Richard Burton is one of the vague historical figures who I knew was extremely cool, without knowing precisely why. Now I know! He's a real man's man, roaming all over the white spaces of the Victorian map, speaking dozens of languages like a native, cutlass in one hand and pistol in the other, sneaking into Muslim holy places and translating fascinating Arabic texts into English from the back of a camel. In fact his biography reminded me a bit of 'Fighting Round the World With Russell Crowe' (South Park reference....).
Pilgrimage to Medina and Mecca is the book that made him famous. It's his account of travelling in the guise of a native-born Muslim of various provenances to the holiest places of the Muslim faith. This was an exceedingly dangerous voyage. As well as the natural perils of travel through land infested with raiders and thieves, he had to maintain his disguise while constantly in the company of Persians, Arabs, and Bedouins would who have been happy to slaughter an unbeliever. He doesn't seem like the kind of person who would be comfortable to know in real life, but my, is he attractive on paper.
My only complaint was that I wanted more. With good reason - I didn't realize until the audiobook was over that I was listening to just 'excerpts'. The narration by Patrick Tull was flawed. Tull sounds like a gruff older man; Burton was in his early thirties when these events took place (and were published), so Tull just doesn't sound right.
I can't wait to read the whole thing.