3. Sir Richard Francis Burton's 'Personal Narrative Of A Pilgrimage To Al-Madinah and Meccah'
Burton is no philosopher in a strict sense, but he is a keen student of the human subject. An accomplished solider, explorer, linguist, and translator he also has amateur hats in anthropology (particularly in ethnography) and religious studies. The guy was a genuine badass with too many exploits to cover here, but one I need to mention is his trip to Medina and Mecca disguised as a Muslim so he could study the Hajj pilgrimage. That is some serious gumption.
Burton tried several disguises before settling on portraying himself a Sufi Sheikh hailing from Afghanistan. How an Englishman could trick other Afghanis into thinking he was a fellow countryman is beyond me, but he reports that he did it on several occasions. Using tricks of folk magic and hypnotism, he earned his keep as a healer, helping perfectly healthy people overcome imagined ailments with some soothing words, tonic water, and a variety of other harmless placebos he had become acquainted with as “oriental curiosities”.
Burton’s writing seems to take Horace’s advice of: “You’ll write wonderfully, if by a deft selection make a familiar word look new.” To the current social sciences, his writings are just the antiquated scribbling of a Victorian Englishmen stuck in his times, but his wit and style are hard to match. His talent of observation cuts through a lot of the cross-cultural static that would inhibit most Western observers of Arab subjects. Consider this selection on the natives of Medina (from Chapter 21):