From the book jacket:

"Starting a trek worthy of Indiana Jones, Michael Benanav begins his adventure in Timbuktu.  His goal was to follow a camel caravan to the desert salt quarries of Taoudenni and back...An engaging account of proudly going native, enduring and prevailing on a rugged road." Kirkus Reviews

In fact, there was no road at all, just an endless stretch of desert sand called "The Land of Terror" by the nomads who cross it, and described by author Michael Benanav with humor and startling insight in this compelling narrative.

Benanav joined what is known as the Caravan of White Gold - so called because its cargo was once literally worth its weight in gold - on its mission into the deadly heart of the Sahara to haul back gleaming slabs of solid salt to sell at market.  He'd been seized by the idea after stumbling across an article about the dying days of the caravan, eager to experience its age-old way of life before it disappeared from the planet forever.  "It was that feeling known by those of us who don't so much take journeys as are taken by journeys; hearing the call of a particular place for a particular purpose that will not be denied.  It was the kind of trip I was born to take."

Benanav lived for weeks among the camel drivers as they traveled eighteen hours a day for a thousand miles, through sandstorms and searing heat.  Along the way, he learned how to care for and ride camels, became a medic to injured salt miners, encountered an Islamic culture in which men - not women - veil their faces, and grappled with the dilemmas of cultural extinction created by the ever-spreading impact of globalization. 

MEN OF SALT is a revelation, introducing an important new voice to the tradition of travel literature.

Includes 16 pages of color photographs. First published in 2006 by Lyons Press.

Click here to order Men Of Salt from Amazon.com.

The salt caravan crossing the Tanezrouft - the driest region in the Sahara - known as “The Land of Terror” and “The Land of Death”

The salt caravan crossing the Tanezrouft - the driest region in the Sahara - known as “The Land of Terror” and “The Land of Death”


 Reviews of Men Of salt

"A harrowing, stupendous journey." - The New York Times

"Benanav's evocative and beautiful writing appeals to all the senses." - Library Journal

"Benanav's precise eye for detail is every bit as sharp as his wit; he fills the pages of this unusual work with a seemingly endless string of revelations." -  Barnes and Noble, selected for their 'Discover Great New Writers' series.

"Even if readers don't find the idea of spending 40 harrowing days with a caravan crossing some of the world's most unforgiving desert as enticing as Benanav does, that doesn't mean they won't quickly devour his thrilling account of that otherworldly journey. The Caravan of White Gold was named for the voyage nomads have taken for centuries in search of the lonely, moonlike salt mines of Taoudenni, Mali. To a seasoned travel writer and veteran outdoorsman like Benanav, the opportunity to take part in such a journey - through the brutal Tanezrouft region of the Sahara - was impossible to resist, and it isn't long after hearing about it that he's in Timbuktu, Mali, ready to set off across an area four times the size of England, referred to alternately as "The Land of Thirst" and "The Land of Terror." Like many voyagers into the unknown, Benanav does his best to research where he's going and peppers his travelogue with well-placed historical background; he's also smart enough to see where his research and assumptions about the fascinating nomadic culture are utterly wrong. There is romanticism, especially in Benanav's warm accounts of his fellow travelers, but there's also an awareness of the deadly perils of their world, especially the salt mines themselves, so desolate they were used as a gulag for political prisoners until 1991. This is that rare work that takes readers beyond their imaginations." - Publishers Weekly Starred Review

"Personal yet unsentimental...a tale told with spirit and respect." - Harvard Business School Book Review

"A riveting account." - The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“With nothing but the essentials for survival, surrounded by nothing but desert,' Benanav describes himself as feeling 'like a rich man.'  This in itself suggests the extent to which the traveler/author has dropped his American material needs and immersed himself in the culture he'd come to discover.  As such, he's the perfect person to present the experience of crossing almost 1000 miles of Saharan desert to those of us who know we’ll never make such a trip...He offers us an unmatched perspective on this ancient way of life...Every sandy step along the way opens windows into a world unimaginably different from our own.  With photographs and maps to fill out the picture, it's an amazing and unforgettable trip." - The Santa Fe New Mexican

