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Burton: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton

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No man can be all things at once, no matter how hard he tries, but no man ever tried harder than Richard Francis Burton. He made significant contributions in the fields of literature and geography, and was also a poet, traveler, soldier, diplomat, inventor, explorer, archaeologist, student of religion and more. But above all, Burton was an adventurer in both the intellectu No man can be all things at once, no matter how hard he tries, but no man ever tried harder than Richard Francis Burton. He made significant contributions in the fields of literature and geography, and was also a poet, traveler, soldier, diplomat, inventor, explorer, archaeologist, student of religion and more. But above all, Burton was an adventurer in both the intellectual and spiritual world.Byron Farwell spent seven years investigating virtually every place ever visited by Burton. He overcame formidable difficulties in tracking down and reading all of Burton's extant works (his widow, Isabel, had burned most of his books when he died). Still, Burton proved a highly elusive subject for his biographer. But he has at last been caught. The result is a magnificent biography and a story that fascinates and compels.


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No man can be all things at once, no matter how hard he tries, but no man ever tried harder than Richard Francis Burton. He made significant contributions in the fields of literature and geography, and was also a poet, traveler, soldier, diplomat, inventor, explorer, archaeologist, student of religion and more. But above all, Burton was an adventurer in both the intellectu No man can be all things at once, no matter how hard he tries, but no man ever tried harder than Richard Francis Burton. He made significant contributions in the fields of literature and geography, and was also a poet, traveler, soldier, diplomat, inventor, explorer, archaeologist, student of religion and more. But above all, Burton was an adventurer in both the intellectual and spiritual world.Byron Farwell spent seven years investigating virtually every place ever visited by Burton. He overcame formidable difficulties in tracking down and reading all of Burton's extant works (his widow, Isabel, had burned most of his books when he died). Still, Burton proved a highly elusive subject for his biographer. But he has at last been caught. The result is a magnificent biography and a story that fascinates and compels.

30 review for Burton: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    I wasn't sure how to rate this book. I didn't really like it, but I sort of liked it, hence the three stars. The writing was superb and I have ordered other nonfiction books by the author: one on the life of Henry Stanley who found Livingston and another about the Gurkha warriors. So if you want a well written biography this is one. But the subject...blech. I read Arabian Nights as a child. They were great adventure stories filled with magic carpets and genii granting wishes...Lots of fun. So as an I wasn't sure how to rate this book. I didn't really like it, but I sort of liked it, hence the three stars. The writing was superb and I have ordered other nonfiction books by the author: one on the life of Henry Stanley who found Livingston and another about the Gurkha warriors. So if you want a well written biography this is one. But the subject...blech. I read Arabian Nights as a child. They were great adventure stories filled with magic carpets and genii granting wishes...Lots of fun. So as an adult I saw a beautifully illustrated of a volume of selections of the Thousand and One Nights (Burton wrote several volumes) and bought it. And, to my credit, I finished it. It is probably the most misogynistic and racist book I've ever read. All women and Africans were villainous animals. Fate plays a huge role and all sorts of mishaps and tragedies happen to the heroes involved that by the time you've read "En Shallah" -or after someone has just has had their arm ripped off by an ogre and their response is "All thanks to Allah, the Merciful One," you begin to wonder if the narrators are not being sarcastic. There are no happy endings, but all that I could forgive if the story telling wasn't so tedious. I don't know if that is the fault of the folk tales or the translator, which brings me back to this biography. Sir Richard Burton seems to have popped out of the womb rebellious and just plain odious. As a child his behavior knew no boundaries. He delighted in tormenting his tutors, governesses and fellow classmates. He was expelled from Oxford, which is what he wanted. His father finally caved into his unruly son's will and bought him a commission in the army. Burton had an insatiable thirst to learn languages (he learned almost thirty) of the Middle Eastern culture. He disguised himself as an Arab and went on many adventures with native tribesmen and Muslims throughout Saudi Arabia, Egypt- he claims to have found the source of the Nile, but this was disputed by other claimants-Syria and Afghanistan. Plus many other countries, including central African countries and also at one point, North America, where he lauded the polygamy of the Mormons. He went to India. He was the first European to make it to Mecca and Medina, although when certain Arabs saw through his disguise he had to claim to have converted. Although other explorers challenged Burton's claim to have found the Nile, he did discover Lake Tanganyika in the Congo. So I don't mean to imply that Burton accomplished nothing. But as far as his writing goes, other than his translation of the Arabian Nights, I don't know that he made much of a contribution to the rest of the world, unless you like reading the sordid sexual practices of the Middle East and India and you don't care how boring the writing is. His devoted and silly wife burnt all that had not been printed immediately after his death. This caused an uproar throughout England, which surprised her. Considering that, apart from the Nights, few people bought the books of Burton that were published, I can understand why. I did enjoy the descriptions of the different cultures and people that Burton encountered, but that is to Farwell's credit, not Burton's. I plan on reading Edward Rice's and Thomas Wright's biographies of Burton. I have started Wright's and so far have found his writing entertaining even if his subject isn't.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ensiform

