To call Dean King a seasoned traveler is like saying the Sahara can get a bit warm. (Although it is a dry heat.)
Even "enthusiastic adventurer" sounds a little lame.
But this description from the Emmet O'Neal Library comes close enough. The library folks are talking about King because this nationally best-selling author of the critically acclaimed "Skeletons on the Zahara" will be at the library on Thursday for a film lecture and book signing, made even more enjoyable with wine and hors d'oeuvres.
Dean King is an authority on nautical literature and history, and apparently he likes to see what he knows.
He has sailed from New York to Bermuda on a square-rigged ship, walked across England and Wales and hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc. He has written about his adventures and experiences for such publications as Esquire, Men's Journal, New York, Outside and the New York Times.
This book, "Skeletons on the Zahara," started in a library. In 1995, King was doing research on the New York Yacht Club when he found in the stacks a bestselling memoir from 1817 with the intriguing title of "Sufferings in Africa."
This book recounted the truly horrifying experiences of Captain James Riley, former captain of the merchant brig "Commerce." He and his Connecticut-based crew were shipwrecked off the coast of North Africa in 1815.
Clearly he lived to tell his amazing tales, which included being captured by desert nomads and sold into slavery. While being dragged through the bone-dry Sahara, they witnessed barbarism, murder, starvation, plagues of locusts, sandstorms that lasted for days, hostile tribes with armies of camels and death.
King has based his book on extensive research, telling not only the story of Riley and his men, but also describing the lives and culture of Western Sahara nomads. He also referenced another memoir of a fellow survivor of the ordeal, able seaman Archibald Robbins. His book, while briefer, recounted a longer period of captivity.
After doing his homework, he did his field work.
In this retelling of Riley's trials, King trekked through the Sahara desert followed by National Geographic photographers, re-tracing the very route he writes about in his book.
Arriving just three weeks after 9/11, he was prevented by land mines in Western Sahara from reaching many points of interest. But his 800-mile trek on camels and in Land Rovers took him through much of the remote coastal desert. And, he says, "many of Riley's and Robbins's descriptions of the people and conditions hold true today."
In fact, he adds, "the region remains so little explored and so little changed by modernity that scholars still cite Riley's observations - accurate, with a few notable exceptions - regarding the lives of the nomadic Sahrawis, their customs and beliefs, and the grueling nature of the Western Sahara. Riley's is the rare case where disaster begat discovery, instead of the other way around."
This book is significant in other ways, too. King says, "In our time, when one of the great challenges we face is to find common ground for Muslims, Christians and Jews, the plight of the crew achieves a new relevance."
The event, sponsored by the Junior Patrons of the Friends of the Emmet O'Neal Library, will begin with a meet-the-author reception at 6:30 p.m. King's lecture follows at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $10 per person general admission, and tickets for these events always go quickly. Call Katie Moellering at (205) 445-1118 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also may purchase tickets at the library's Reference Desk. This library is at 50 Oak St. in Mountain Brook's Crestline Village.
This column originally appeared in The Birmingham News.