LOOSE CANON The 100 Greatest Travel Books of All Time

 

 

Today literally every square inch of the planet has been mapped out, if not every inch identified (for various reasons) by Google. But that was not always the case and even as late as the 1960s and bleeding into the early 1970s, National Geographic was publishing articles about places and people no one had ever seen or heard of before. Before now and the ubiquity of all information, we relied on the adventurers and explorers, and even just the wanderers, to tell us about life beyond our horizons. Their magical and inspiring books illuminated and animated small and large corners of the Earth, from as little as one street in Midaq Alley, to everywhere in The Atlas of the World. Some were first, and best, experienced as a child, and widened our eyes even further. Some soothed and dissipated our cynicism and world-weary selves as adults. Some just exhilarated us, some sobered us. The best always fed our souls.

 

There are many thousands of worthwhile travel books, and probably tens of thousands of crap ones, but here, with the Divine Authority invested upon us by ourselves, is the best 100 ever written. Our criteria for selecting them was that they transformed the experience of traveling and exploring and witnessing, or so captured a sense of place, that we have been profoundly moved and our understanding of the world and humanity expanded.

 

There are seven Nobel Literature Prize winners on this list. Five authors have two books included: Freya Stark, Eric Newby, Jan Morris, Edward Hoagland and E.M. Forster (that’s not counting Gerald Durrell for his Corfu Trilogy, which is one entry). 

 

Here are 100 fantastic voyages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1    DON QUIXOTE / MIGUEL DE CERVANTES

 

Originally titled The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha and better known simply as Don Quixote, it is regarded as the first novel ever written, published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615. First modern novel, if you want to split hairs, since Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur preceded it by more than a century, but that was a re-telling of the passed-down myth of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table, whereas Don Quixote was an original tale and realistic fiction — storytelling based on real people, times and places, with imagined adventures. Previously, epic stories released as books were written as extremely long poems. Anyway, now you know more about the history of literature than you did a few moments ago.

 

It’s also the highest selling novel of all time, having sold 500 million copies. For context that’s 100 million more than all the Harry Potter books combined. (As you know, all literature, if not all human endeavor, is referenced off of Harry Potter). You know the story, even if you haven’t read it — Nobleman Alonso Quixano, his mind soaked in the romance of chivalrous knights delivering justice and reclaiming wronged women’s virtues, decides to recast himself as a knight, rebrand himself as Don Quixote, and with his more or less randomly drafted trusty sidekick Sancho Panza, embarks on his own such travels and adventures across Spain. They are delusional and poignant and very real to Quixote, who sees dragons in windmills and poses the first existential question of the Arts: Who is to say whose version of the world is right?

 

It’s a journey of madness and truth and gave us the timeless concept of tilting at windmills, perhaps the most accurate and enduring metaphor for humanity’s infinitely foibled arc.

 

Bob Guccione, Jr.

 

 

 

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2   ATLAS OF THE WORLD / OXFORD UNIVERSITY

 

The world at your fingertips. Updated annually, the “Atlas of the World” provides a masterclass on World Geography. From tables and graphs that provide insight on the most ambiguous places on the planet to a plethora of satellite images and even discourse on the future of our planet. It was once the only way people knew where countries and great cities were.

Marcus Harewood

 

 

 

3   ARABIAN SANDS / SIR WILFRED THESIGER

 

Thesiger, born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1910, where his British father was Consul General, was an explorer and writer who spent most of his life in Africa and Arabia. He also lived in the marshes of Iraq (the subject of another of his books).

 

In 1945, after serving in the second world war in Sudan, he was hired to locate locust breeding grounds in Southern Arabia, since swarms of locusts were destroying crops and causing famines in the region. This led to him twice crossing the fabled Empty Quarter, the largest contiguous sand desert in the world, at 250,000 square miles, with the Bedu nomads, who he lived with for two years. (Interesting fact of the day: the largest desert is Antarctica, not a sand desert…) Thesiger was a reluctant scribe who said for him travel was personal and that writing or even talking about it diminished the achievement, which travel like this most certainly was in those days. Nonetheless he wrote the ultimate narrative of the vast desert and the last period of a lifestyle unchanged for thousands of years, as western intrusion and oil exploration began in earnest. He evoked the barren but sensual life of the desert, and the behavior and traditions of the Bedouins. He suffered and he exalted. No one ever wrote a better account. And now no one ever can.

BGJ

 

 

 

 

 

4   CORFU TRILOGY / GERALD DURRELL

 

Corfu Trilogy (My Family and Other Animals, Bird’s Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods), written by lifelong explorer and naturalist Durrell, in that oddly familiar smiley-humorous way. It’s in essence the perfect translation of just about anyone’s childhood — the constant amazement, the forever wonder, the endless promise of possibility, the eccentric friends your parents had (add their pets too) plus the sure sense of the value of the present moment. These three books, best read in tandem, are wickedly funny (even if you’re a stalwart) and Corfu presents itself as the perfect travel representation island for a fantasia that adulthood erases.

Daniel Scheffler

 

 

 

5   THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: KING OTTOKAR’S SCEPTRE  / HERGE

 

Originally published in 1939 in black and white, it’s the color version from 1947 that mesmerized this young boy about 20 years later, living in England, the spot on the planet I thought the rest of the world emanated from. Which is the point — The Adventures of Tintin, ultimately a 24 comic-book series, was the portal through which several generations traveled to exotic far away places like Egypt, The Congo, the Soviet Union, and, in this particular case, the Balkans!

 

The Balkans! It never occured to me to look in an Atlas for them, I was too spellbound. Somewhere out there, beyond the end of my street, was a mystical land of people, timelessly clothed in traditional costumes and held in place and solely animated by the dynamics of the binary conflict of good and evil. Tintin was a boy-man, a Belgian reporter (so he must have been an adult….) rendered, and as insuperable and romantic, as an ordinary adolescent. Accompanied by his dog Snowy, who talks, Tintin can’t help but land in trouble/adventure, and travels as effortlessly to distant, improbable and hitherto unheard of destinations as I took the bus to school, football, or the cinema.

 

In this book, Tintin and Snowy journey to Syldavia to foil a plot to overthrow the country by neighbouring Bourduria. Of course those places don’t exist, and, of course, they do.

BGJ

 

 

 

6   ALL GOD’S CHILDREN NEED TRAVELING SHOES / MAYA ANGELOU

 

In 1962, the goddess and poet Maya Angelou moved to Ghana to reconnect with her African roots and explore what it means to be on the “mother continent”. Color no longer mattered for her, but her Americanness kept showing itself in unexpected and often heartbreaking ways. This is her longform poem about her amazing journey.

