Category Archives: Book news

News about my books Grand Hotels of Egypt and On the Nile.

Investing in Grand Hotels

I assure you, I don’t spend all my time checking how my books are doing on Amazon. But earlier today a friend emailed to say I should take a look. A while ago Grand Hotels of Egypt sold out in hardback and is now only available in paperback. Of course, anything that’s scarce goes up in value, but take a look at this (click on the image to enlarge):

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One hundred and thirteen pounds and nineteen pence! That’s crazy. But considerably less crazy than this:

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I think the hardback originally sold at a full cover price of £30, so if these Amazon sellers are to be believed it has now increased in value to the tune of over 2000%. Not even central London property gives that sort of return. When we launched the book with a party in 2012, we sold 120 copies that night, which I am now severely regretting. If I’d kept all those books for myself and just sat on them, I’d be looking at a stash worth over £80,000. Instead, I only have two or three copies. Tell you what though, I’ll do you a deal, one could be yours for just a nice round £670.

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Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel

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Toward the end of last year I was contacted by the publisher Dorling Kindersley and invited to contribute to one of its titles, Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel. Over six months I wound up writing four out of its seven chapters. The book is – in the word’s of the company’s marketing department – a lavishly illustrated account of human journeys from Ancient Persian couriers to the ascent of Everest, the invention of Concorde, and the voyage into space itself. The scope of the book is immense and the topics on which I have written are mind-bogglingly diverse, from retellings of the voyages of explorers including Cook, Darwin, Burke and Wills, Lewis and Clarke, and Humboldt, to pieces on desert, polar and undersea exploration, ground-breaking expeditions into Africa, Siberia and Central Asia, the invention of the bicycle, the camping craze, the Romantics, Thomas Cook, the first round-the-world voyagers, three different golden ages of travel, world’s fairs, early guidebooks, the overland hippy trail, Route 66 and low-cost airlines. Of course, there are also spreads on the West’s ‘discovery’ of Egypt, Orientalism, grand hotels and even luggage labels. It was an absolute joy to write and the finished book looks stunning too. It is a brute of a thing, 360 pages heavy and 300 x 252mm in size. Maybe the content is too general to satisfy historians and specialists, but for anybody with a general interest in the history of travel, it is an absolute must. Journey is out in early October.

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Five years

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This coming weekend marks five years since the first post on this site (which was about four months before the publication of Grand Hotels of Egypt). To mark the occasion I’d like to say a big thank you to everybody that regularly checks in here, and particularly to all those people who’ve left comments or have emailed me directly. Every time my enthusiasm has flagged and the posts have dropped off, there’s been a fascinating or gratifying communication from someone out there and I’ve been inspired to dig up more material to share.

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It really is the interaction that keeps this site going. I’ve got a big kick out of hearing from the distant relatives of some of the hoteliers and other characters that I write about in my books and from people whose ancestors travelled to Egypt way back when, especially those who’ve shared diaries and photos with me. I’ve also loved fielding some of the intriguing requests for information that regularly come my way – helping to identify a hotel in Alexandria hotel for an exhibition about Paul Klee in Germany or show what a letterhead from Shepheard’s would have looked like back in 1914 for a dramatisation of one of HP Lovecraft’s weird tales. The query about tessellated pentagonal tiling at the Cataract flummoxed me, though. Next year I’ll also be loaning some of the bits and pieces I own relating to Egypt’s old hotels to a couple of museum exhibitions here in the UK, one on an amateur Egyptologist who travelled to Egypt in 1886/7 and 1890/1 and the other devoted to Winston Churchill in the Middle East. More on those nearer the time.

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Meanwhile, please keep checking back regularly, and keep the comments and emails coming. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my obsessions. (The photos, by the way, are from the launch party for Grand Hotels, which took place at Cairo’s Windsor hotel.)

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Grand Hotels in paperback

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It’s been out for a while now but I only recently got to see it for myself – the paperback edition of Grand Hotels of Egypt.

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Grand Hotels now in revised paperback

I’ve yet to see a copy but I think Grand Hotels of Egypt is out in paperback. We updated the text earlier this summer, correcting a few typos and including new information that has come to light since the book’s original publication (more on that shortly). We also changed the spine colour to a lovely deep red. I can’t wait to see it. If you haven’t already bought a copy of the book, maybe put off by the price tag of the hardback, then the good news is the paperback is selling for just £10 on amazon in the UK.

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On the Nile press coverage

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There has been some welcome coverage of On the Nile in the UK press: travel mag Wanderlust featured it as one of its ‘8 summer reads’ in the August issue and there was a great half-page review (‘A sense of romance positively oozes from every page of this delightful book’) by explorer Robin Hanbury Tenison in the 29 July issue of Country Life. The online Telegraph ran a picture gallery linked to the book, as did the online travel section of the Daily Mail.

