Men of Salt
An account of traveling alongside West African salt miners during their 500-mile journey across the Sahara from Timbuktu to the remote Mali settlement Taoudenni could potentially invite yawns. Fortunately, New York Times reporter-photographer Michael Benanav writes engagingly and with a flair for adventure, exploring the dangers of sandstorms and dwindling supplies. Benanav illuminates the miners’ earthy survival techniques (camel dung replaces coal for the fire) and casts himself as the plucky hero — Indiana Jones by way of Ishtar (although he prefers comparisons to Sinbad the Sailor). Benanav attempts to enliven the pace of Men of Salt with historical details and overwrought prose (”awed by the otherworldly beauty that enveloped me”), but once he has bemoaned the sweltering heat, his tendency to portray the desert as a benevolent entity is best taken with a grain of — well, you know.