Emily Gatlin

 

 

 

7   A MOVEABLE FEAST / ERNEST HEMINGWAY

 

Possibly no book ever captured Paris so perfectly, even though the city he wrote about is almost 100 years removed from us. It’s a testament to how remarkably he did capture it, that the impression we have of the City of Light a century later is greatly if unconsciously filtered through his depictions. In 1947, Hemingway, by then world famous, started writing this memoir of his time in Paris as an impoverished writer in the years immediately following the First World War, and of the so-called “Lost Generation” of some of the greatest artists and writers of the 20th Century, who congregated there. The book is immaculately written in self-contained chapters, like a book of short stories. His simple, poetic prose is as vivid and consciousness-staining and immortal as one of Van Gogh’s paintings of the same city. It was published in 1964, three years after his suicide.

BGJ

 

 

 

8   EUROPE ON FIVE DOLLARS A DAY / ARTHUR FROMMER

 

When this came out in 1957 it was an instant hit, as Frommer put together a guide on how to travel across the Continent pleasantly, knowledgeably and economically, aimed at post war Americans who had mostly only been there in combat. He only wrote about 11 cities in eight countries, but it was enough, and, at the time, just about covered functional and essential Europe. The book remained the travelers’ touchstone for decades, until a new generation expanded the notion of what travel meant, and it receded into quaint artifact. Incredibly, it was possible (just) to travel around Europe on 5 dollars a day when he compiled the book. It is not realistically possible today (on an inflation-adjusted approximately 45 dollars).

BGJ

 

 

 

9   A WINTER IN ARABIA / FREYA STARK

 

If only we had many many more female travel writers from the last century, their far flung excursions sparse because of the mores of the times, but their perspectives so unique and unfussy. In 1937-38, Stark traveled with two companions across what is now Yemen, a land that was then so exotic and removed from most people’s experience as to be mythical. She articulates the breathtaking landscape, archaeology and history of a place she described as “nakedness is clothed in shreds of departed splendor,”, where rival tribes fight mortally and women engage in elaborate beauty rituals, as they had for millenia.

DS

 

 

 

10   POINT TO POINT NAVIGATION / GORE VIDAL

 

The title refers to the way one would steer a ship, without navigation. Ah the beauty of Vidal, to dub his memoir something so mystical and humble. Adroitly a travel book, this is perhaps the greatest travel book of all — a life lived across the world (Italy, Hollywood, strangest America and more) with reflections no single mind would be able to conjure up — bar Gore Vidal. What makes this both worthy of a travel book — one with wit no less — is the observations from the road, reminding even the freest. most frequent traveler to pay better attention. That’s the very point of travel is it not, to put away your arrogant knowledge and to stand hands unclenched, arms open to the wind as it teaches you to let go, and live?

DS

 

 

 

11   TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY / JOHN STEINBECK

 

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It’s 1960, John Steinbeck is 58 and ailing with heart disease so decides to rediscover his beloved America and connect with the land and its people…. And he’s driving. He leaves his wife for a few months, takes her large French Poodle named Charley and heads out from Maine in his pick-up truck which he’s turned into a camper and named Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse. He drives through forty states, 10,000 miles and by the time he makes his way to the South he’s horrified by the racial tensions he sees, such as white women screaming at young black girls trying to go to school. Sprinkled with personal philosophies and beautifully written, Steinbeck, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature two years later, immortally sketches various parts of the US and its diverse population, and presciently brings up his concern about the destruction of the planet, our obsession with packaged products and the advancement in technologies that he felt would lead to families ultimately alienating each other. A timelessly poignant piece of travel literature. He passed away six years later.

Lucia Gillot

 

 

 

 

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12   SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM / JOAN DIDION

 

Didion, one of America’s greatest living writers, has the best journalist’s eye for the vital detail and the artist’s divinity for breathing life into clay. Published in 1968, a year before the Summer of Love, this is an invaluable collection of her magazine pieces to date, at the dawn of New Journalism. Chief among them are her observations of California, and particularly San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district in the sixties’ crescending Hippie movement. Unlike most coverage at the time, hers also saw the murkier side, epitomized in the title essay where she questions the wisdom of a mother giving her child, not yet old enough to go to school, LSD.

BGJ

 

 

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13   A PASSAGE TO INDIA / E.M. FORSTER

 

 

Many of English novelist E.M. Forster’s works examine the hypocrisy of class differences in British society at the turn of the 20th century, for example A Room with a View and Howard’s End. A Passage to India came later, published in 1924. Written with a native understanding of India, it depicts a time towards the end of colonialism still under the influence of the British Raj. A dramatic story of a woman traveling to India to meet the man whom she may marry, a study of friendship and whether cultural differences can really be overcome and how we may be shaped by our circumstances. As one character laments, “Sometimes I think too much fuss is made about marriage. Century after century of carnal embracement and we’re still no nearer to understanding one another.” Hear, hear!

LG

 

 

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14   THE VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE / CHARLES DARWIN

 

Evolution wasn’t the only thing globe traveler Darwin would pioneer. In contrast to his groundbreaking Origins of Species this tale recounts his journey and adventures aboard the HMS Beagle as it travels across a newly opened world full of untold wonder and discovery. A pioneering naturalist, Darwin tells a tale of uncharted lands and creatures, and boundless intrigue.

Jay McClure

 

 

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15   ROUGHING IT / MARK TWAIN

 

This is the hysterically funny account of Twain’s early travels west, in 1860 and 1861, through Utah, Nevada, California, and onto what was then the Kingdom of Hawaii. On the way he worked as a civil servant, miner, prospector, and a journalist, never successfully (if you count “continued employment” as success). He made up parts of a lot of the stories, to brilliant effect. It doesn’t matter! Roughing It entertains absolutely, and elucidates and records a period of American history and youth, less than five years before the loss of its cocky innocence, bludgeoned by the Civil War.

BGJ

 

 

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16   BURMESE DAYS / GEORGE ORWELL

 

The decline of the British empire through the eyes of a great dystopian writer, all set and as seen in Burma, which is today Myanmar. Part of travel is the understanding that colonialism created so much of what we love and loathe on the road, and here Orwell scratches hard at, and writhes with, this very human conflict.

DS

 

 

17   DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA / Alexis de Tocqueville

 

travel booksSomeone once called this book “one of the world’s least-read classics” — and that was in the days before “least-read classic” became a redundancy. Everyone knows of it, and truly few have read it, yet it remains the most profound exploration and diagnosis of our country ever produced. Astonishingly, and not necessarily flatteringly, it is also dead on accurate for much of today.

 

Tocqueville was a 25 year old French aristocrat studying to become a judge when he came to America in 1831 with a friend, a public prosecutor named Gustave de Beaumont. Their purpose was to learn about the American prison system, to see what they could apply to the French one. But that original mission evaporated as they traveled the still forming, certainly still gelling new country. They talked to the great and common, from farmers and laborers to framers of the Constitution and Presidents. Tocqueville’s shrewd observations illuminated America and set the book, and himself, in literary stone. Almost 200 years later he could write many of the same lines again, including marveling at the prodigious amount of food Americans ate and their diversity and passion of opinions and innate stubbornness, borne then, no doubt, out of the hardiness it took to found, fight for and nurture a new nation. He wrote: “The United States enjoys immense actual power together with a power of opinion that is almost as great. And once it has made up its mind about a question, there is nothing that can stop it or even slow it long enough to hear the cries of those whom it crushes in passing.”

