The camel was once unkindly described as 'half snake, half folding bedstead', but in the eyes of many the camel is a creature of great beauty. In fact, in some Arabic countries today, beauty pageants for camels are held regularly. The camel has enjoyed a central role in the historical development of Arabic society, and a fantastically elaborate literature and vocabulary has been devoted to the animal.
In "Camel", the well-known Islamicist Robert Irwin explores why the camel has provided a source of fascination for so many cultures, including those where camels are foreign. Camels have appeared in the visions of Leonardo da Vinci, Poussin, Tiepolo, Flaubert, Kipling and Rose Macaulay, while in Japan the camel has become a symbol of erotic contentment. Throughout history, the camel has been appreciated worldwide for its practicality, resilience and legendary abilities of survival. The Medici in Tuscany kept a herd of camels; the us army tried to establish a camel corps; Australians imported camels in order to penetrate the interior of their continent.
"Camel" is the first survey of its kind to examine the animal's role in society and history throughout the world. The book traces the history of the camel from its origins millions of years ago through to the present day, discussing such matters of current concern as the plight of camel herders in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, the alarming increase in the population of feral camels in Australia, and the endangered status of the wild Bactrian in Mongolia and China.
A bold and fascinating series The Independent This series ... calls itself a new kind of animal history . It is, splendidly, even brilliantly, so. I have nothing but praise for it The Spectator
1 Physiology and Psychology
2 Ancestors of the Camel
3 Practical Camel
4 Camels in the Medieval World of Islam
5 The Beauty of the Beast: Literature and Art
6 The Camel's Role in History
7 Modernity's Camel
Timeline of the Camel
Associations and Websites
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Robert Irwin is a former lecturer in medieval history at the University of St Andrews. He has travelled extensively in the Middle East and India, and is a leading expert on Arab culture. He is the author or editor of numerous books including "The Alhambra" and "The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature".