Benedict Allen - explorer, author, filmmaker, public speaker
Benedict Allen - explorer, author, filmmaker, public speaker
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Benedict Allen Books

Quick Jump Menu : Ordering signed / annotated books  from Benedict

book - Mad White Giant - a journey to the heart of the Amazon Jungle
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OUT OF PRINT
not available at present

 

Mad White Giant - a journey to the heart of the Amazon jungle (1985)

Both a thrilling account of a perilous journey between the mouth of the Orinoco and the Amazon, but also a veiled exploration of the threat posed to the Rain Forest by the “Mad White Giants,” i.e. us. A light, pacey tale of gutsy survival.

Recommended for: those wanting a gripping holiday read; older children also seem to love it.

Most exciting moment: having been attacked by goldminers, having to walk out of the forest to survive. Based on Benedict’s diary account at the time, the climax comes when Benedict famously had to decide whether he should kill his dog to eat and therefore survive.

Benedict ‘s comment: my first book, and written with a freshness which I can sadly never hope to recapture.  Those expecting a conventional travel-book may well be disappointed. As the satirical and whimsical sketches were meant to indicate, this book was unreliable when it came to factual detail (I also envisaged it being published without photos, though the first publisher sneaked them in while I was occupied elsewhere – actually trapped in New Guinea, undergoing the male initiation ceremony featured in the next book). Although the journey very much happened, and along the lines described, I was still in my early twenties and had decided (perhaps rather too ambitiously) that I would break from the conventional travelogue genre (which seemed to me, in my arrogance, tired) and not simply recount the story of a journey, but place equal if not greater weight to the exploration of the themes that occurred along my way – those of betrayal, loyalty, and encounters with exotic, threatened and threatening peoples as witnessed by a young confused traveller passing through.     Almost unbelievably, two RSPCA inspectors came to visit me in Hampshire after the journey, to enquire about the welfare of our family pet dogs. (Out of interest, it was to be the first of a quartet of books, each deliberately written in a different mood -  this was the “fiery” one of the four).

Available from Amazon.co.uk and elsewhere.

 

book - Into the Crocodile's Nest - a journey inside New Guinea
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Paperback
£8 + £2.50 p+p

 

Into the Crocodile's Nest - a journey inside New Guinea (1987)

In order to better understand the rain forest from the "inside", Benedict Allen underwent an initiation ceremony of the Niowra, a Sepik people who traditionally believed it made each candidates a "man as strong as a crocodile". It meant having his back and chest permanently scarred with "crocodile" markings and being beaten daily for six weeks, but this was a sacred and secret ceremony, and to be included was a very great privilege.

Recommended for:  those wanting something a bit more thoughtful to do with exotic societies.

Most exciting moment: running away from the Obini – an uncontacted people who turn out to be at war with his guides. And the eve of the dreaded crocodile initiation ceremony.

Benedict’s comment: my second book, and something of a counterbalance to the first. My first independent journey – to the Orinoco and Amazon (the story told in Mad White Giant) – having ended up with me alone and desperate in the rain forest, even having to eat my dog to survive, I now wanted to come to terms with the forest that had almost killed me. I set about  out attempting to immerse myself among various indigenous peoples in New Guinea – I had no appetite to return to the Amazon after the trauma there – but in fact ended up facing situations which were almost as equally worrying!  I now think that the initiation ceremony was as harsh as any on the planet – though didn’t know all it entailed beforehand, perhaps fortunately…  But by now my “philosophy” of travelling was clear to me. I had gone on my first journey without backup largely out of necessity – I had no money. But now I saw that this approach – to leave modern equipment and companions at home – as valuable in its own right. If you call yourself an explorer, you should be pushing frontiers, and as I was not a scientist, these frontiers must be about immersing yourself thoroughly in little understood or unknown worlds, and then reporting back.  Freud would perhaps have called this the banishing of “ego,” as you try to lose some of yourself (and cultural baggage), and embrace different values.  The second in the quartet, it was written as a quieter, much more studied book than Mad White Giant.

Available from Amazon.co.uk and elsewhere.

 

book - Hunting the Gugu - in search of the Lost Ape-men of Sumatra
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Paperback
£8 + £2.50 p+p

 

Hunting the Gugu (1989) - in search of the Lost Ape-men of Sumatra

Hearing tales of an apeman, the "Orang pendek" of Sumatra, Benedict sets off in search of the truth. Along the way he muses on the origins of the human race and our belief in such creatures - the yeti, bigfoot, fairy - around the remote world. While on the elusive ape-man’s trail, he visits the Mentawai of Siberut and the Kubu of mainland Sumatra, and these people gradually help him narrow his search. However, things are not as straight forward as they might seem…

Recommended for:  those wanting an enchanting tale which is thoughtful and not too heavy.

