Book Review: In Search of Nomads

John Ure In Search of Nomads: An English Obsession from Hester Stanhope to Bruce Chatwin

John Ure, the most entertaining and prolific of diplomatic travel writers, has produced a polished successor to his Trespassers on the Amazon. He clearly relishes the stories he tells about eccentric British travellers and he is a past-master at finding anecdotes to illustrate their peculiar lives and obsessions.

This time, he turns his acute and eclectic eye on the nomads of four regions: Persia, Arabia, Central Asia and the Sahara. The focus swings from the people themselves to the men and women who found the nomadic way of life irresistible and chose to travel with them-those suffering from what the author calls ‘the Anglo-Saxon preoccupation with the search for nomads’.

The stories are put in context and the whole subject observed through the eyes of a distinguished diplomat, who has himself had to deal in his time with many of the tiresome and eccentric travellers who can make the life of Her Majesty’s representatives so difficult.

They are also enlivened by his own first-hand descriptions of travels and adventures in the same places and with the descendants of the same nomads. Many are also extremely funny.

I particularly enjoyed the description of the formidable Miss Bulstrode flagrantly smuggling her personal arsenal of fire-arms across the Russian-Chinese border just before the Russian Revolution. There are sensible maps and an index, two essentials which are all too often omitted, and some evocative photographs.