About the author (from Wikipedia):
Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS (19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890) was an English geographer, explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, Egyptologist and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations within Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. According to one count, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages.
Burton’s best-known achievements include traveling in disguise to Mecca, an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English after early translations of Antoine Galland’s French version), bringing the Kama Sutra to publication in English, and journeying with John Hanning Speke as the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile. Burton’s works and letters extensively criticized colonial policies of the British Empire, to the detriment of his career. He was a prolific and erudite author and wrote numerous books and scholarly articles about subjects including human behaviour, travel, falconry, fencing, sexual practices and ethnography. A characteristic feature of his books is the copious footnotes and appendices containing remarkable observations and information.
Burton was a captain in the army of the East India Company, serving in India (and later, briefly, in the Crimean War). Following this, he was engaged by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the east coast of Africa and led an expedition guided by the locals and was the first European to see Lake Tanganyika. In later life, he served as British consul in Fernando Pó, Santos, Damascus and, finally, Trieste. He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and was awarded a knighthood (KCMG) in 1886.
About the book (from Wikipedia):
Motivated by his love of adventure, Burton got the approval of the Royal Geographical Society for an exploration of the area and he gained permission from the board of directors of the British East India Company to take leave from the army. His seven years in India gave Burton a familiarity with the customs and behaviour of Muslims and prepared him to attempt a Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca and, in this case, Medina). It was this journey, undertaken in 1853, which first made Burton famous. He had planned it whilst traveling disguised among the Muslims of Sindh, and had laboriously prepared for the adventure by study and practice (including undergoing the Muslim tradition of circumcision to further lower the risk of being discovered).
Although Burton was certainly not the first non-Muslim European to make the Hajj (Ludovico di Varthema did this in 1503), his pilgrimage is the most famous and the best documented of the time. He adopted various disguises including that of a Pashtun to account for any oddities in speech, but he still had to demonstrate an understanding of intricate Islamic traditions, and a familiarity with the minutiae of Eastern manners and etiquette. Burton’s trek to Mecca was dangerous and his caravan was attacked by bandits (a common experience at the time). As he put it, though “… neither Koran or Sultan enjoin the death of Jew or Christian intruding within the columns that note the sanctuary limits, nothing could save a European detected by the populace, or one who after pilgrimage declared himself an unbeliever.” The pilgrimage entitled him to the title of Hajji and to wear the green head wrap. Burton’s own account of his journey is given in A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah (1855).