histories.’ – Nature
‘in this expansive work, whose cultural references range from the classical to the Mad Max reboot, his love of these empty regions is palpable and highly infectious . . . With chapters on art and film, on desert poetry, on colonial exploitation, on the erosion of rocks by wind and sand, it all adds up to an encyclopaedic survey.’ – Geographical Magazine
‘This handsome book is informative, well-illustrated, broad-ranging, and clever. The author has managed to weave together a whole array of different strands that serve to make deserts what they are . . . Lovers of deserts will love this book and will also learn much from it.’ – Andrew Goudie, Geoscientist Magazine
‘This rich comparative study of the world’s deserts is both historical and scientific, touching upon cultural analysis and literary descriptions by author-explorers. Welland concentrates on the Sahara, the Mojave, the Gobi, Australia’s Great Sandy and the Empty Quarter, or Rub’ al-Khali, approaching his material in a pleasantly idiosyncratic manner. His chapter headings – “Wet and Dry,” “Hot and Cold,” “Body and Soul,” “Feast or Famine” – underscore the dichotomies that arid regions always seem to hold in surprise.’ – Aramco World
'The desert also has a dreamy reputation, but Michael Welland’s The Desert is largely romance free. It takes a serious, scientific and sociological look at life on the sandy plains that take up a third of our landmass – from Mojave to Oz outback – without being too arid.’ – Wanderlust Magazine
'Geologist Michael Welland’s The Desert: Lands of Lost Borders tackles deserts around the world, but for him a desert is much more than sandstorms. It’s art and history, spirit and silence, conflict and courage, the people who live in the desert, and the dispelling of myths.’ – Herald, Washington State
‘A rich, scholarly, beautifully crafted and illustrated account of deserts in all their diversity: not just their geology and wildlife, but also the human cultures that have made wilderness their home, and the art and poetry that has been inspired by arid remoteness. We learn of those who have treated deserts wisely and with respect, and those who have placed human vanity above regard for nature. Welland’s grasp of an impressive range of research never falters.’ – Richard Fortey FRS, author of The Earth: An Intimate History
Michael Welland is a geologist with more than 40 years’ experience in teaching and the international energy industry around the world, including sojourns in many of the planet’s great arid regions. Author of the award-winning book Sand: A Journey Through Science and the Imagination , he has given public lectures and radio broadcasts in the US and Europe, and writes a blog on all topics sandy.