    A fascinating, readable account of the jaw-droppingly talented man’s life. His ceaseless activity (he would produce 700 pages on a place he had stayed for a week, while sick, and while doing any number of other feats) is contrasted by his limitations (his books were pretty bad; he wasn’t a leader; his theories were often wildly off). Burton described himself: “Briefly, his memory was well-stored; and he had every talent save that of using his talents.” Very apt; Burton’s life was a series of alm A fascinating, readable account of the jaw-droppingly talented man’s life. His ceaseless activity (he would produce 700 pages on a place he had stayed for a week, while sick, and while doing any number of other feats) is contrasted by his limitations (his books were pretty bad; he wasn’t a leader; his theories were often wildly off). Burton described himself: “Briefly, his memory was well-stored; and he had every talent save that of using his talents.” Very apt; Burton’s life was a series of almost great discoveries, of minor treks, and potential popularity spoiled by cynicism and a taste for bickering. Farwell says in his preface that he doesn’t favor guesswork, and this is one of his book’s weaknesses; I could have used more suggestions on just why Burton’s enemies were so set against him. Or how many Arabs knew Burton was a European when he went to Mecca (didn’t his head look too white after he shaved it?). The biography also suffers from a lack of extra background: Farwell gives no indication of what contemporary life was like in, for example, Trieste, where Burton was stationed, beyond Burton’s impressions. Or he’ll mention a tribe or a village, with no explanation. There are minor complaints; the biography is certainly a success, thorough and even-handed, very well written and neither hagiography nor apologia nor excoriation.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Leftbanker

    One of my favorite characters in all of history: adventurer, linguist, swordsmen, diplomat, and writer. Burton was a cool chap. This biography is very careful not to sound like a hagiography of its subject, but even so, Burton comes off sounding like a superman. He lived at the very end of the age of exploration and whatever adventurers who came after, pale in comparison and seem more like circus performers pulling off a stunt.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Randy

    He could speak 29 languages and 12 dialects. But, for my money, Sir Richard Burton was the second most interesting member of his family. His wife, Isabella, long suffering Isabella, seems the hero of this nineteenth century tale of exploration, travel and adventure. She was the epitome of the loyal, supportive wife. In the beginning, she was almost a stalker. Having been introduced to young Burton she met a gypsy who told her that someday her name would be “Burton.” She set her cap on Richard an He could speak 29 languages and 12 dialects. But, for my money, Sir Richard Burton was the second most interesting member of his family. His wife, Isabella, long suffering Isabella, seems the hero of this nineteenth century tale of exploration, travel and adventure. She was the epitome of the loyal, supportive wife. In the beginning, she was almost a stalker. Having been introduced to young Burton she met a gypsy who told her that someday her name would be “Burton.” She set her cap on Richard and waited patiently for years to get him to the altar. Burton’s life can hardly be deemed a success as fantastical as it was with his surreptitious trip to Mecca disguised as an Arab or his African explorations or his many, many books. Burton was a compulsive traveler and writer. He couldn’t stay in one place but had a burning curiosity to see everything of interest. Those travels took him around the world including a trip to Salt Lake City to study Mormons. Following a trip he would write a book or article. Sadly, he wrote poorly; in desperate need of an editor. He loved footnotes. One can find 200 journal and magazine articles on the internet attributed to Burton along with some 40 books. His writing achieved little success until late in life he translated "1001 Arabian Nights", "The Perfumed Garden" and the "Kama Sutra". Isabella lobbied intensely with the Foreign Office for counselor appointments. She was so persistent he was finally given a post just to get rid of her. Isabella was from the upper class Arundel family and had to be respected. She managed all of Burton’s affairs, his household and organized the logistics of his travels as well as her many moves. Significantly, she was his literary agent shepherding many books through publication. She became a writer herself and was loyal to a fault attracting much criticism for destroying many of Burton’s papers at his death to protect him. Although an amazing talent, Burton does not come across as likable. He is a bit of a fool and dreamer who drummed up plans for gold mining in Africa and other poorly thought out enterprises. Isabella, on the other hand, was superstitious and a bit silly. Burton, she claimed, could mesmerize (hypnotize) her with a word. After their marriage Burton came to depend on Isabella and although not the perfect husband, for he had difficulty staying home, he loved and valued her. In an age when women played second fiddle, she played it as well as anyone ever has.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Vincent T. Ciaramella

    Wow! What a life and what a book. I would have loved to have hung out with him on some of his journeys. Sir Richard Burton was a man after my own heart. I love to travel and I cannot sit still. This book has it all. I don't think I will ever have to read another biography about him. His world is a world I would love to visit. The trill of visiting far off lands, filling in the blank spots on the map. Yes it was dangerous and yes he feel ill many times but in the end he made it to old age and live Wow! What a life and what a book. I would have loved to have hung out with him on some of his journeys. Sir Richard Burton was a man after my own heart. I love to travel and I cannot sit still. This book has it all. I don't think I will ever have to read another biography about him. His world is a world I would love to visit. The trill of visiting far off lands, filling in the blank spots on the map. Yes it was dangerous and yes he feel ill many times but in the end he made it to old age and lived to tell the tale. The only thing I didn't like about this book was the long portion of his translation of the Arabian Nights. The author spent too much time describing various women from the tales. It seemed that the author went off on a tangent and it took a while to refocus. I wish there were 1/2 stars because I would give this one another 1/2. The rest of the work was excellent. If you want to read about a person who lived the life of high adventure and for the thrill of it all check this biography out.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A pretty solid biography. It has the right amount of attention to detail, and Farwell examines Burton's character (as well as his wife's) in a balanced way that avoids hero worship as well as latter-day moral judgment. Burton (or Dickie B. as I've taken to calling him) was quite the character: curious and often brilliant, daring and energetic, narcissistic and absurdly petty. It's amazing how much life and complexity could exist in one man. Of course, the downside is that reading about his life A pretty solid biography. It has the right amount of attention to detail, and Farwell examines Burton's character (as well as his wife's) in a balanced way that avoids hero worship as well as latter-day moral judgment. Burton (or Dickie B. as I've taken to calling him) was quite the character: curious and often brilliant, daring and energetic, narcissistic and absurdly petty. It's amazing how much life and complexity could exist in one man. Of course, the downside is that reading about his life makes me feel like a total sluggard--at the age I am now, he'd seen and done and achieved more than I can ever hope to!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cameron Powers

    The incredible biography of a brilliant British career soldier and diplomat whose abilities to learn and to be adopted into native cultures are an inspiration to both the incredible enlightenment and loneliness which can result. Growing up in India, he apparently learned no less than 25 languages ultimately translating the Tales of the Arabian Nights. After his death his wife burned the remainder of his manuscripts which contained, like the Kama Sutra, which he also translated, fascinating first The incredible biography of a brilliant British career soldier and diplomat whose abilities to learn and to be adopted into native cultures are an inspiration to both the incredible enlightenment and loneliness which can result. Growing up in India, he apparently learned no less than 25 languages ultimately translating the Tales of the Arabian Nights. After his death his wife burned the remainder of his manuscripts which contained, like the Kama Sutra, which he also translated, fascinating first-hand tales of sexual exploits in many cultures. A skilled swordsman, his books on the art of swordsmanship remain the classics in the field to this day. Ultimately unable to fit in British society in spite of recognition of many of his achievements such as the discovery of the source of the Nile, he passed away in a remote African island outpost. His love affair with Arab culture was similar to that of Lawrence of Arabia 60 years later.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kamran Sehgal

    A fascinating view of a life too often overlooked for all the feats he had accomplished. The book marvellously follows Mr. Burton's life and the world he inhabited. There are few countries that Burton did not travel to in his life and likewise the work feels like a veritable world history of the 19th century. I found the author's views on Burton helpful especially considering the heights his life could of accomplished had personal and circumstantial shortcomings been evident. The author is no p A fascinating view of a life too often overlooked for all the feats he had accomplished. The book marvellously follows Mr. Burton's life and the world he inhabited. There are few countries that Burton did not travel to in his life and likewise the work feels like a veritable world history of the 19th century. I found the author's views on Burton helpful especially considering the heights his life could of accomplished had personal and circumstantial shortcomings been evident. The author is no paean fulfilling a gap in the fan service of one of Victorian Britain's most unique characters - the author vividly explains his failings. A must read for those interested in interesting life in interesting times.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sam Rennick

    In his Introduction, Byron Farwell calls his subject, "one of the rarest personalities ever seen on earth." When the reader has finished his superb biography of Richard Francis Burton, he is in hearty agreement. Nothing stops Burton. He is utterly fearless and indefatigable. He seems not even to need sleep. He's equal to any challenge, overmatched by nothing, laughs at hazards, and will take any risk. Setbacks serve only to spur him forward with still more energy, if that's possible, and determi In his Introduction, Byron Farwell calls his subject, "one of the rarest personalities ever seen on earth." When the reader has finished his superb biography of Richard Francis Burton, he is in hearty agreement. Nothing stops Burton. He is utterly fearless and indefatigable. He seems not even to need sleep. He's equal to any challenge, overmatched by nothing, laughs at hazards, and will take any risk. Setbacks serve only to spur him forward with still more energy, if that's possible, and determination. Yet fickle fate plays him false when it matters most. He is in command of an expedition in Africa. He is sick and taking the day off (you might say), although he never takes an hour off, let alone a day. Moreover, this illness isn't his first; it might be his hundredth. Maladies like fevers and dysentery come with the turf, and he scorns them. Another member of the expedition, John Hanning Speke, a dauntless explorer in his own right with whom Burton has an uneasy bond, for they are rivals, sets out on his own and discovers that greatest and most elusive of prizes, Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile. If you ever need proof life isn't fair, look no farther than this. The discovery belonged to Burton, and he didn't get it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    Burton was a Renaissance figure in Victorian times. Explorer, inventor, poet, anthropologist- he put his hand to every trade imaginable but he's known today as one of the men who led the way in discovering the source of the Nile. His trip across central Africa in the late 1850s was epic and he suffered greatly from many diseases contracted while on the way to hitting the shore of Lake Tanganyika. But he blundered badly in sending his rival Speke farther north where Speke found what would become Burton was a Renaissance figure in Victorian times. Explorer, inventor, poet, anthropologist- he put his hand to every trade imaginable but he's known today as one of the men who led the way in discovering the source of the Nile. His trip across central Africa in the late 1850s was epic and he suffered greatly from many diseases contracted while on the way to hitting the shore of Lake Tanganyika. But he blundered badly in sending his rival Speke farther north where Speke found what would become known as Lake Victoria- the true source of the Nile. Burton never quite lived this down. The rest of his career he bumped around as a foreign consul in West Africa, Brazil, Syria and Trieste for a British government that never really knew what to do with him. He travelled widely took copious notes that filled books- 40 or more that were published mostly due to the hard work of his long suffering wife Isabel. Many of his attitudes are repugnant by modern standards but he is a great figure of history and Farwell's book serves him well.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tiago Lima

