Fascinating Facts


Sample Chapter: Algeria

As mentioned in the Introduction, this unit is based on the book, Fascinating Facts about Geography, by Ruth Foster. We're going to use this book to practice a variety of reading and writing skills. It makes sense, therefore, to start by actually reading a chapter from the book. I've chosen the chapter on Algeria, because many of the examples that I'm going to give you are based on this chapter.

Okay, here it is: the chapter on Algeria, from the book Fascinating Facts, by Ruth Foster. Read it then take the quiz at the bottom of the page.

More than 80% of this country is covered by the Sahara Desert, but it also has mountains and a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea.
You are in the second largest nation on the continent. You would like to be on the fertile coast along the Mediterranean where 90% of the population lives, but somehow you ended up across the Atlas Mountains and are currently roasting in the largest desert in the world. The desert is only getting bigger. The government has tried to curb its encroachment, and at one point they tried to plant rows of pine trees from border to border. Unfortunately, the workers couldn't keep up. The desert spread northward faster than the workers could plant trees. Where on Earth are you?


Algeria is second in size only to Sudan on the African continent. The French conquered northern Algeria in 1847 and despite fierce resistance, pushed southward until Algeria’s current boundaries were drawn in 1902. Algeria did not gain independence from the French until July 5, 1962. It was a bloody and violent process, partly due to the large number of Europeans (the majority of French origin) who had come to settle there. This produced two economic classes, with the Europeans possessing the principal industrial, commercial, and agricultural enterprises. Although independent, there is still violent unrest in Algeria. Islamic fundamentalists have killed tourists and other foreigners in their attempt to control the country. Islam is the state religion, and Arabic is the national language. The Sahara is the world’s largest desert, and it covers 80% of Algeria.

Algeria is big—it is close to one-fourth the size of the United States, or two times the size of Peru. What percent of Algeria’s land do you think is cultivated? Despite its size, about only 3% of Algeria’s land is cultivated, and only 13% is suitable to pasture. Wheat, barley, grapes, olives, dates, and citrus fruits are some of its chief products.

Camels make it possible to travel over long stretches of desert. One-hump or two, what type of camel is in Algeria?The one-humped camel is the Dromedary. Bactrian camels have two humps. Here’s a trick to remember this: write a capital B and a capital D and turn your paper sideways. The B makes two humps for Bactrian, and the D makes one hump for Dromedary. The Dromedary is the camel found in Algeria.

How do camels keep sand from blowing up their noses? They can shut their nostrils. Camels also have a third eyelid. If sand gets past their first line of defense—really long lashes—the third eyelid comes down like a windshield wiper, moving side to side to wipe the sand away.

Hassiba Boulmerka became the first African woman to win a gold medal at the World Track and Field Championships in 1991 when she won the 1,500 meters. A year later, she became the first African women to win an Olympic gold metal. She ran 1,500 meters in 3 minutes and 55.30 seconds. Boulmerka has been spat on and pelted with rocks by Muslim fundamentalists who feel she has been disrespectful to God by “running with naked legs in front of thousands of men.” Boulmerka says, “…my gold medal wasn't simply a victory for the moment. It was a victory for the future.” What do you think Boulmerka meant?

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the Questions.