Maitland, Alexander 1940–

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Maitland, Alexander 1940–


Born 1940, in Scotland; married; children: three. Education: Attended Glasgow School of Architecture and School of Art.


Home— London, England. Agent— Bruce Hunter, David Higham Associates, 5-8 Lower John St., Golden Sq., London W1F 9HA, England.


Writer. Has also worked in architecture and painting.


Royal Geographic Society (fellow).



Speke, Constable (London, England), 1971.

A Tower in a Wall: Conversations with Dame Freya Stark, William Blackwood (London, England), 1982.

Robert and Gabriela Cunningham Graham, William Blackwood (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1983.

The Highland Year: A Sketch of the Open Road, Methuen (London, England), 1988.

Wild Thyme and Saladelle: Journeys round Western Provence, Methuen (London, England), 1993.

(Editor) Wilfred Thesiger,My Life and Travels,2002.

Wilfred Thesiger: A Life in Pictures, HarperCollins (London, England), 2004.

Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer, HarperPress (London, England), 2006.

Assisted with the books My Kenya Days, The Danakil Diary, Among the Mountains, and A Vanished World, all by Wilfred Thesiger.


Alexander Maitland has written or edited several books relating to travel. His A Tower Wall: Conversations with Dame Freya Stark recounts conversations with Freya Stark (1893-1993), one of the first European women to travel in the Arabian Peninsula. His books The Highland Year: A Sketch of the Open Road, set in Perthshire, Scotland, and Wild Thyme and Saladelle: Journeys round Western Provence, set in the Camargue region of France, are illustrated with his drawings and watercolor paintings.

Maitland is perhaps best known for his books about Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003), the noted British explorer who was Maitland's close personal friend for the last forty years of Thesiger's life. Son of an English diplomat, Thesiger was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he was introduced at a very young age to themes of rigorous physical adventure. Despising motor vehicles and other trappings of modern life as things that he felt deprived traditional cultures of nobility, Thesiger spent much of his adult life traveling and exploring in Africa, as well the region encompassing Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, and Pakistan. His book Arabian Sands recounts his adventures among the Bedouin peoples of Arabia's Empty Quarter, a vast sandy desert of approximately 250,000 square miles, in the late 1940s. In The Marsh Arabs, he describes the daily life of the Arabs who live in the marshy areas of southern Iraq. Thesiger, considered one of Britain's most noted modern explorers, was knighted in the 1990s.

Named Thesiger's official biographer, Maitland edited the explorer's memoir,My Life and Travels. He also edited the volume Wilfred Thesiger: A Life in Pictures, a collection of some 200 of the explorer's photographs, many of which had not been previously published. Noting that the book, despite Maitland's "outstanding introduction," does not reveal many insights on Thesiger's character,Books in Canada contributor Christopher Ondaatje nevertheless deemed it a "tribute to an extraordinary man to whom ‘challenge gave an undiminished zest for living.’"

Maitland provides a more comprehensive account of Thesiger in Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer. As many reviewers observed, the biographer is uniquely qualified to write about Thesiger, having not only known the explorer personally but also having been granted unrestricted access to his papers, including letters, diaries, manuscripts, and notes. Janet Starkey, in a review posted on the Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East Web site, praised the book as a well-researched, thorough, and engaging work that "fascinatingly separate[es] myth from fact." A writer for the Economist suggested, however, that Maitland "struggles for critical distance" in the book, which adds "a little color to the picture [of Thesiger], but no important details."

Other critics, however, found Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer, an illuminating work. Middle East contributor Fred Rhodes called it a "major biography of a great and unusual man," while a writer for the Contemporary Review considered the book's portrait of Thesiger to be "full, objective and yet affectionate." As Simon Courtauld noted in the Spectator, Thesiger's sexuality is a subject of particular interest to readers, because the explorer admitted in his books that he found dark-skinned young men "disturbingly beautiful" yet also told Maitland that he found the idea of actual sex revolting. In Maitland's view, as quoted by Courtauld, the explorer "viewed his male subjects as forbidden objects of desire, signaling his feelings for them by his choice of pose and his sensitive handling of light and shadow." For Geographical critic Nick Smith, on the other hand, Maitland's achievement as a biographer is less this insight into Thesiger's sexuality than it is his ability to convey "in a detailed and fascinating manner" the explorer's sensitivity to and delight in the lives of tribal people, especially in the Arab world.



Biography, summer, 2006, Jeffrey Meyers, review of Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer.

Books in Canada, January 1, 2005, Christopher Ondaatje, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," p. 24.

Contemporary Review, winter, 2006, review of Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer.

Economist, February 18, 2006, "Travelling with Baggage; Sir Wilfred Thesiger," p. 79.

Financial Times, February 25, 2006, Nick Woodsworth, "Great Escaper the Man behind the Hero of Arabian Sands Proves as Elusive as the Source of the Nile," p. 28.

Geographical, December, 2004, Venetia Dearden, review of Wilfred Thesiger: A Life in Pictures, p. 97; March, 2006, Nick Smith, "An Exploration Icon Explained," p. 78.

London Review of Books, April 6, 2006, Robert Irwin, "Only the Camels," p. 30.

Middle East, May, 2006, Fred Rhodes, review of Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer, p. 64.

New Criterion, November, 2006, Ben Downing, "In the Empty Quarter," p. 24.

New Statesman, January 6, 2003, Barbara Gunnell, "Boy Talk," p. 38.

Spectator, February 25, 2006, Simon Courtauld, "A Far from Plodding Pedestrian," p. 41.

Times Higher Education Supplement, January 21, 2005, Christopher Ondaatje, "Iconic Wanderer with 40,000 Miles on the Clock and an Eye for Remote Peoples," p. 22; May 5, 2006, Nick Smith, "The First Glimpse, and the Rest of the Story," p. 25.

Times Literary Supplement, June 16, 2006, Christopher Clapham, "Above His Weight," p. 36.


Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East Web site, (November 21, 2007), Janet Starkey, review of Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer.

BBC Web site, (November 3, 2007), Alexander Maitland profile.