    In a rather readable prose, the book offers a glimpse on a life that just can't be summarized in a single biography. Owing to many controversies around Burton's personality (e.g. the feud with Speke), his early biographers had often fallen in quite partial accounts of his life, while Farewell shows a more balanced portrait of him. Still, the book was published in early 1960's, so the author shows an unapologetic posh accent (probably due to his upper class upbringing), entrenched with not so few In a rather readable prose, the book offers a glimpse on a life that just can't be summarized in a single biography. Owing to many controversies around Burton's personality (e.g. the feud with Speke), his early biographers had often fallen in quite partial accounts of his life, while Farewell shows a more balanced portrait of him. Still, the book was published in early 1960's, so the author shows an unapologetic posh accent (probably due to his upper class upbringing), entrenched with not so few sexist and colonialist remarks. Aside that, many facts of his life were poorly addressed or just ignored. That said, this book is a coherent and compact compilation of Burton's life.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    OK biography of adventurer Burton by another one (the author). Pretty good. I read the Devil Drives about Burton a long time ago. This one seems more open-minded, I think. Brings out the faults as well as strength of this "Renaissance Man." Worthwhile if you are into this kind of thing (like I am). OK biography of adventurer Burton by another one (the author). Pretty good. I read the Devil Drives about Burton a long time ago. This one seems more open-minded, I think. Brings out the faults as well as strength of this "Renaissance Man." Worthwhile if you are into this kind of thing (like I am).

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cordell Harris

    The don't make men like Richard Francis Burton any more. The world has changed since his day and he could never have accomplished what he did if he was living today. A fascinating life. A man of mystery. So well written - Byron Farwell was a great story teller. I love all his works. The don't make men like Richard Francis Burton any more. The world has changed since his day and he could never have accomplished what he did if he was living today. A fascinating life. A man of mystery. So well written - Byron Farwell was a great story teller. I love all his works.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Xi Cheng

    A great adventurer, a scholar, and a brave man.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paul/Suzette Graham

    Richard Burton is a true [email protected]$$! A fascinating person. A fascinating life. I loved every moment of it!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elihu Whitney

    Good unfiltered biography. The first half is interesting, but Burton lost some steam in the second half.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Theo Logos

    Richard Francis Burton lived a fantastic life packed full of enough exploits, adventures, and accomplishments to make any ten men famous. As such, no single biography is sufficient to capture the whole man, and anyone truly interested in exploring his amazing life will do well to read several treatments of it. That said, Byron Farwell's excellent biography of Burton is an outstanding place to begin. Farwell captures Burton's driven, restless spirit, from his wild youth wandering nomadically about Richard Francis Burton lived a fantastic life packed full of enough exploits, adventures, and accomplishments to make any ten men famous. As such, no single biography is sufficient to capture the whole man, and anyone truly interested in exploring his amazing life will do well to read several treatments of it. That said, Byron Farwell's excellent biography of Burton is an outstanding place to begin. Farwell captures Burton's driven, restless spirit, from his wild youth wandering nomadically about Europe with his family, to his old age, when gout and heart disease finally put an end to his adventuring, leaving him to his literary explorations which continued to the day before his death. His years in the Sind soldiering for the East India Company, his mastery of twenty-nine languages, immersion into Eastern ways and culture, adventures and explorations in Arabia and Africa are all thoroughly covered without bogging down into unnecessary detail. Likewise covered are the frustrating years of unofficial exile by his government to forsaken consulate posts on the West African coast and in Brazil, years of brooding, bitterness, and dark depression. And finally, the long twilight of his life as the consulate at Trieste is explored, where failing health slowed his restless travels, but allowed him the time to complete literary treasures, such as his unmatched annotated translation of The Arabian Nights, or his original Sufi poem The Kasidah. Farwell paints Burton's life on a grand scale - capturing not only his outstanding adventures, explorations, and impressive anthropological and literary accomplishments, but his prejudices, his drinking problems and dark moods, his often difficult personality, and other flaws that were writ just as large as his positive accomplishments. Farwell's frank and honest appraisal of Burton, warts and all, go a long way toward explaining why this giant among men was continually slighted by the Government he served, and never recognize or rewarded in proportion to his outstanding service. No biography of Burton can ignore his odd marriage to Isabelle Arundell. Isabelle has often been demonize, her influence on Burton question, and her burning of his papers after his death condemned as foulest crime. Farwell, however, shows great sympathy to Isabelle. She emerges as odd, romantic, devout, and utterly devoted to a husband who was also her hero. Farwell makes it clear that she was a good match for Burton, and powerful force behind the scenes in his career. This is a first rate biography of a unique and amazing life. I recommend it highly.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Christine Martin