Most exciting moment: when Benedict’s guides flee, he chases and falls and has to sew up his chest with a needle and thread meant to be for repairing his boots!

Benedict’s comment: My third book, and in some ways the most simple and straight forward of the first four  – with few of the traumas experienced on the journeys before and after. However, I was here investigating the power of myths, and exploring the story-telling process, and I like to think that there’s more to the book than a simple fool-hardy quest after a hairy little man living in the mountains of Sumatra! Those wanting a scientific appraisal of the evidence regarding the orang  pendek – which many still very much believe in (the book itself has launched several expeditions) will be disappointed. I was not so much interested in running the creature to ground, or coming to a definitive yes/no answer about its existence, but more about the nature of belief itself and how we made gods of the things around us, even giving extremely evasive or imaginary things power over ourselves.

Available from Amazon.co.uk and elsewhere.

 

book - The Proving Grounds - a journey through the interior of New Guinea and Australia
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Paperback
£8 + £2.50 p+p

 

The Proving Grounds - a journey through the interior of New Guinea and Australia (1991)

Launched out by the Niowra people of Papua New Guinea (see Into The Crocodile Nest), Benedict made first contact with the threatened Yaifo and with their help made a crossing of the Central Range. Then, largely by sea-faring canoe, he crossed the treacherous Torres Strait to Australia. Finally, among the Gibson desert, in an Aborigine community devastated by drink and highly suspicious of all "whitefellas," he gained an extraordinary level of acceptance.

Recommended for:  those wanting something to get their teeth into. Those interested in the Aborigines of Australia, and more on the New Guineans.

Most exciting moment: meeting the uncontact Yaifo people, or being marooned amid the Torres Strait in a storm, or the gathering of the Aborigines for a ritual in the Gibson desert.

Benedict’s comment: The concluding book in what was for me, if no-one else, a quartet. The central theme is “coming of age” – not necessarily me personally, but the process involving us all.  (As usual, the territory tackled in this particular book was to reflect issues and themes encountered on the journey, rather than those imposed from home).  In some ways the most ambitious work so far – taking me between two radically different cultures (a forest people in New Guinea and desert people in Australia) -  I saw my job as to  search out  threads uniting them, and us all. Although perhaps the hardest of my books to tackle, I think The Proving Grounds also contains some of my best writing. My favorite passage occurs  when I’ve fallen over while in the Gibson Desert, been concussed and light a fire to signal my plight. No-one comes and I find that, having wiped out life all around me with the fire, scorpions – or was it ants? - emerge from the burnt black and red soil around me. Life has a way of battling on of its own accord, and now it was up to me to do the same.

 

book - Through Jaguar Eyes - crossing the Amazon Basin
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Hardback
£25 + £5 p+p

very limited copies available

 

Through Jaguar Eyes - crossing the Amazon Basin (1994)

The story of Benedict’s 3,600 mile journey to cross Amazon Basin at its widest point without a map.  An attempt to look at the Amazon afresh, the journey took him from the Andes of Ecuador on a journey of almost eight months across the basin to Brazil, in the SE. Benedict took whatever transport was available locally, the greatest physical challenge being the drug barons of Columbia (who shot at him) and the dense forests of Brazil, which he was able to survive, often alone, only thanks to instruction from the remote Matses Indians of Peru.

Recommended for:  those wanting a great Amazon adventure; a maturer Mad White Giant, but still with heaps of unlikely mishaps.  

Most exciting moment: being chased by drug dealers in a canoe; or walking alone through the forest after having been abandoned by guides.  

Benedict’s comment: It had taken me ten years to re-visit the Amazon, and now I had almost as many misadventures as the first time! This book was my first along the lines of a conventional travelogue; my objective was simply to record whatever happened as I did a dissection of great Amazon rainforest and I added the occasional historical detail and scientific note.   As it happened, I had a series of rather unlikely encounters – and afterwards some people even questioned whether all the events had taken place. Actually,  I rather downplayed certain incidents (including the chase by the Medellin cartel drug people) just as, in hindsight, I did the incident (in The Proving Grounds) when I was marooned on a little rock in the Torres Strait.   On the other hand, the journey was not perhaps as heroic as it might at first seen – although I didn’t have any back-up, or maps to navigate with, I was helped (as the book tells) by many miscellaneous characters along the way. Notable among these were the Matses, whose  “role-model” might be said to be  the jaguar (with its intelligence, agility and power) , and taught me (as the Niowra in New Guinea had taught me the value of banding together to cope with the rain forest, and being as robust in defending your niche as that other top predator the crocodile) how to operate alone, jaguar-like, in the Amazon.

