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190 × 135 × 19 mm
232 pages
114 illustrations, 65 in colour
01 May 2010
  • £12.95

Camel Robert Irwin

A distinct symbol of the desert and the Middle East, the camel was once unkindly described as ‘half snake, half folding bedstead’. But in the eyes of many the camel is a creature of great beauty. This is most evident in the Arab world, where the camel has played a central role in the historical development of Arabic society. Beauty pageants are still held for camels in some Arabic countries, and an elaborate vocabulary and extensive literature have been devoted to them.

In Camel, Robert Irwin explores why the camel has fascinated so many cultures, including those in places where camels are not indigenous. He traces the history of the camel from its origins millions of years ago to the present day, discussing such matters of contemporary concern as the plight of camel herders in the Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, the alarming increase in the population of feral camels in Australia, and the endangered status of the wild Bactrian in Mongolia and China. Throughout history, the camel has been appreciated worldwide for its practicality, resilience and legendary abilities of survival. It has been featured in the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Poussin, Tiepolo, Flaubert, Kipling and Rose Macaulay, among others. From East to West, Irwin’s Camel is the first survey of its kind to examine the animal’s role in society and history throughout the world.

Not just for camel aficionados, this highly illustrated book is sure to entertain and inform anyone interested in this fascinating and exotic animal.

‘will appeal even to those who would never normally pick up a book on the natural world.’ — Mary Beard, The Guardian Books of the Year

‘Robert Irwins erudite, droll and utterly delightful book about the life and lore of the dromedary (one hump) and Bactrian (two) abounds with details that reflect glory on a much-misunderstood animal . . . Across art, zoology and literature, from Egypt to India, Irwin gives the perfectly-adapted desert beast a boost with wide learning, superb illustrations and deadpan wit’ — The Independent

‘this year's surprise must-read even on this unsandy island. A wry history of a mainstay of Arabic civilisation, it examines the animal's cultural, financial and linguistic contribution to the world as we know it’ — Independent on Sunday

‘In [Camel] Irwin has crammed an astonishing amount of information about dromedaries (camels with a single hump) and Bactrians (camels with two). He writes in snappy sentences, gleefully machine-gunning the reader with facts and anecdotes, delivered with an undertone of dry wit . . . Irwin writes brilliantly about camels in art and literature, unearthing them everywhere from Madame Bovary to Ishtar.’ — The Guardian

‘the marvel of this book is that it is only from such proximity is it possible to appreciate what the Bedouins and other historically camel-dependent peoples see when they look at one. For this, make no mistake, is a love story . . . This is a case of an author matched perfectly to his subject.’ — TLS

‘There are not many good books on camels, or at least books which the layman can readily understand. This, however, is a very good book and readily accessible to all . . . Through it, a great number of people will learn facts and fables about one of the most fascinating and wonderfully equipped creatures on the planet.’ — Asian Affairs

‘Its a lovably eccentric book . . . Irwin writes in an endearing, snappy and dryly witty way.’ — The National, United Arab Emirates

‘The book runs smoothly through a huge number of fascinating anecdotes, quotations, and descriptions, nearly all of the one-humped camel or dromedary . . . Although, like all the Reaktion series, Camel is small in size, it has a large number of excellent illustrations and it is so well written and so full of fascinating facts and anecdotes that it will be particularly satisfying to read and own.’ — Anthrozoös

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Robert Irwin is a Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and the Middle East editor of the The Times Literary Supplement. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.


1   Physiology and Psychology
2   Ancestors of the Camel
3   Practical Camel
4   Camels in the Medieval World of Islam
5   The Beauty of the Beast: Literature and Art
6   The Camel's Role in History
7   Modernity's Camel

Timeline of the Camel
Select Bibliography
Associations and Websites
Photo Acknowledgements