By Islam El Shazly

One thing that should be indispensable is a good book to read while travelling, but how to choose the right one for you from the millions out there is the trick.

This here is an eclectic mix of books that make for an enjoyable, thought-provoking, and even humorous read; from the tales of a fictional archaeologist, to the tantalizing tales of murder and suspense, and from a challenge of the socio-political colonial pretext of orientalism to the good-natured humorous adventures of the indomitable Gauls. There is something here for everyone, even the child in all of us.

 1. Cairo: The City Victorious by Max Rodenbeck:

After 5,000 years of continuous habitation Cairo remains the greatest metropolis in its quarter of the globe. The seat of Pharaohs and sultans, the prize of conquerors from Alexander to Napoleon, the city has never stopped reinventing itself. ‘The Victorious’ is what the Arabs call Cairo, and the indomitable spirit of the place still merits the name.

Max Rodenbeck tells the Cairenes’ story with the sympathetic understanding gained from years of wandering Cairo’s backstreets, chatting in its cafés and burrowing in its dusty libraries. This sweeping biography of a city of contrasts – skyscrapers abutting ancient tombs – fuses the excitement of travel with the stimulation of history. It is an epic, resonant work. [From the back cover]

Buy now from Amazon: Cairo: The City Victorious

2. Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf:

Leo Africanus is a 1986 novel written in French (and later translated to English) by Amin Maalouf, depicting the life of a historical Renaissance-era traveler, Leo Africanus. Since very little is actually known about his life, the book fills in the historical episodes, placing Leo in the company of many of the key historical figures of his time, including three popes, (Leo X, Adrian VI, and Pope Clement VII), two Ottoman emperors (Selim I and Suleiman the Magnificent), with appearances by Boabdil (the last Moorish king of Granada), Askia Mohammad I of the Songhai Empire, Ferdinand of Spain, and Francis I of France, as well as the artist Raphael and other key political and cultural figures of the period.

The novel received high praise and it is written in the form of a memoir. [From Wikipedia]

Buy now from Amazon: Leo Africanus

3. Amelia Peabody’s Egypt: A Compendium by Elizabeth Peters, Kristen Whitbread, and Dennis Forbes:

Amelia Peabody’s Egypt provides background and commentary for the settings, customs, and characters in the Peters’ series of mystery novels featuring Amelia Peabody, which take place in Victorian-era and early 20th-century (through the early 1920s) Egypt.

Publishers Weekly stated that the volume “entertainingly blurs fact and fiction” and that the “attractive book both informs and enchants”. It won the 2003 Agatha Award in the “Best non-fiction” category. [From Wikipedia]

The tome contains nearly 600 black-and-white photographs and illustrations, and articles by numerous experts, it sparkles with unforgettable glimpses of the exotic and the bizarre, the unusual and the unfamiliar, along with wonderful insights into the culture and mores of the Victorian era, including the prevalent attitudes on empire, fashion, feminism, tourists, servants, and much more. [From Amazon]

Buy now from Amazon: Amelia Peabody’s Egypt: A Compendium

4-9. Agatha Christie’s Mysteries:

Dame Agatha Christie does not need introduction, according to her estate; her books rank third as the most widely published after the works of William Shakespeare and the Bible. Somehow one can never get enough of the mighty Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple one of the most loved and famous of Christie’s characters.

Many of the settings for Agatha Christie’s books were directly inspired by the many archaeological field seasons spent in the Middle East on the sites managed by her second husband Max Mallowan. Her time spent at the many locations featured in her books is very apparent by the extreme detail in which she describes them. One such site featured in her books is the temple site of Abu Simbel in her book Death on the Nile, as well as the great detail in which she describes life at the dig site in her book Murder in Mesopotamia. [From Wikipedia]

Here are six popular novels with heavy archaeological, travel and adventure influences available at Amazon.com:

10. Orientalism by Edward Said:

Orientalism is a book originally published in 1978 by Edward Said that has been highly influential and controversial in postcolonial studies and other fields. In the book, Said effectively redefined the term “Orientalism” to mean a constellation of false assumptions underlying Western attitudes toward the Middle East. This body of scholarship is marked by a “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture.” He argued that a long tradition of romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture had served as an implicit justification for European and American colonial and imperial ambitions. Just as fiercely, he denounced the practice of Arab elites who internalized the US and British orientalists’ ideas of Arabic culture. [From Wikipedia]

Buy now from Amazon: Orientalism

11. Asterix and Cleopatra:

Asterix and Cleopatra is the sixth book in the Asterix comic book series by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. Enough said!