"Ranks with classic armchair adventures...a ripping good yarn...harrowing and magical.  Benanav's enthusiasm and pluck are matched by the proud and spirited people encountered along the way. We may never make the journey ourselves, but we should be glad Benanav did: He succeeds in honoring an ancient culture and the generations of people who have traveled a path few of us would choose." - Saudi Aramco World 

"Fascinating!" - Booklist

"MEN OF SALT is a vivid, electric glimpse of a rarely seen culture at its rawest." - Men's Journal

Nominated by Barnes & Noble for the Discover Great New Writers Award

Named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association


Men of salt: The slide show

Take an audience on a vicarious trip through the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold!  Author Michael Benanav brings his slide show about this desert odyssey to libraries, schools, and other venues around the country.  The photos from this rarely visited section of the Sahara are stunning and exotic; the presentation is inspiring and informative, delivered with insight and humor.  For details about hosting this unique event, please contact the author by email at: mbenanav@gmail.com.

Here are some reviews by those who have hosted and seen the slide show themselves:

"Prepare yourself for an adventurous journey that not only tugs at your heartstrings but also uplifts your soul.  Michael Benanav's presentation, based on his incredible book, will transport your audience onto the back of a camel and across the harsh Sahara. By combining stunning photos, stories, and readings from the book, Michael will take your readers to a place many would not dare visit. I was so mesmerized, I felt like I had sand in my shoes!" - Kevin King, Lead Librarian, Oshtemo Branch, Kalamazoo Public Library

"Our auditorium was packed with would-be adventurers who came out to see what kind of crazy person would endure the hardships chronicled in Men of Salt. Michael's slide show brought us closer to the great characters, both man and camel, that make this eternal pilgrimage across the desert. His ability to feel kinship with nomads and portray them as rich and varied individuals won him a rapt audience. We had to cut off the questions so that Michael could go home! Men of Salt is a perfect fit for libraries and book groups. It's rare to find a literary work so full of adventure and presented with both humor and respect for a culture worlds away from our own. Michael's talk brought in everyone from teens to senior citizens and the comments were all positive. We would highly recommend him to libraries everywhere." - Kelli Perkins, Head of Reference Services, Herrick District Library, Holland, Michigan

"Of the 300 books I read last year, MEN OF SALT was in the top 10!  The slide show is fabulous. Though booked as an adult program, it's perfect for teens as well. The audience was enthralled.  I highly recommend this program!" - Ed Spicer, ALA/BBYA committee member

"Michael gave his slide show to my high school students, and they were captivated. Several said it was the best assembly of their high school careers!" - Karyn Silverman, librarian, The Little Red School House, New York City; Chairperson BBYA committee

"Michael Benanav is just as excellent a speaker as he is a writer. He came to Makor in New York City to talk about his book, Men of Salt. He had meticulously prepared a slide show that detailed his journey into the salt mines of the Sahara. We had a full house, and the audience was riveted by the stunning pictures and Michael's understated presentation (delivered without notes) of his amazing adventure. The comparisons with Indiana Jones are inevitable, and while Michael is far too modest and humble to draw them out, his nose for discovery and a good yarn are as sharp as the creators of that series. Don't miss him!" - Elliott Rabin, Director of Education, Makor/92nd Street Y


about the author

Michael Benanav is the author of three books, including his most recent, Himalaya Bound: One Family’s Quest to Save Their Animals and an Ancient Way of Life, which follows a family of nomadic buffalo herders on their troubled migration into the Indian Himalayas. His work, including articles and images from five continents, appears in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Geographical Magazine, Sierra Magazine, Lonely Planet, and more. He is also the founder of Traditional Cultures Project, an educational non-profit that documents traditional and indigenous cultures around the world. For more, visit his website at www.michaelbenanav.com.


selected images from the photo insert