 

He then presciently added: “The consequences of this state of affairs are dire and spell danger for the future.” Good spot.

BGJ

 

 

18   DEATH IN VENICE / THOMAS MANN

 

travel booksGustav von Aschenbach is a famous German author who comes for a vacation and becomes obsessed with a young boy he sees across a hotel dining room, and follows him all over Venice, but never speaks to or meets him. As the writer becomes more infatuated with the cherubic, pre-adolescent, he becomes consumed with guilt. Meanwhile Mann first masterfully paints a gloom and bone-chill over the fabled city, then a physical one, with the outbreak of cholera, which also claims the life of the now depthlessly troubled Aschenbach. The book glows with the breathtaking, sad beauty of a majestic, despairing city.

BGJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19   THE AGE OF INNOCENCE / EDITH WHARTON

 

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The Age of Innocence, which won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, is a passionate love triangle that lingers for years, and ebbs and flows with desire and betrayal during the sumptuous Golden Age of Old New York. Wharton knows 1870s New York City intricately; she knows its habits, its social traditions, its expectations. She encapsulates the etiquette of the time, its duties, its loyalties, its passions and a scandal. First published in 1920, there are revised editions. At heart, it’s a tragic love affair….. “Each time you happen to me all over again,” her character sighs.

LG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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20   VIDEO NIGHT IN KATHMANDU AND OTHER REPORTS FROM THE NOT-SO-FAR EAST /  PICO IYER

 

Veteran and masterful traveler Pico Iyer gives a quirky and personal account of how he learned where East meets West, and how pop culture and imperialism penetrated the world’s most ancient civilizations.

Ana Martinez

 

 

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21   THE TRAVELS / MARCO POLO

 

Marco Polo recounts his amazing explorations to the east, and how he introduced spices and silks from then unimaginably distant places, as well as precious gems, exotic vegetation and wild beasts. This book is monumental history told in the first person by the man making it.

AM

 

 

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22   EAT PRAY LOVE / ELIZABETH GILBERT

 

Hate it or love it. This travel memoir through eating in Italy, praying in India and finding love in Indonesia sent millions of women on their own journeys. Mostly predictable, that really isn’t the point of this book. The fundamental desire to be happy, in such blatant form, is just what the world needs. And therefore, possibly one of the most important books yet.

DS

 

 

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23   STATES OF DESIRE / EDMUND WHITE

 

How did the gays live in the late seventies? Edmund White will tell you. It’s an all male entourage of promiscuous deliciousness and finally a real picture of Gay America before Gay marriage and Gay liberation.

DS

 

 

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24   VENICE / JAN MORRIS

 

Venice is nearly gone. Morris, who found her personal Venice decades ago, shows the glory of one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s a love song to a dying darling. Venice, along with Paris, London, Istanbul, is the idea of travel wrapped in perfect bows of expectation. Morris bestows it with her deep love for it, and you forget all about your preconceived ideas of this watery little touristy town.

LG

 

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25   ODYSSEY / HOMER

 

The Odyssey, the epic prose poem and sequel to The Iliad, has to be one of the oldest travel books, if not the oldest, and it of course way predates the Bible, itself a pretty good travel book, come to think of it. It is the part myth, part historical tale of Odysseus’s ten year journey to get home from Troy to Ithaca, taking him and his men all over the Mediterranean from Turkey to Tunisia to Spain to Sicily and stopping at several islands in between, encountering hostile and friendly inhabitants, gods, and mystical creatures.

Camilla Paul

 

 

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26   CLOUD ATLAS / DAVID MITCHELL

 

Spanning five centuries, Mitchell’s most ambitious work is complex and fantastical. Don’t try too hard to follow the narrative, which arcs from 19th century South pacific to a post apocalyptic future (is there ever any other kind, by the way? Doesn’t someone think the future will be nice?) Instead, live inside the madness and the beauty of what is in front of you. The impact of your life, on the next life, and so forth, becomes the greatest story ever told without ever telling you so.

DS

 

 

27   SMILE WHEN YOU’RE LYING / CHUCK THOMPSON

 

travel booksTravel journalists often depict travel as a romantic blend of the modern and ancient worlds, sometimes disregarding deeper culture or history. Chuck Thompson, a longtime freelance travel journalist, knows the truth and in his book takes his readers on a series of adventures in Europe, Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean and beyond, dispelling certain myths and giving up the trade secrets.  “Actual travelers exist in real time and have to deal with the kinds of troubles that don’t end up as copy between splashy photos of a beach at dawn and coconut-crusted prawns in honey-melon-okra dipping sauce at cocktail hour,” Chuck writes. “Actual travelers have to deal with actual travel.” His revenge is funny and poignant, as an example he points out that if you believe eating pie ‘n’ mash in one of the “few surviving pie ‘n’ mash shops” in London helps you feel like a local, maybe you should consider that if there are only a few shops serving this, maybe it is “because the 12 million locals are not eating much ‘pie ‘n’ mash.”

CP

 

 

 

 

 

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28   THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES / JOHN BOYNE

 

From Ireland, to Holland, all the way to New York, this account of love and finding and losing true love transcends borders — but remains so rooted in the ages and hearts of these three iconic places on the globe. You will laugh, you will sob and at some point you will throw the book against the wall and probably scream.

DS

 

 

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29   A  SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING, I’LL NEVER DO AGAIN / DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

 

Travel is hell. Fatally troubled genius Foster Wallace’s “essays and arguments” on the Illinois State Fair and a Caribbean cruise, among other sojourns, are the essence of belly-laughter travel writing. Oh the joys of satire… And maybe hope for hell.

DS

 

 

30   ON THE ROAD / JACK KEROUAC

 

travel booksBuddhist, Jack Kerouac known as the avatar of the spiritually inspired beatnik generation of the late 1950’s through the early 60’s, revealing shifting states of mind, anti-materialism and soul searching and globally influencing musicians from Bob Dylan to the Beatles.

 

Published in 1957 this second novel is a classic must-read for the WONDERLUST mind. Based on Kerouac and his friends Allan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Neal Cassady as they traverse the United States for three years, you can imagine! Set against a backdrop of jazz and poetry, a bunch of characters and a feeling of the time, bus-rides, hitchhiking adventures, drugs, Buddhism, drama and love. It sticks in your mind. “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

LG

 

 

 

 

 

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31   DESTINATIONS / JAN MORRIS

 

These superb essays, which originally appeared in Rolling Stone, capture the essence of places as diverse as Washington just after Watergate, Delhi under Mrs. Gandhi, Panama on the eve of the U.S. treaty debate, and Cairo at the time of the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks.

