“[A] searing story of France’s attempt to colonize the vast Sahara desert and of two unforgettable men who dedicated their lives to the effort.” —Rob Mitchell, The Boston Herald
Whether writing of the Alps, the high seas, or the North Pole, Fergus Fleming has won acclaim as one of today’s most vivid and engaging historians of adventure and exploration. The Sword and the Cross takes us to the Sahara at the end of the nineteenth century, when France had designs on a hostile wilderness dominated by deadly Tuareg nomads.
Two fanatical adventurers, Charles de Foucauld and Henri Laperrine, rose to the cause of their country’s national honor. Abandoning his decadent lifestyle as a sensualist and womanizer, Foucauld founded a monastic order so severe that during his lifetime it never had a membership of more than one. Yet he remained a committed imperialist and from his remote hermitage continued to assist the military. The stern career soldier Laperrine, meanwhile, founded a camel corps whose exploits became legendary. During World War I the Sahara’s fragile peace crumbled. In the desert mountains Foucauld paid a tragic price for his role as imperial pawn. Laperrine, by then recalled to the Western Front, returned to avenge his friend.
“Fleming captures the hopelessness of the French efforts to conquer the Saharan expanse . . . Provides a vital lesson about the limits of power.” —Zachary Karabell, Los Angeles Times