    I am bummed. I was going to say that I started reading this book 20+ years ago, and it sat on my bedside table for just about as long. Always with the intent to pick it up again, as I am genuinely interested in Burton and his life's adventures. What I just saw though, when clicking to add the book, is that this book is not THE book. Farwell's biography on Burton was not the book at my bedside. It was Edward Rice's biography on Burton that sat there. Well, I enjoyed Farwell's biography, so I gues I am bummed. I was going to say that I started reading this book 20+ years ago, and it sat on my bedside table for just about as long. Always with the intent to pick it up again, as I am genuinely interested in Burton and his life's adventures. What I just saw though, when clicking to add the book, is that this book is not THE book. Farwell's biography on Burton was not the book at my bedside. It was Edward Rice's biography on Burton that sat there. Well, I enjoyed Farwell's biography, so I guess that's what is important. Anyway, to sum up Farwell's book in one word would be thorough. Burton's wife Isabel famously burnt a good chunk of his papers and manuscripts after his death. Even with his daily diaries lost, Farwell was able to construct an impressive retracing of Burton's life and travels. One of the reasons why I've admired Burton was because of they way he documented his life. Not just what he did, but how we processed what he did. The idea of being present in the moment, and actually seeing the world around us is so exciting to me. It is how I've wanted to live my life and see the world. I haven't been so successful in it unfortunately. I try. As a baby explorer myself, I appreciate how Burton looked at the world. Although his views on the world aren't so great. Still, it isn't enough to go and be in a place, you need to absorb a place. Burton has inspired me to do that. I also appreciated how Farwell included Isabel. She was quite a character herself. I really liked how he kept up with what she was doing when they were apart. The book is very detailed, and maybe too much so. Burton just had such an amazing full life that it is hard not to talk about everything. I guess I'll never know if Rice's book was better. I just know that Farwell's book was a great listen. I'm so happy that I got the whole story, and then some.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    I am somewhat mystified that the fascinating life of Sir Richard Francis Burton is not better known. He seems to have become a footnote in the history of the Victorian age of exploration. Although many of his exploits ended in failure, the magnitude of his unsavory yet dominating character should be enough to have made him an enduring legend. The basis for my beloved Flashman, he spoke nearly 30 languages, snuck into Mecca disguised as a Mohammedan, almost discovered the source of the Nile, serv I am somewhat mystified that the fascinating life of Sir Richard Francis Burton is not better known. He seems to have become a footnote in the history of the Victorian age of exploration. Although many of his exploits ended in failure, the magnitude of his unsavory yet dominating character should be enough to have made him an enduring legend. The basis for my beloved Flashman, he spoke nearly 30 languages, snuck into Mecca disguised as a Mohammedan, almost discovered the source of the Nile, served as British Consul in obscure corners of the Empire, travelled constantly, translated the 1001 Arabian Nights and other erotic literature from the East, formed a society for orientalists called the Cannibal Club, and was buried in a giant marble tent. I see Johnny Depp playing Burton, perhaps Adrian Brody as his arch-rival Speke and Helena Bonham Carter as his beloved wife Isabel. This biography was very well written, witty and complete.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Conor