Available from Benedict Allen’s office.

 

book - More Great Railway Journeys
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More Great Railway Journeys (1996)

Authored by Benedict Allen and various other celebrities including Chris Bonington and Victoria Wood, to accompany the BBC TV series. Travelling on trains old and new - from the space-age glamour of Eurostar to the Old Patagonian Express with its steam engine and wooden slat seats.

Benedict's journey, Mombasa to the Mountains of the Moon, took him  through Kenya to the legendary source of the Nile in Uganda.

Currently out of print, but available soon from Amazon.co.uk     

 

book - The Skeleton Coast - a journey through the Namib Desert
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Hardback
£25 + £4 p+p

very limited copies available

 

 

The Skeleton Coast - a journey through the Namib Desert (1997)

Named after the bleached bones and scattered remains of shipwrecks washed up on its shore, The Skeleton Coast is where the Namib Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean in south-western Africa. Benedict trained three camels - including the indomitable Nelson - single-handedly, and walked them up the coast on a thousand mile trek, the first time this had been permitted through the diamond-scattered and harsh but delicate environment. A glossy hardback, and suitable present maybe.

Recommended for:  A suitable gift? It’s a glossy hardback; those fascinated by Namibia, and fans of camels and deserts.

Most exciting moment:  midway through the journey, setting off into the desert alone with camels, having left the government guide behind. And reaching safety, no-one in the world knowing where Benedict was.  

Benedict’s comment:  Although commissioned to accompany the BBC TV series, the book - I like to think - stands alone. Taken from detailed diaries, and heavily illustrated thanks to the photographer Adrian Arbib, the book I hope accurately evokes not just a journey but this glorious part of the world. It was my first long trek through a desert, an environment which seems to  “open-up” the traveller – in the opposite way that the “jungle” closes in on the traveller, making him or her feel the odd one out. Namibia remains one of my favorite countries, and Nelson a cherished companion.  

Available only from Benedict Allen’s office.  

 

book - The Edge of Blue Heaven - a journey through Mongolia
Hardback
£18 + £4 p+p

 

The Edge of Blue Heaven - a journey through Mongolia (1998)

A five and half month trek by horse and camel from the forests of Siberia, across the open plains of the Mongolian steppe and on to a 1000 mile lone crossing of the Gobi Desert. As usual, it is by tuning into local skills, in this case those of the nomadic Mongols, that the journey proves possible.

Recommended for:  anyone interested in horses, and the wide expanses of Mongolia’s steppe and Gobi. A suitable gift? It’s a glossy hardback;

Most exciting moment: Various ups and downs with the resilient Mongol horses; and when Benedict is deserted by a key camel, Jigjig. And when he reaches safety at the far end of the Gobi Desert after six weeks alone.  

Benedict’s comment:  Something of a pair to The Skeleton Coast, this book also accompanied a BBC TV series but very much stands without it. It was again brilliantly illustrated by photographer Adrian Arbib. Mongolia proved to be an inspiring land, a land of nomads, horses, camels and those blue skies.

Available only from Benedict Allen’s office.

 

book - Last of the Medicine Men Hardback
£18 + £4 p+p

 

Last of the Medicine Men (2000)

An investigation into the dramatic and mysterious world of shamans and witchdoctors around the globe, focusing on the harmonious, herb-gathering Mentawai of Siberut, the shamans now bizarrely emerging in urban Tuva, the Vodou practises of Haiti, and the Huichol of Mexico - where perhaps the most traditional community of North America gave Benedict the rare privilege of ritually taking their peyote, the hallucinogenic cacti, to bring him at last "face-to-face" with the gods.

Recommended for:  anyone interested in shamans and medicine men, and healing practices. Also, those simply interested in other ways people see the world.  A suitable gift (it’s a hard-back).

Benedict’s comment:  I persuaded the BBC to undertake what turned out to be the biggest ever such TV series and argued for a book that wouldn’t resemble a TV-tie of any sort. This is the result – a pragmatic, and honest account of all I witnessed while spending time with remote and “exotic” healers around the world.  

Available only from Benedict Allen’s office.

 

The Faber Book of Exploration - Benedict Allen
Hardback
(OUT OF PRINT)

Paperback
£9.99 + £2.50 p+p

 

The Faber Book of Exploration (2002)

In his anthology of exploration, something of a treasure-trove, Benedict argues that as well as the traditional view of an explorer (pith-helmeted and largely belonging to a bi-gone age), we must acknowledge all those who are pushing frontiers. Thus in addition to the usual names - Drake, Scott, Frobisher, Stanley etc - explorers of the mind, like Freud, or of our physical composition, geneticists like Watson, are discussed and often quoted.   The only anthology of explorers by someone with experience of surviving all the great hostile environments.