AM

 

 

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32   THE VOYAGE OUT / VIRGINIA WOOLF

 

Woolf’s first novel, this journey of self discovery by boat to South America is every trip you’ve ever been on that’s stayed with you. A melange of characters all mixed up to make things interesting, an ode of joy to youth and adventure, with a tang of awful sadness.

DS

 

 

33   MY WAR GONE BY, I MISS IT SO / ANTHONY LOYD

 

travel booksThis is a masterpiece of war correspondence and therefore one of the great travel books ever written, because war reporting is done in the crucible of the rawest, most stripped human emotions, and in places surrounded by and soaked in death that are never more alive.

 

That wouldn’t have been what Loyd was thinking though, when he left for the first of two  excursions into Bosnia, and one that was — hard to imagine — worse, into Chechnya. In fact, when he first went to Bosnia in 1993, as a photographer on assignment for the British Sunday Times, it was, by his admission, to die. 26, suicidal and an alcoholic, he hoped he would be killed covering the wildfire of a war raging in several directions across the former, fractured Yugoslavia, thus saving himself the ignominy of self termination. Something providentially changed when he got there — first, he realized he wasn’t much of a photographer but then, as he wrote down what he saw, realized he was a special writer, as did the Times, which instructed him to keep reporting his vivid, emotional dispatches. He took himself to Chechnya as it was being milled into not just rubble but dust by the Russians crushing the rebellion, and filed the best and most intimate accounts of what truly was hell on earth.

 

This book of those trips is a memoir of two unfathomably cruel wars prosecuted on mostly helpless and mostly innocent people. He memorializes two regions in the absolute darkest, saddest times of their history, and encapsulated the people who endured the atrocities as real, relatable, unforgettable human beings, not just statistics, snapshots. And the life he saved really was his own.

BGJ

 

 

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34   MIDAQ ALLEY / NAGUIB MAHFOUZ

 

This Cairo backstreet, which exists, is here fictionalized as a living, pulsing, artery of Egypt and Arabic culture. Virtually all the action takes place on this one, typical, working class street, and most of that in one cafe, owned by the odious Kirsha, who is king of his tiny kingdom and likes young boys. The only travel is basically from one end of the alley to the other, but this is a complete world, populated by angry, bitter, happy, optimistic, gold-digging, fat and ascetic characters, including a fake dentist who sells cheap false teeth, which he can afford to because he steals them from corpses.

BGJ

 

 

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35   LOCAL COLOR / TRUMAN CAPOTE

 

Of course Capote’s third published book is a collection of honest, vivid, and romantic travel essays – from Hollywood to Spain, Italy, Morocco, Haiti and all the way back to New Orleans. But the caveat here is, that most avid readers believed that the book was simply a myth, and never actually existed. In truth, simply 200 copies were ever printed. If you can get your hands on this rare find it’s Capote pomp, it’s Capote ceremony, with, of course, the perfect hint of Capote bitchiness before he found his real wit-filled voice.

DS

 

 

36   OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO! / DR. SEUSS

 

travel booksWilliam Faulkner once said that if he ever wrote the perfect book, he’d break his pencil — there’d be nothing left for him to do. Well, after this thin illustrated volume of simple, spellbinding rhyming poetry, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss, if still alive, would have to do that, along with whatever crayon or paint set he used to illustrate his children book gems. Here Seuss’s protagonist is a young boy (you, the reader, FYI) who has decided to leave home and is shown where life will invariably take him. You eventually come to the ominous “Waiting Place” where less brave people dither, waiting for life to do the work for them. That won’t happen, so you leave, traveling again through more magical landscapes and possibilities and adventures, arriving at the nirvana of freedom, the happiest ending of all.

 

This was his last book published in his lifetime, in 1990. It remains a chart-topping bestseller perennially, because every year it’s a traditional gift for high school and college graduates. So, it’s an adult book for the perpetual child. Which is the way we should all remain.

BGJ

 

 

37   THE ATLAS / WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN

 

travel booksAmerica’s greatest living writer and perhaps most fearless journalist has traveled the world in pursuit of the most dangerous and perverse stories imaginable, many for SPIN magazine, several of which are in this book. Here he befriends and supports prostitutes, encounters war mongers, criminals and a rainbow of evil and strange people and circumstances, and improbably survives situations where others around him tragically aren’t so lucky. His journeys take him to Bosnia, Mogadishu, Vietnam, New York and his native Northern California, invariably to the darkest side of all these places.

 

He oddly constructed the book so that the first chapters, numbered one through 26, mirror the last 26 chapters, numbered 26 to 1, with a 53rd story in the middle, called “The Atlas”. Supposedly the mirrored chapters reference each other, but, although it must make some profound sense, it ultimately doesn’t matter, at least to the reader and fan. The stories are just so incredibly powerful and beautifully written, and, even the darkest, so life affirming and indelible.

BGJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

38   CARAVANS / JAMES MICHENER

 

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What distinguished James Michener’s books were that they were meticulously researched, to the dizzying altitude where a lesser novelist would simply have stalled and fallen out of the sky, but which breathed holistic life into his stories. Caravans is a simple story set in post Second World War Afghanistan, of an American Embassy attache given the assignment to find an American woman who married an Afghan and has disappeared. But the infinite richness of the book is the three dimensional depiction of Afghanistan, a country as foreign as the moon to the readership in 1963 when it came out. On Michener’s breath Afghanistan is overwhelming, implacable, eternal. It is dust and slowness and tragic. It’s an immortal portrait of a vast country, rendered here not with the lightness of impressionism, but as a colorful and exotic mosaic.

BGJ

 

 

 

 

 

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39   A COOK’S TOUR / ANTHONY BOURDAIN

 

If you have an appetite for adventure, and a hunger for the strange, A Cook’s Tour will be the read for you. Recounting his travels to eleven countries, Bourdain didn’t just explore the strangest local cuisines, such as still beating cobra hearts, he immersed himself into the culture, cultivating a narrative deeper than his apparently lead lined stomach. The book became his first TV series, which aired on The Food Network, and led eventually to CNN’s Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown, the best travel TV show ever made.

JM

 

 

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40   AN AREA OF DARKNESS / VS NAIPAUL

 

A travelogue detailing Trinidadian Naipaul’s travels in India, the land of his heritage, during the late sixties. It’s a brilliant but not feel good book about the depthless continent, as Naipaul was disillusioned by what he saw there, especially the resignation to the appalling poverty and subjugation of the lower classes. Naipaul won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, and this is one of his most poignant works.

Sergio Gutierrez

 

 

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41   THE VALLEY OF THE ASSASSINS / FREYA STARK

 

One of the 20th century’s great pioneers of travel writing, Freya Stark brings to life a region of the Middle East that’s seen better days for safe travel. And was never that safe for a woman. At least reading this is safe.

