.    One Hundred Greatest Travelers' Tales    .



The Adventures of the Ages






Herodotus - 440 B.C.

There's just something about being first. The whole genre of travel writing is, in a way, about being first. Like the irony of 'monk' meaning 'lone one' and a 'monestary' therefore being 'a house of lone ones,' travel writers are in a sense lone ones among masses of people they do not have much in common with. Herodotus, for example, a Greek, travels to the Near East, to Lydia, to Cappadocia, to Babylonia, to Persia, to Egypt, to Scythia (Slavonia) and more. Because of his observations and the fact that he desired to keep things written for posterity, he is called the father of history. Well, he is also the father of travel writing. A hoplite who fought in the Persian Wars, Robert D. Kaplan said of him, "Because of Herodotus, history is, in spirit, a verb: 'to find out for yourself.' Along with Joseph Conrad, he is our greatest foreign correspondent." He asked people wherever he went about their stories. In Lydia they said their King Croesus got the following from an oracle: "If you attack the Persians, a mighty empire will fall."



Xenophon - 350 B.C.

A Greek mercenary force goes a thousand miles into the heart of Asia. But when the Persian politician who hired them is killed, they must face down overwhelming odds to escape with their lives. Surrounded by enemies on all sides, Xenophon, epitome of the literate warrior, was the leader they turned to. Following Herodotus and Thucydides, he became the 3rd great historian of Greece, and here he tells the history he knew best: the tale of the 10,000. Why did he know this story the best? Because it was his own.



Marco Polo - 1298

This is the book that helped inspire Europeans to travel again. Dictated to a scribe in a prison in Genoa, a copy of Marco Polo's Travels was found in the personal belongings of Christopher Columbus, heavily annotated. Other future explorers read him too. Aside from the Bible, it was the most popular book of the age. Today scholars have made a point to lessen Polo's accomplishments. They accuse him or the scribe of embelleshing the story, but according to National Geographic: "What Polo tells us about his overland journey to Asia checks out... He traveled during a relatively peaceful time, so this is not a book about taking physical risks. Nor is it as accessible to modern readers as many of the books on this list. Yet it is without question the founding adventure book of the modern world. Polo gave to the Age of Exploration that followed the marvels of the East, the strange customs, the fabulous riches, the tribes with gold teeth. It was a Book of Dreams, an incentive, a goad. Out of it came Columbus, Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and the rest of modern history."



Travels and Voyages

Sir John Mandeville - 1355

What happens when a medieval Englishman in the era of the Hundred Years' War travels to the continent? He is probably fighting. If he travels to the Holy Land, he is probably part of the waning crusading era. But Mandeville is none of these. He goes to Egypt and the Holy Land just to travel, out of curiousity, and records his observations. While accused, like Polo, of being embellished, according to National Geographic: "It was widely influential in its day and remains a great point of departure for anybody interested in the history of travel writing." Reviewer Tom Bissell, who recently discovered it, is "deeply ashamed I did not know of it earlier. It is a wonderfully funny, exciting, and profoundly weird account of a pre-modern consciousness at play in what was then an unimaginably huge world."




Travels of Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta - 1356

The traveler most emphasized in world history curriculua in schools, Battuta was a Muslim legate who had access all around the Middle East. According to National Geographic, "The 14th century Moroccan wanderer Battúta spent half his long life on the move. He went deep into Africa, circled India, and reached Russia, Sumatra, Shanghai. He was sometimes wealthy, sometimes penniless, often in danger. His book reminds us that people from outside the Western tradition were also taking great trips, and of a time when all travel was adventurous." He stopped in Mecca for a Hajj pilgrimage on the way, and if you ever go to Dubai, you can shop at the Ibn Battuta Mall. Mansa Musa of Mali also took a long trip- a Hajj to Mecca- but no one wrote it down because no one knew how to write.