Recommended for:  travellers and armchair travellers alike. A huge and authoritative collection, compiled over more than ten years, of favorite and little known excerpts from  explorers’ tales.  A suitable gift, especially in hardback.

Benedict’s comment:  I’m very proud of this book – which almost did me in, it was such an effort to compile. I placed the explorers side by side, through the ages, within certain habitats. So in the Forest section, we see missionaries, conquistadores and anthologists side by side with their differing agendas. And so on, through different habitats – seas, mountains, plains, the cold deserts... Sometimes the habitats work to change the explorer in question, other times the habitat itself is changed.  

Available from Amazon.co.uk and elsewhere.

 

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Into The Abyss
£18 + £4 p+p

 

INTO THE ABYSS (2006)

Explorers on the Edge of Survival

What keeps an explorer going, step after step, into a blizzard where there seems to be no hope? How do any of us find the determination to keep going in times of despair?

No one is better placed to understand what makes a survivor than Benedict Allen, who took a team of hardened “Icedogs” into the remotest corner of Siberia. And in the midst of that freezing hell he discovered what it is that helped the great adventurers –Shackleton, Peary, Amundsen and Scott – stand firm when facing disaster.

This is the full story of the “Icedogs” expedition, in which Benedict, assisted by two valiant Chukchi guides, a translator, and their dog teams set out through Siberia in the worst winter in living memory. Benedict’s aim was to learn enough out there in the pitiless Russian Far East, to set off alone with his dogs and cross the Bering Strait – in order to understand what keeps any of us going when “up against it.”

Recommended for: those who have a dog, or who want to know what how this extraordinary relationship between man and dog works in the Arctic. Also a book for those interested in what keeps any of us going, when up against it – not the “boy scout” survival stuff, but the psychology of survival.

Most exciting bit: towards the end, when Benedict has been trained up by the Chukchis and is at last alone, having decided to dash off across the frozen pack ice of the Bering Strait with his dog team.

Benedict’s comment: “This was a wonderful journey – and all the more so, now I’m back home! I don’t like the extreme cold. The two guides, Yasha and Tolia, were very good to me, especially as I found it hard to cope, what with the frostbite/frostnip and the dog team naturally reluctant to put their trust in me. Things came together in the end – and two of the best days of my life were on my return from the Bering Strait, winding through the pack-ice and tundra with the dogs, feeling we had worked things out together, and were free now to travel the Arctic alone.

To my frustration, when the TV series was broadcast one magazine quoted me as saying that the two Chukchis, Yasha and Tolia, were drunk much of the time on our journey up to the Strait. Although drink was indeed a problem at times, it was rarely a major one in their case and actually I was trying to deflect blame from my translator who did become a major liability as he took more and more to the bottle. The book, though, sets the record straight, and gives an idea of how content I was by the end of my time in Chukotka. The experience I had out there was a very valuable, uplifting one. I dedicated the Faber Book of Exploration to Tolia and Yasha, and still hope to visit them and also ride out across the ice-fields with those dogs again.



To obtain SIGNED AND ANNOTATED and first-edition books from Benedict Allen’s office:

Benedict is happy to sign books, and add personal messages / inscriptions at no extra cost.

PLEASE NOTE: Books and DVDs are generally sent out by Benedict Allen personally – not least because many are requested with his signature. Normally, items shall be dispatched within two days, but while he’s abroad there may be delays. However, all emails are read by his office in his absence and urgent requests (if they don’t require a personal message) will normally be met. Any complaints or queries, please email info@benedictallen.com

Books (hardback, illustrated)  

UK Sales : Postage is based on UK rates - apply to Benedict Allen's office for other destinations.
Please note that in order to fit in with the paypal shopping cart system postage is calculated on a fixed rate. Any variation in cost has been offset against the product cost.

Skeleton Coast £25 + £4 p+p   (very limited numbers available of the first edition hardback)
Edge of Blue Heaven £18 + £4 p+p  
Last of the Medicine Men £18 + £4 p+p
Faber Book Of Exploration  £25 + £5 p+p
Through Jaguar Eyes £25 + £5 p+p (very limited numbers available of the first edition hardback)
Into The Abyss £18 + £4 p+p

Books (paperback)

The following paperbacks are available for £8 plus £2.50 p+p.
(NB Of these, only the Proving Grounds is not in print, i.e. is not available in shops).

Into the Crocodile Nest
Hunting the Gugu
The Proving Grounds

Faber Book Of Exploration  £9.99 + £2.50 p+p

Please apply to for other destinations or general queries.


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