Jason Stahl

 

 

travel books

 

42   THE SHADOW OF THE SUN / RYSZARD KAPUSCINSKI

 

Unparalleled Polish war correspondent Ryszard Kapuscinski, one of the rare people behind the Soviet Curtain allowed to travel outside the Communist Eastern Bloc, covered innumerable wars across the world over his lengthy career, and always, no matter how dense the darkness, found the humanity and often humor that defined a place and its people. Any — perhaps all — of his books belong on this list (definitely check out The Soccer War). His  extraordinary depiction of Africa in The Shadow of the Sun is a firsthand account of life at the beginning of the end of colonial rule, when he arrived in 1957. He also fought a king cobra to the death and survived cerebral malaria, so there’s that. FYI, the man was bulletproof.

EG

 

 

43   THE CITY OF FALLING ANGELS / JOHN BERENDT

 

travel booksThe best travel writing provides not only an accurate picture of a place, but an inspired representation of that place’s personality and its peoples’ national character. That is precisely what Berendt (author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) does in his supremely textured non-fiction book on Venice, about the tragic, 1996 burning down of La Fenice Opera House — such an historic theater and important symbol of the city — and the subsequent, convoluted, uniquely Venetian investigation that see-sawed between its conclusions of accident and arson. A parallel, and locally greater, far more lively and no less erratic inquiry played out in the court of public opinion, where, this being Venice, and Italy, everyone had an opinion and saw in whatever they thought had happened ancient conspiracies, rivalries and all kinds of malfeasance. This is deliciously rendered and chapter by chapter ever more layered and thrilling and increasingly insane.

 

The title comes from a sign warning passersby of falling marble statues of Angels from crumbling building facades. Rarely a good omen.

BGJ

 

 

 

 

travel books

 

44   LET’S GO EUROPE 2018 / LET’S GO EDITORS

 

Probably the heaviest thing in your backpack, Let’s Go Europe (or any Let’s Go book) lets you go, well anywhere. For me it was in 1999, studying in London and traveling nearly every weekend all over Europe. The entire book was dog-eared and highlighted. It made it through Oktoberfest in Munich, the coffeeshops in Amsterdam, millenium New Year’s in Paris and that one hostel everyone stayed at in Interlaaken, among other travels throughout the continent.

JS

 

 

travel books

 

45   SEA AND SARDINIA / D.H. LAWRENCE

 

“This land resembles no other place. Sardinia is something else. Enchanting space and distances to travel — nothing finished, nothing definitive. It is like freedom itself.” So wrote D.H. Lawrence on his journey to this large Mediterranean island off of Italy in 1921 from Sicily. He and his wife traversed Sardinia and stopped and meandered at Cagliari, Mandas, Sorgono, and Nuoro.

CP

 

 

travel books

 

46   THE SHORT WALK IN THE HINDU KUSH / ERIC NEWBY

 

Some of the most impulsive travel decisions may prove to be the most rewarding. Abandoning his fashion career in London and venturing to a remote corner of Afghanistan, Eric Newby found an adventure to be recounted in the most defining book of his career. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush tells the story of Newby’s spontaneous mountain climbing expedition in north-eastern Afghanistan.

MH

 

 

travel books

 

47   NOTHING TO ENVY / BARBARA DEMICK

 

Follows the lives of six North Koreans over a fifteen year, chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-Il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population.

AM

 

 

travel books

 

48   A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST / REBECCA SOLNIT

 

Once in a while you need a break from maps, right? Life doesn’t have one anyway. Solnit’s autobiographical essays remind us that in order to find yourself, you may have to lose yourself first.

DS

 

 

49   LONELY PLANET’S FIRST EDITION: ACROSS ASIA ON THE CHEAP / TONY WHEELER

 

travel booksToday the franchise is everything we despise about travel — preconceived judgments, and too many guidebooks for everything. It’s also ubiquitous — every hotel library in the world, every backpacker on the plane and every weird touristy cafe has it. But when this first edition came out in 1973, a guide book for hippies by hippies, it opened up a whole new world of guide-chaperoned travel. Who would have a whole chapter devoted to “Dope” in 2018?

 

It offers just the right amount of nostalgia — telling you where to mail your postcards — and was at the same time the best and most enjoyable kind of first hand, experiential reporting, like waiting on the Afghan Border for the authorities to return and let them in, and meeting a group of Americans also killing time. (When Wheeler asks them what they’ve been doing, one replies “blowing a little dope with customs”.)  And it’s also a reminder that the Internet can easily be the travel buzzkill if you’re not careful. A worthy throwback — let it just lay in the back of your mind and stew quietly.

DS

 

 

travel books

 

50   AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS / JULES VERNE

 

Can it get any more classic than Jules Verne’s 1873 hit novel? Two guys circumnavigating the world in 80 days on a £20,000 pound wager (approximately $2.8 million today).  Who wouldn’t get on a bunch of sweaty trains and steamers for that kind of cash? Actually, who wouldn’t go on that trip just for the fun of it?

EG

 

 

 

51   IN TROUBLE AGAIN / REDMOND O’HANLON

 

What would you do to hang out with the most violent people on Earth? Redmond O’Hanlon only had to travel the uncharted Amazon River for four months to meet the Yanomami tribe. And lived to tell.

JS

 

 

travel books

 

52   WAUGH ABROAD: COLLECTED TRAVEL WRITING / EVELYN WAUGH

 

A collection of Evelyn Waugh’s travel stories from 1928 to 1958 through South America, Africa, West Indies, the Holy Land and Mexico. Waugh is consider to have pioneered modern travel writing, with an eye for folly and a touch of comedy. Alright, a large, really wonderful grasp of comedy. Sadly little read today, he was a Master of Literature, and this is a primer, for reading him and for travel writing.

CP

 

 

travel books

 

53   HEAT / BILL BUFORD

 

Bill Buford’s gastronomic memoir that takes you to New York and London and Italy, is at least partly responsible for the surge in culinary travel experiences. Oh, and everything Buford said about Dario Cecchini, that Dante-quoting, Sinatra-blaring-into-the-streets butcher in Tuscany, is all true.

JS

 

 

travel books

 

54   IN THE SOUTH SEAS / ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

 

In 1888 Scottish novelist, essayist and travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson, most known for Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, decides that he needs to sail around The South Seas for two years with his wife, stepson, mother and a nurse, due to his own ill health. He records the adventure in his journals which become an autobiography mixed with the anthropology of the Pacific Islanders he encounters across French Polynesia. Settling in his found paradise of Samoa, where he died in 1894, In The South Seas was published posthumously, and some critics call it one of the best travel books published in the 19th century.