    When I picked up this book, I had read the wiki of Burton and checked out a few websites devoted to him. These made me imagine Burton as a paragon of adventure and a hero of a man. I wanted a book that would weave tales of his travels and tell me of the legend. But this book actually told me who the real Burton was: an incredible man, yes - he spoke 29 languages, was a master swordsman, wrote dozens of books, traveled to unexplored areas of Africa, and more - but he was also an alcoholic obsesse When I picked up this book, I had read the wiki of Burton and checked out a few websites devoted to him. These made me imagine Burton as a paragon of adventure and a hero of a man. I wanted a book that would weave tales of his travels and tell me of the legend. But this book actually told me who the real Burton was: an incredible man, yes - he spoke 29 languages, was a master swordsman, wrote dozens of books, traveled to unexplored areas of Africa, and more - but he was also an alcoholic obsessed with his own image, who struggled to find relevance, and lacked completely in forgiveness. Despite his iron will, he was made into a bitter person because he was unable to forgive those who he thought had betrayed him, even after their deaths. Truly, the real man is much more interesting that his myth.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alan Marchant

    This is a pithy biography of the famous British adventurer that stands the test of time. Sir Richard Francis Burton is honored not by hagiography but by an evenhanded description of his many exploits, remarkable talents, and manifold weaknesses (especially blind egotism). Burton was a man born at just the right time: an Englishman at the height of empire; an obsessive traveler on a globe with just the right amount of white space; and a perpetually curious linguist in a world of exotic religions a This is a pithy biography of the famous British adventurer that stands the test of time. Sir Richard Francis Burton is honored not by hagiography but by an evenhanded description of his many exploits, remarkable talents, and manifold weaknesses (especially blind egotism). Burton was a man born at just the right time: an Englishman at the height of empire; an obsessive traveler on a globe with just the right amount of white space; and a perpetually curious linguist in a world of exotic religions and languages.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marjorie

    A story about a fascinating man born 1821 and died following a life of adventure in 1890. He explored, traveled and wrote copious notes all all he did and saw. No subject was off limits for him. However he had little to no self discipline hence did not achieve the greatness he felt he deserved. He learned approximately 29 languages and it seems could remember them and write in them for many years, as in 50 years, not having as far as is known, to have used the language for that span of time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ulrika Eriksson

    The reserved portrait of Richard Frances Burton that the American Byron Farwell gives in his book Burton: A Biography issued 1963, is distanced and slightly derisive, enhanced by the upper class accent of the narrator. That Burton´s life and books still fascinates us is not reflected in the book whatsoever. Much weight is put on his “failed” career. I lost confidence for this biographer because both the wondrously beautiful The Kasidah and the Arabian Nights were step-motherly treated.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    When I read this book some 25 years ago or more, I knew virtually nothing of this man. I ask myself, why? Why isn't this man better known? By all accounts, he was an amazing man, scholar, linguist, adventurer. His exploits, as chronicled in this biography, are the stuff of legend. Simply put, this is one of the most engaging, entertaining biographies I've ever read. Worth another read. When I read this book some 25 years ago or more, I knew virtually nothing of this man. I ask myself, why? Why isn't this man better known? By all accounts, he was an amazing man, scholar, linguist, adventurer. His exploits, as chronicled in this biography, are the stuff of legend. Simply put, this is one of the most engaging, entertaining biographies I've ever read. Worth another read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

    An excellent and entertaining biography of the Victorian adventurer and explorer, who discovered the source of the Nile and was the first Westerner to enter Mecca, disguised as an Arab. The stuff that ripping yarns are made of.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sam Simpson

    Boring. Boring. Boring. Byron accuses Burton of writing books at included extraneous information but Byron is just as guilty. This book could have been written in half the length. And the print is very small.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Leigh

    The writer did a first class job of compiling a mass of journals and accounts into a coherent, and often hilarious, tale of the life of a remarkable non- conformist linguist and one of the worlds great travellers. A highly recommended read for history exploration buffs.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Good overview of Burton's life. Farwell reveals some new material concerning Burton's Interest in and possible conversion to Sufism. Good overview of Burton's life. Farwell reveals some new material concerning Burton's Interest in and possible conversion to Sufism.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeri

    Now this was a wild man. could speak 35 languages, traveled through Africa and Saudi Arabia in 1800s.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lysergius

    He will always be the translator of the Arabian Nights for me... And I am sure he found the source of the Nile before Speke. A fascinating character, and this bio does him justice.

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