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UPDATE Also reviewed (a half page) in the September issue of Geographical:

Humphreys’ beautifully produced account of tourism’s golden age is largely the story of what became of Cook & Son, from its internal politics to its ties to government and the British Army – in 1884 all tourist activity was halted, as Cook’s steamers were commandeered by the Gordon Relief Expedition, a hiatus which was followed by the launching in 1888 of a fleet of ‘floating palaces’ so grand that bathrooms were included in the fare, instead of being optional extras.

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Now shipping

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On the Nile is now available from Amazon.

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My ship’s come in

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I’m told that my book On the Nile has arrived in Egypt and is currently at Suez awaiting custom clearance before being trucked to the AUC Press warehouse and distributed. If you are in Egypt start looking for it in the shops around the end of this month (March). I’m guessing it should be available international, or via Amazon, some time in April. I hope to be in Egypt in May to do some press and maybe a signing or two. I can’t wait.

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It’s here!

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I have a copy of On the Nile. Just the one, mind. It’s an advance copy, couriered to me direct from the printing house in China. The bulk of the books are now making their way slowly by sea to Egypt from where they will distributed internationally. I’m not sure when they make land at Suez, but I think it’s probably early April, which means it should be in the bookshops later that month. Meanwhile, you can place advance orders on Amazon.

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The new book (and a new name)

To reflect the fact that Grand Hotels of Egypt will soon by joined by On the Nile – which has now gone to print, although I don’t as yet have a publication date – I’ve changed the name of the site: you are now reading ‘Egypt in the Golden Age of Travel’. The website address stays the same though. I’ve also added a new page devoted to the forthcoming book, with a link posted up above: if you click there you’ll see some sample pages.

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To tell you a little more about On the Nile, or to give it its full title On the Nile in the Golden Age of Travel, the book traces the evolution of the Nile cruise business, starting in 1869 with the very first tour to Egypt led by Thomas Cook. One of the passengers on this maiden voyage was a Miss Riggs of Hampstead, England, whose unpublished diary survives and who serves as our guide from London Bridge to Calais via Paris and Turin to Brindisi and across the Mediterranean to Alexandria in Egypt. From there the party of 30, led by Cook himself, continues on to Cairo to board a pair of belching steamers leased from the khedive. And so they set off up river for Luxor and Aswan, sailing in the wake of the Prince and Princess of Wales, who coincidentally happen to be on the Nile at the same time (and are not at all happy at being pursued by ‘tourists’).

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The second chapter backtracks to the time before steam, and describes the passage of earlier travellers up the Nile aboard the graceful sailboats known as dahabiyas, an era when goats (for milk) and pianos (for evening entertainment) were considered essential bits of river kit.

We then jump forward again to Thomas Cook’s equally historic, second organised tour to Egypt, which was to the inaugural celebrations marking the opening of the Suez Canal. The book then charts the growth of Cook’s business in Egypt, to the point where, within ten years, his company – now managed by his son John – enjoyed a monopoly on all Nile passenger traffic and the subsequent temporary loss of that business as Cook’s fleet is diverted to the task of ferrying an Anglo-Egyptian army tens of thousands strong in an effort to rescue General Charles Gordon in Khartoum.

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Chapter five deals with the aftermath of the Sudan campaign, when Cook & Son set about building itself a fantastic new Nile fleet of (largely) Scottish-built steamers, finer than anything ever seen on the Nile before – ‘floating palaces’ is how they were described. A subsequent chapter explores what life was like aboard for those with money and leisure time enough to book a cabin. This is the period from the mid 1880s through to the first decade of the 20th century, when a three-week voyage from Cairo up to Aswan and back was just about the most exciting and luxurious thing imaginable. From the comfort of a wicker chair on the sun deck, passengers could observe a scrolling panorama of palm groves, desert, and mountains, not to mention the magnificent monuments of the ancient pharaohs, many of which were conveniently sited right on the banks of the river. And if one should tire of the landscapes, temples, tombs and donkey rides, there were always one’s fellow travelers to provide distraction and amusement.

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There was the interruption of the First World War but normal service resumed soon after when tourism to Egypt received a huge boost from the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. The glamour and intrigue were heightened in the 1930s thanks to the role of the Nile steamer in Agatha Christie’s best-selling Death on the Nile.

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Although the Second World War and the turbulence in Egypt that followed brought to an end the era of the Nile steamer, there were survivors. The final chapter of the book discovers what happened to the boats when they were retired from regular service. Some became floating homes, others floating hotels; some were used in the Nubian Salvage Mission to aid in the rescue of ancient monuments from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, created by the construction of the Aswan dam in the 1960s. Many were left to decay on the banks of the river. Just one survives as a working passenger steamer.

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The very last section of the book is an appendix that takes the form of an A to Z (from Amasis to Zinat al-Nil) of all the boats there were at one time or another in the Nile fleets of Thomas Cook & Son and the Anglo-American Nile Company.

I’ve had great fun researching and writing the book, and my partner and collaborator Gadi Farfour has done a brilliant job of sourcing images. It contains a lot of never-before-published photography and some stunning illustrations. I can’t wait to see it in print.

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