To impress Julius Caesar, Queen Cleopatra promises to build the Roman Emperor a magnificent palace in just three months. Of course, Asterix has to get involved. By the time his feisty group from Gaul have finished, they’ve outwitted the Roman army, too. [From Amazon]

Buy now from Amazon: Asterix and Cleopatra (Bk. 6)

12. The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter and A. C. Mace:

This book captures the painstaking, step-by-step process of excavation, and the wonders of the treasure-filled inner chamber. More than 100 on-the-spot photographs depict the phases of the discovery and the scrupulous cataloguing of the treasures. The opening chapters discuss the life of Tutankhamen and earlier archaeological work in the Valley of the Kings. [From Amazon]

If you are fascinated and curious about the mother of all discoveries of the early 20th century, then this is for you.

Buy now from Amazon: The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen (Egypt)

13. Mirage: Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt by Nina Burleigh:

Two hundred years ago, only the most reckless or eccentric Europeans had dared to traverse the unmapped territory of the modern-day Middle East. But in 1798, more than 150 French engineers, artists, doctors, and scientists—even a poet and a musicologist—travelled to the Nile Valley under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte and his invading army. Hazarding hunger, hardship, uncertainty, and disease, Napoleon’s “savants” risked their lives in pursuit of discovery. The first large-scale interaction between Europeans and Muslims in the modern era, the audacious expedition was both a triumph and a disaster, resulting in finds of immense historical and scientific importance (including the ruins of the colossal pyramids and the Rosetta Stone) and in countless tragic deaths through plague, privation, madness, or violence.

Acclaimed journalist Nina Burleigh brings readers back to the landmark adventure at the dawn of the modern era that ultimately revealed the deepest secrets of ancient Egypt to a curious continent. [From Amazon]

Buy now from Amazon: Mirage: Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt

14. Libyan Sands: Travel in a Dead World by Ralph A. Bagnold:

Ralph Bagnold was among a group of eccentric British explorers who in the 1930’s explored the deserts of North Africa using Model T Fords. This book describes his journeys into the region known as the Western Desert of Egypt or the Libyan Sahara. He is a central character in the group of explorers who would be later fictionalized in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. Libyan Sands is an exploration of the Egyptian western desert and the Libyan Sahara on the eve of the Second World War. [From Amazon]

Buy now from Amazon: Libyan Sands: Travel in a Dead World

15. The Lost Oases by Ahmed Hassanein Bey:

In The Lost Oases, Egyptian diplomat Ahmed Hassanein tells how he set out by camel from Egypt’s Mediterranean coast west of Mersa Matruh, heading for the oases of Siwa and Kufra and into the unknown reaches of the Libyan Desert. His perilous eight-month journey in 1923 took him around the western edges of the Great Sand Sea to El Obeid in the Sudan; a distance of 2200 miles, and lead him to the discovery of the lost oases of Arkenu and Uweinat at the extreme southwest corner of Egypt. At Uweinat, Hassanein was amazed to find rock drawings of animals, including lions, giraffes, ostriches, and gazelles. He was deep in the trackless desert, but what he had found was evidence of a flourishing human existence ten thousand years ago, and proof that the Sahara was once green. Hassanein’s discovery excited the imaginations of later European explorers such as Ralph Bagnold and Ladislaus Almásy, the model for the eponymous character in The English Patient. But Hassanein was there first, travelling by camel with Bedouin guides, encountering the mysterious Senussi brotherhood in Libya, and confirming the existence of the long-forgotten oases. Long out of print, The Lost Oases is now available for another generation of readers in this new edition, which includes a foreword by author Michael Haag on Hassanein, his life, and his accomplishments. Copiously illustrated with Hassanein’s own photographs, this is a gripping travel narrative by one of Egypt’s most important explorers. [From Amazon]

Buy now from Amazon: The Lost Oases

There are probably thousands of books out there that can make for thousands more of this list, so if you know of a book or books that should be on this list then drop us a line and we can make another list.


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  1. admin says:

    The only place where I have seen this book and others like it was at the Citadel in Cairo in a small bookshop right after the gates as you enter, so you might have to plan a trip to Egypt. On the other hand, you can try and contact the Ministry of Culture and see if they can help you with your quest; this is their website (in Arabic): http://www.ecm.gov.eg/ and this is their email: moc.office2@gmail.com.

    I also found a link for one of the authors of the book and he has the book in PDF format (in Arabic): http://www.cpas-egypt.com/AR/Tareq_elmory_ar.html

    I hope that was helpful enough.

  2. admin says:

    To my knowledge the book is not available in the US, mainly because the book was published as a limited edition by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture to commemorate the unveiling of the Grand Street after its restoration.It was published in 2009 and was only available in Arabic. If I find out any more information I will definitely let you know insha’Allah.

  3. Pam says:

    Do you know how I can purchase book al mu’izz li din Allah street the great stret in the us thanks for your help

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