LG

 

 

55 THE SEARCH FOR THE PINK HEADED DUCK / RORY NUGENT

 

Rory Nugent is that greatest of all explorers and adventurers, the eccentric (and completely fearless) explorer and adventurer. In the mid 80s he got it into his head that he should try to find the thought to be extinct Pink-headed Duck, last seen 50 years before. He traveled to India, on the thinnest of rumors that it might dwell in retirement from public life in marshlands in the North East. On a fantastical — and entirely true — journey through India and finally on to Burma and Bangladesh, he encountered Gurkha Independence fighters, plotters to overthrow the Tibetan government, who were perhaps not aware that Tibet had already been overthrown and absorbed into the spreading ink blot of China, and assundry characters and mystical cities and regions, such as Sikkim’s Valley of Bliss, and exotic wildlife. Whether he ever found the duck is inconclusive, he thinks he may have seen it. This book is so good that that is not anticlimactic.

BGJ

 

 

 

 

 

travel books

 

56   A YEAR IN PROVENCE / PETER MAYLE

 

After vacationing along the Mediterranean every summer, the Mayles decided to leave London for a gentler life: To live in a 200-year-old farmhouse in much need of repair, for a year. Mayle recounts he and his wife’s experiences being immersed with locals in the Luberon Mountains, with tales of attending goat races, donating blood, visiting vineyards…and every meal in between.

JS

 

 

travel books

 

57   THE EXPLORER / W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

 

British novelist W. Somerset Maugham, who was orphaned by the age of ten, went on to study medicine, dropped out, then became the highest paid author in the 1930’s. He’s a wonderful storyteller. His novel The Explorer tells of love and its bonds, and a British explorer on a trip to Central Africa in 1907. A bold romance and drama, with a murder thrown in.

LG

 

 

travel books

 

58   SLOWLY DOWN THE GANGES / ERIC NEWBY

 

Newby, a self proclaimed river fanatic, a phrase you rarely hear, sets off for adventure down the Ganges with his wife. 

Newby, inspired by India during an army deployment decades before, decided to return to this enchanted land and drift down its sacred waters. This would be no easy trip as within the first six days alone the boat beached 67 times. However, over the course of this 1200 mile journey in a succession of mostly ill equipped vessels, the couple become entranced with the River and its history, and so will you.

JM

 

 

travel books

 

59   A SENSE OF DIRECTION / GIDEON LEWIS KRAUS

 

Part memoir, part travelogue about the three pilgrimages taken by Kraus, after his self-realization of overt freedom takes him from Berlin to, first, an ancient pilgrimage across Spain, then Shikoku in Japan, and finally Ukraine.  

SG

 

 

travel books

 

60   GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL / JARED DIAMOND

 

The factors in which the modern world came to be shaped has always been a hot button topic. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond argues Eurasian dominance came about as a product of gaps in power and technology that arose from environmental and geographical differences. Civilization itself was molded and hardened by the things that traveled from one corner to the other, and the influence their introduction subsequently had. Diamond’s book forces a powerful meditation on how the power structures of our modern world came to be.

MH

 

 

travel books

 

61   RUNNING IN THE FAMILY / MICHAEL ONDAATJE

 

Ondaatje travels to his native Sri Lanka to retrace the baroque mythology of his Dutch-Ceylonese family in an exceptional travel narrative about ancestry and discovery.   

SG

 

 

travel books

 

62   MANI / PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR

 

As a companion volume to Fermor’s Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece, Mani is about a small section of the southernmost Peloponnese, one of the most isolated regions in the world. Its people live in the past, which is very much the present in Mani, and Fermor takes the reader through the mountains exploring these time-honored Greeks.

EG

 

 

63   EASTERN APPROACHES / FITZROY MACLEAN

 

travel booksMaclean may or may not have been the model for Ian Fleming’s James Bond, but he certainly lived a life of derring-do and brio that makes contemporary life seem thoroughly diminished by comparison. An aristocrat adventurer who lived at the right time and in the right place, he was a brilliant observer who documented his travels with an immaculate eye for detail. This memoir starts with his experience as a spy in Stalin’s USSR, where he witnessed the 1930s show trials before undertaking a perilous journey to far-flung outposts in the Caucasus and Central Asia. During the Second World War, he was handpicked by Churchill to meet with Yugoslav fighter Josip Tito to determine if he could be a trusted ally. The two men hit it off, and Britain threw its support behind Tito’s partisans in the fight against Hitler, with Maclean often parachuting into enemy territory to witness the fight first hand.

Aaron Hicklin

 

 

 

 

 

 

travel books

 

64   A ROOM WITH A VIEW / E.M. FORSTER

 

Referred to curiously as the “literary equivalent to hot buttery mashed potato,” by the great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens, author Lucinda Hawksley,  A Room With A View is based on a trip E.M. Forster took to Florence in 1901. In the story, which evokes Florence and European travel of a certain time and kind perfectly, Lucy Honeychurch goes to Italy with her cousin Charlotte and they’re given a room with a view…of a courtyard, not of the river. Mr. Emerson and his son offer to switch rooms. Now when have you heard a story like this on TripAdvisor?

JS

 

 

 

65   MY COLOMBIAN DEATH / MATTHEW THOMPSON

 

travel booksIn 2006 Australian writer Matt Thompson gave up his perfectly sensible, and boring, job as a rewrite editor at the Syd

ney Morning Herald and went to Colombia, the most dangerous country in the western hemisphere at the time, to find out what was going on there. This included regular near-death experiences at the hands of drug cartel members, who, perhaps because he wouldn’t go away, came to like and embrace him, and an amateur bullfighting contest, among other precarious adventures. The lighter fare involved kidnappings, interactions with paramilitaries, Medellin’s counter-culture and mind-shredding Andean death-trips on yage (AKA ayahuasca). The result is a superbly written, very powerful book, about places sane folks, rightly and sanely, stay away from, and people we now have a clearer, deeper sense of, because Thompson, gloriously, is not that sane.

BGJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

travel books

 

66   WILD / CHERYL STRAYED

 

Cheryl Strayed lost her mother, her marriage and her mind (a little bit), and since she had nothing left to lose, she decided it would be a really great idea to hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail… by herself. With no experience. Pretty smart, huh? In the end, this travelogue memoir led us to Strayed’s wonderful advice column and subsequent book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. Reese Witherspoon got an Academy Award nomination for Wild, for throwing her boots off a cliff. (And obviously, her superb acting.)

EG

 

 

travel books

 

67   UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING / MILAN KUNDERA

 

The story of a young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing, and one of his mistresses and her humbly faithful lover. This magnificent novel juxtaposes geographically distant places; brilliant and playful reflections; and a variety of styles to take its place as perhaps the major achievement of one of the world’s truly great writers.

AM

 

 

travel books

 

68   ISTANBUL / ORHAN PAMUK

 

Orhan Pamuk was born in Istanbul and still lives in the family apartment building where his mother first held him in her arms. His portrait of his city is thus also a self-portrait, refracted by memory and the melancholy — or hüzün — that all Istanbullus share: the sadness that comes of living amid the ruins of a lost empire. With cinematic fluidity, Pamuk moves from the lives of his glamorous, unhappy parents, to the gorgeous, decrepit mansions overlooking the Bosphorus; from the dawning of his self-consciousness, to the writers and painters, Turkish and foreign, who would shape his sense of his city.

