The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places by William Atkins (Faber & Faber, £20)

“It is curious how the desert satisfies me and gives me peace,” the explorer Wilfred Thesiger once wrote to his mother. “You cannot explain what you find there for those who don’t feel it too, for most people it is just a howling wilderness.”

In The Immeasurable World, William Atkins goes looking for that peace as he explores the world’s desert regions, from China to America and from Arabia to Australia. What he finds instead is more complicated; a litany of “sand-drowned” cities, nuclear testing sites, the Burning Man Festival and, time and again, human detritus left to desiccate.

For Atkins, the desert is a place that pivots between spirituality – the desert is the locus for monotheistic religion, after all – and political expediency. It’s a place that not only attracts travellers seeking loneliness (“the axis where the absolute coexists with the infinite,” as Atkins puts it,) but it’s also the dumping ground for political exiles and inconvenient indigenous peoples, as well as an obstacle for illegal immigrants. In The Immeasurable World what strikes you is not the vast, alien otherness of desert landscapes, but how busy with history and people they are.

Dune, by Frank Herbert (Hodder & Stoughton, £9.99)

Herbert’s 1965 novel is one of the landmarks of science fiction. Set on a dangerously hostile desert planet called Arrakis – sandstorms and attacks by the locals or giant sandworms are all common– it is also the source of the extremely valuable drug called “melange” or “spice”.

It’s a novel full of power politics, hippy mysticism and a burgeoning ecological awareness. What you take away, though, is Herbert’s evocation of the desert landscape. As Brian Aldiss points out in his epic history of science fiction, Trillion Year Spree, “the bleak, dry world of Arrakis is as intensely realised as any in science fiction.”

Modern Nature by Derek Jarman (Vintage, £9.99)

“Prospect Cottage, its timbers black with pitch, stands on the shingle at Dungeness,” begins filmmaker Derek Jarman’s first entry in his diary in January 1989, the first of two years covered in Modern Nature.

Dungeness, on the Kent coast, is technically Britain’s only desert, so Modern Nature qualifies for our theme. Jarman’s diary is an account of how a life can be made there, right at the edge of things. In that sense it’s about wilderness too.

Read More: Derek Jarman's Garden

Modern Nature is biography, natural history, and polemic all at once, taking in Jarman’s love of gardening, his art, his sexuality and his failing health (he was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1986 and died in 1994). It’s a joyful rage against the dying of the light, full of love and humour and an eye for the barren landscape that surrounded him.