Arabia FelixThe Danish Expedition 1761-1767
by Thorkild Hansen, translated from the Norwegian by James McFarlane and Kathleen McFarlane
An NYRB Classics Original
Arabia Felix is the spellbinding true story of a scientific expedition gone disastrously astray. On a winter morning in 1761 six men leave Copenhagen by sea—a botanist, a philologist, an astronomer, a doctor, an artist, and their manservant—an ill-assorted band of men who dislike and distrust one another from the start. These are the members of the first Danish expedition to Arabia Felix, as Yemen was then known, the first organized foray into a corner of the world unknown to Europeans, an enterprise that had the support of the Danish Crown and was keenly followed throughout Europe. The expedition made its way to Turkey and Egypt, by which time its members were already actively seeking to undercut and even kill one another, before disappearing into the harsh desert that was their destination. Nearly seven years later a single survivor returned to Denmark to find himself a forgotten man and all the specimens that had been sent back ruined by neglect.
Based on diaries, notebooks, and sketches that lay unread in Danish archives until the twentieth century, Arabia Felix is both a comedy of intellectual rivalry and very bad manners and an utterly absorbing tale of high adventure.
An epic voyage...unflaggingly readable and interesting.
—Don Moraes, The Spectator
The material that Thorkild Hansen has gathered for this book is as dramatic and colorful as anything....Arabia Felix is a first-class job.... Hansen has rescued from oblivion a fine story of adventure, discovery, death and endurance.... He has written a shrewd study of human character under severe stress.
—Orville Prescott, The New York Times
A blend of historical chronicle and biography...Hansen’s absorbing chronicle of this expedition and its complicated background dramas is a splendid narrative told with literary distinction.
—Edmund Fuller, The Wall Street Journal
Thorkild Hansen...has written this so well that the reader is caught up in the problems of the expedition and travels with them slowly, sometimes dangerously as well as painfully.... This book reaffirms one’s faith in the ability of the human being as an observer with minimum equipment...fascinating to the general reader.
—Lorrin Kennamer, Austin American-Statesman
A scholarly and exciting account...an admirable writer, whose narrative energies [are] clear and dynamic...he tells it simply and well. Arabia Felix must appeal to anyone who enjoys reading of adventure and exploration.
—Michael Adams, The Guardian