AM

 

 

travel books

 

69   THE MONK OF MOKHA / DAVE EGGERS

 

A nonfictional tale, told skillfully by Eggers, about a young man’s journey to resurrect the ancient art of Yemeni coffee making and follow the American dream. 24 year old Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a US citizen and Muslim and at the time a doorman in San Francisco where he grew up, one of seven children of Yemeni immigrants, embarks on an adventure to Yemen after discovering the country’s role in the the history of coffee. He goes to learn about the coffee culture and collect samples, but civil war breaks out, he is kidnapped twice and he has to escape and hire a skiff to take him and his precious samples across the Red Sea.

CP

 

 

travel books

 

70   JOURNEY WITHOUT MAPS / GRAHAM GREENE

 

In 1935 Graham Greene embarked on a walking trip with his cousin Barbara and a chain of porters. People did that sort of thing then. They got about 350 miles into the interior of Liberia with two maps showing the borders but a blank interior. Journey Without Maps tells the tale of his being in one of the  few regions in Africa unblemished at the time by western colonization, and, of course, the internal journey inside himself.

CP

 

 

 

71   IN PATAGONIA / BRUCE CHATWIN

 

A journey through a land remote and mysterious, of dinosaurs, bandits and white settlers, and Butch Cassidy, who was arguably all three. The 97 chapters, some just one page long, dance back and forth through the region’s history and describing the people met along the way, and the landscape and wildlife resting at the foot of the world.

CP

 

 

travel books

 

 

 

72   THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY / PATRICIA HIGHSMITH

 

Italy in the sexiest way you could imagine. Everything you love about Italy — and then some — including sex, more sex, food, the sea, handsome men, gorgeous wooden yachts, glamorous cars and equally fabulous fashion. It’s sickening and delicious, as it forces you to unwrap and unclothe your own lies about yourself.

DS

 

 

travel books

 

73   THE TRAVELS OF IBN BATTUTA / IBN BATTUTA

 

In Islam it is expected of Muslims to commit to a pilgrimage to Mecca, called the Hajj. However, this simple trip would take Ibn Battutah across the modern equivalent of forty four nations, 75,000 miles, and over thirty years as he travelled around the Muslim world of Africa and into Asia making it as far as east as China. During the time of Ibn’s travels, Europe was in its Dark Ages, but the Muslim world was bursting with innovation, thought, and adventure, captured unforgettably here as Ibn recounts his journeys across a world in its prime.

JM

 

 

 

74   THE SNOW LEOPARD / PETER MATTHIESSEN

 

The extreme altitudes and low temperatures and crystal clear air of the Himalayan range provides the perfect home for unique animals like the Himalayan blue sheep and its nearly mythical predator, the Snow Leopard. Peter Matthiessen documents a two month journey there with George Schaller, a naturalist, to search for the rare leopard in the Dolpo region, high atop the Tibetan Plateau. Maybe it was the rarified air, but the book delves so insightfully into existentialism and mental peace through the prism of travel and nature.

MH

 

 

 

75   WRONG ABOUT JAPAN / PETER CAREY

 

A heartfelt journey as father and son visit Tokyo to explore their obsession for manga and anime. Carey’s many observations, although provocative, lead him to the idea that he was wrong about Japan. The duo not only develop awe for Japanese culture, but learn from each other in their journey as well. Awwww….

SG

 

 

 

76   THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES / ERNESTO CHE GUEVARA

 

Forget about the martyrdom that transpired once he became the virtually mythical revolutionary Che, Motorcycle Diaries is the rebellious travel diary of a 23-year-old medical student riding a motorcycle with his amigo from Buenos Aires into Chile, across the Andes into the Peruvian Amazon. And some of the most striking writing of that region ever.

JS

 

 

 

77   THE ROAD TO OXIANA / ROBERT BYRON

 

Zany British travel writer Robert Byron has had a vast influence on travel writing. Sadly he was killed by a torpedo that hit his ship on the way to Egypt during the Second World War. Probably not a good time to travel, in retrospect. This is his entertaining travelogue of a ten-month journey through the Middle East to northern Afghanistan, in 1933. A great lover of architecture and a historian, he goes into great detail over some of the ancient buildings, which sadly now, due to the incessant wars, are no longer standing.

                                  LG

 

 

 

78   THE RINGS OF SATURN / W.G. SEBALD

 

A walking tour of the east coast of England — Norfolk and Suffolk counties to be precise — Sebald goes on a personal journey uncovering, both factual and fictional, World War II bombings, a matchstick model of the Temple of Jerusalem, and a skull. The reason for Sebald’s walk? “…in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work.”

JS

 

 

 

79   ATLAS OBSCURA / EDITED BY JOSHUA FOER

 

Revels in the weird, the unexpected, the overlooked, the hidden and the mysterious. Every page expands the sense of how strange and marvelous the world really is. With its compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, surprising charts and maps for every region of the world, it is a book to enter anywhere, and will be as appealing to the armchair traveler as the die-hard adventurer.

AM

 

 

 

80   JOURNEY TO PORTUGAL / JOSE SARAMAGO

 

A delightful and eccentric tale by Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago of his journey covering the length and breadth of the country he loves. Portugal comes alive through the perceptive eyes and ears of a traveler and craftsman fascinated by the ancient myths and history of his people.

CP

 

 

 

81   COMPASS POINTS / EDWARD HOAGLAND

 

Hoagland’s memoir is stranger than fiction to say the least, but isn’t that a mark of a life well-lived? The reformed Vermont hippie worked for the circus, fought forest fires, went temporarily blind and couldn’t speak, and of course, has the writing chops to make it a beautiful portrait of the human condition.

EG

 

 

 

82   NOTES FROM THE CENTURY BEFORE / EDWARD HOAGLAND

 

Published in 1966, this is the narrative of a three months spent in the deep wilds of British Columbia, Canada, a region alien to most of us, detailing the life of earthy prospectors, traders, explorers and missionaries, and chronicling a world and lifestyle evaporating before his eyes. Hoagland brings to life the wonderful characters and their disappearing society.

CP

 

 

 

83   THE ART OF TRAVEL / ALAIN DE BOTTON

 

They say it’s not about the destination, but the journey, and that aptly sums up the wittily spectacular The Art of Travel. Describing every detail from the anticipation of the journey at Heathrow to the glistening seas of Barbados, De Botton carries you with him throughout his adventure, even quoting famous travelers, as he sojourns in the exotic and embraces the ordinary.

JM

 

 

 

84   THE GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO GETTING LOST / RACHEL FRIEDMAN

 

A tale of travel and some youthful debauchery, roaming three continents as a 20 year old woman, traveling alone and with friends she made along the way. Inhaling the freedom to discover how she could become the person she was meant to be.

