The Folio Society Presents Travels in Arabia Deserta

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 1.24.32 PM.png

Setting off from Damascus in 1876, Charles Doughty travelled for 21 months across the deserts of arabia, through regions almost entirely unknown to Western eyes. He faced many hazards, from malnutrition and heat exhaustion to attack by hostile Wahabi communities. Initially he travelled with the Haj, before venturing into the desert interior alongside a Bedouin family and other nomadic groups. He reached the city of Unayzah, and finally Jeddah, in 1878.

His account of this remarkable journey is considered by many to be the finest travel book in the English language, and inspired T. E. Lawrence’s excursions 30 years later. Despite its abundant merits, it was little known until Lawrence became its most avid and practical reader — using it as a guide during his travels across arabia and admiring its descriptions of a bygone way of life. Today, it is celebrated both for its immense anthropological value and its uniquely innovative prose.

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 1.24.57 PM.png

The first edition to include photographs 

The Folio society has now produced the definitive collector’s edition of Travels in Arabia Deserta. Comprising two volumes, it features 48 pages of contemporary photographs, many of which have never before been reproduced. Many are the work of the Bonfils family, who set up a studio in Beirut in the 1860s and photographed people, landscapes, townscapes and monuments. These images, originally glass plate negatives, illustrate many aspects of Travels in Arabia Deserta, as they would have looked in the author’s time. The landscape of the desert interior is absent however, for unlike Doughty, the photographers did not venture there. also included are the 93 drawings that the author created for the first edition and his extensive glossarial index. The map he drafted, also for the first edition, is presented in a separate folder.

With a preface by Rory Stewart

A new preface by the author and politician Rory Stewart sits alongside Lawrence’s introduction to the 1908 edition, providing a century and a half of perspective on one of the least travelled areas of the earth. Stewart joined the Foreign Office after graduating from The University of Oxford, and has served in the British Diplomatic service in Indonesia and Montenegro. In 2002, he walked across Afghanistan, a journey that became the basis of his book The Places In Between. The Prince of the Marshes describes his experiences as a coalition official in occupied Iraq. In his introduction to Travels in Arabia Deserta, he underlines the importance of Doughty’s achievement, saying that ‘no one who is seriously interested in travel or arab custom, or indeed the extremity of human experience, can afford to ignore this book’.

  • Limited to 780 copies
  • Publication date June 2013
  • Published price $790

Folio Society limited editions are outstanding works of literary or historical significance reproduced as works of art in their own right. Many of our editions are facsimiles of treasures held in some of the world’s greatest libraries and museums. For others, we commission leading artists and craftsmen to create editions that represent the pinnacle of book publishing. all are designed to become keepsakes for future generations.

Images reproduced by permission of Special Collections, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University.

Auction Guide