CP

 

 

 

85   PETERSBURG / ANDREY BELY

 

Some regard this as one of the most important Russian novels of the 20th century. Published in 1913 and translated into English forty years later. It gives a kaleidoscope of Russian history, character, culture and politics. A humorous and philosophical recreation of the underbelly of the capital of Imperial Russia, straddling reality and the absurd at the turn of the century.

LG

 

 

 

86   THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS / CHARLES A. LINDBERGH

 

Picture it: A transatlantic flight. From New York to Paris. In a single-engine plane. In 1927. Written by the pioneering hero himself. Those were the days. It was, at the time, almost as earth-stopping as Apollo 11 going to the moon.

JS

 

 

 

87   THE GEOGRAPHY OF BLISS / ERIC WEINER

 

One must have a sense of humor if you’re a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio. Eric Weiner globe-trotted the world in search of the path to contentment. He discovered: the Swiss relish in boredom. Being happy in Bhutan is government mandated. Thinking in Thailand is not necessary. And smoking hashish in Morocco certainly helps. Enjoy your search.

JS

 

 

 

88   TO A DISTANT ISLAND / JAMES MCCONKEY

 

A retelling of Anton Chekhov’s journey through the Russian wilderness to the island of Sakhalin, a penal colony off the coast of Siberia. Chekhov went as a physician to observe medical conditions, but McConkey reflects that his motivation was likely escape from fame and fortune to a place where no one was free.

EG

 

 

 

89   NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND / BILL BRYSON

 

A lighthearted, funny account of a colonist’s travels around England after calling it home for 20 years, before moving back to America. Using only public transport, an accomplishment in itself, ever more so in England, and hiking, Bryson captures the essence of the island and its inhabitants.

CP

 

 

 

90   TRAVEL AS A POLITICAL ACT / RICK STEVES

 

The Steves Empire may be large and you may get lost in all that patronizing jazz. However, this book (now in its 3rd edition) is a reminder that most people in the world aren’t natural travelers — most people don’t actually travel at all. And so Steves is that reminder for the Mcdonald’s eating tourist in France, and the Starbucks guzzler in Asia, that the reason we travel is to expand our minds and range of experiences.

DS

 

 

travel books

 

91   IRON & SILK / MARK SALZMAN

 

Salzman captures post-cultural revolution China of the mid 80s, through his adventures as a young American teaching English in China, and his shifu-tudi (master-student) relationship with China’s foremost martial arts teacher.

AM

 

 

92   MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS / AGATHA CHRISTIE

 

Who said riding the rails was dead? Christie first travelled on the Orient Express in 1928, which also happened to be her first solo trip abroad. Rumor has it Christie may have written the book while on an archaeological dig with her second husband in Iraq, but The Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul claims they were site for the book’s draft. At any rate, it was inspired partly by true events. In 1929, the Orient Express was trapped in a blizzard in Çerkezköy, Turkey, where it was stranded for six days. Two years later, Christie was involved in a similar scenario when she was traveling on the Orient Express and the train got stuck due to heavy rainfall and flooding, which washed away part of the track. Since its publication in 1934, countless readers have ridden the Orient Express to follow in the footsteps of the book’s hero Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and perhaps to also catch any mistakes Christie may have in depicting the ornate train and it’s glamorous and risk-filled route.

JS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

93   INTO THE WILD / JON KRAKAUER

 

Christopher Johnson McCandless was from a well to-do family, and after a quarter-life crisis (like John Mayer warned us about), he gave his $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his family and friends, his car, and most of his possessions, and went off-grid to create a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found in an abandoned bus by a moose hunter. Krakauer retraces McCandless’s footsteps with breadcrumbs he left along the way, resulting in one of the most impactful and life altering stories of the 90s.

EG

 

 

 

94   HERE IS NEW YORK / E.B. WHITE

 

Before Charlotte’s Web, and before telling us how to write properly (he is the White in Strunk & White’s iconic Elements of Style), E.B. White sat down in a sweltering Manhattan hotel in the summer of 1949 and wrote a love letter to New York, taking the reader on a tour with every page. Nearly 70 years later, this nostalgic and elegiac essay will make you wish you could go back in time to that New York City. At least here it is preserved forever as it once was.

JS

 

 

 

95   CHASING THE MONSOON / ALEXANDER FRATER  

 

For two months, Alexander Frater chased a summer monsoon through India, from the southernmost tip to the Bangladeshi border. That’s some water-logged traveling.

EG

 

 

 

96   BOUND FOR GLORY / WOODY GUTHRIE  

 

Legendary American folksinger’s autobiography, that vividly brings to life both his vibrant, brave personality, and a hopeful vision of America we cannot afford to let die, if we haven’t already. He traversed the country by foot and train freight car, and some hitching, and remembers the Depression era he lived and struggled through. This is the man who wrote the song “This Land Is Your Land”, something we routinely seem to forget.

AM

 

 

travel books

 

97   THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR / PAUL THEROUX

 

The great and lauded American travel writer Paul Theroux takes a railway odyssey from London, through Europe, across Asia to Japan and back in 1973, with small air and sea deviations. Published in 1975 the book recounts his adventures on The Orient Express, The Mandalay and The Trans-Siberian, amongst other trips. Theroux’s fascination with people more than the incredible places he visits comes through. His observations of the characters he runs into are often hilarious, but he starts losing it on the journey home and becomes contemptuous with the locals, intoning wisely “Travel is flight and pursuit in equal parts.”

LG

 

 

travel books

 

98   THIS IS PARIS / MIROSLAV SASEK

 

This children’s book, written in 1958 and the first in Sasek’s This Is series (New York, San Francisco, Rome, London, to name a few) is so simply illustrated and written so very matter of fact. It takes readers — regardless of age — on a lovely tour of Paris during a sparkling, glamorous era juxtaposed against its rich and thick history. Even 60 years after it was published, Hungarian-born Sasek convinces you time has stopped in the City of Lights, and that this is how the city should look today and forever.

JS

 

 

 

99   HOW SOCCER EXPLAINS THE WORLD  / FRANKLIN FOER

 

This is an unintentional travel book, because it was supposed to be much more about its subhed, An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, but instead actually delivered on its title. By immersing himself in the distinct, deep rooted, almost completely working class subculture of soccer tribes around the world, from Serbia to Brazil to England and Scotland, Foer more adroitly and indelibly gives a sense of place than most travel writers ever could. He infiltrates the violent Serbian Ultras in Belgrade, who epitomized (and many probably participated in) the atrocities of the wars in the Balkans, and he captures the ludicrous, generations-inured, often family-splitting antipathy/Holy War between the Protestants and Catholics who support Rangers and Celtic respectively.

BGJ

 

 

 

100   ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE / ROBERT M. PIRSIG

 

From Minnesota to Northern California by motorcycle. What could possibly go wrong? Or right, for that matter? The ultimate travel by thinking and philosophizing book, set in an America that now feels a little distant. It’s not about zen or motorcycles, but that’s the whole point really. And you knew that.

DS