Admiral of the Ocean Sea

Christopher Columbus - 1492

Like it or not, here is the founder of the modern age. Columbus changed everything. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella bought into his idea to sail west beyond sunset seas, despite their own advisors advising against it. They promised Columbus that if he succeeded in finding a back route to the Indies and their tropical riches, he would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and appointed Viceroy and Governor of all the new lands he could claim for Spain. He would then be entitled to 10% of all the revenues from the new lands for however long he lived. So off went Columbus and his crew, aboard the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, in August, 1492. On October 12, they sighted land, and while they did not know it, they discovered America. Since the 1960s cultural revolution in the West, it has been common academic practice to deride Columbus, "he was mean," intellectuals say, to the point that Columbus Day has lost its luster. No more parades, no more celebrations. Admiral of the Ocean Sea is their side of the story. Morrison wrote it using the documents in the 1940s, and it remains the essential book on those who dared what Zheng He didn't.



Conquest of New Spain

Bernal Diaz del Castillo - 1520

Diaz accompanied Cortez on nine months of difficult hiking through dense jungle, from Veracruz to the center of Mexico. He was  one of the suprisingly few Spanish fighters who effected the conquest of the Aztecs, but there was something else about him- he was a writer. On the island capital of Tenoctitlan, he relates how the Spanish stood there surrounded by thousands of warriors bent on slaughtering them all. Diaz did not, like some others, attribute all the glory of their survival and success to Cortez himself, but to the whole troop, which accomplished it together. Importantly, he also spoke highly of the bravery of the Aztecs. He is kind of the opposite of Bartolomeu de las Casas, who accused the Spanish of this and that, as if an honorable battle of conquest was worse than destroying a nation by stealth and lies if both result in the displacement of the original population. In Bernal Diaz' work you will find the conditions and the situations which presented themselves every step of the way. Unlike Las Casas, Diaz describes in-depth the human sacrifices of the Aztec priests to their idols, and relates the wonder the Spanish felt being in the New World. Oh the times...




Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca - 1555

Lost in an unknown world, 600 would-be conquistadores land near present-day Tampa in 1528. There was nothing there, but as Florida was found nearly a decade earlier by Ponce de Leon, the crown was interested in making of it a colony. Cabeza de Vaca and his men were to look for gold in the area. The 242 man troop headed north to the big bend of Florida, but they run out of food and didn't find any gold, just the paths that are now US 19. A harrowing journey followed, and eight years later, four naked survivors, our author among them, emerge from the wilderness in Mexico. Though little known outside historical circles, this is one of the most extraordinary survival stories ever told. History calls it the Narvaez expedition. These guys were in an alien land, never before seen by European eyes, caught in a hurricane, facing hostile tribes, and on the brink of starvation. To get by, Cabeza de Vaca pretended to be a shaman to some Indians, who saw him as a magic man. Well, whatever it takes.



Memoirs of the Baroque

Jan Pasek - 1680

The great thing about the petty knight Don Quixote is his quixoticness, of course, and Cervantes wrote the highly entertaining novel of the same name to remind people of the value of knightly virtues in a time of change. Its only flaw is that it is fiction. But there is a knightly story of like-type that is nonfiction, from the other side of Europe, which makes a great compliment to Don Quixote. These are the memoirs of Jan Chryzostom Pasek, Knight of the Polish Commonwealth in the 17th century. At the behest of Hetman Czarniecki, he traveled around what was then the second largest state in Europe after Russia to fight the Swedes, then went to Moscow on a diplomatic mission, got sued by his neighbors in court over land, and later described the great civilizational battle in front of the Gates of Vienna in 1683, when Islamic invasion was halted. Pasek explains to us why serfdom may not have been as bad as we have made it out to be, and why the noble szlachta class, with all its Sarmatian style, is the true representive of Polish culture in the Baroque era. You got to read it to believe it.



Travels Through France and Italy

Tobias Smollett- 1756

This Scottish author took a break from editing and left for points south. But he didn't take a break from writing, thankfully, because, as National Geographic states, "Smollett found so much to offend him that he wrote a wonderfully pithy and cantankerous book. He epitomizes a particular kind of English traveler—critical, superior, and deeply suspicious of foreign food and foreign ways. His views on garlic are particularly scathing." These travel writings are often very entertaining as well, but what was Smollett editing for so long that he decided to take this significant break? Nothing but the greatest historical work, and one of the largest publishing projects, of the 18th century, which attempted to unify all the histories of all the nations and tribes for the first time. It was called simply Universal History, brought out in 43 volumes during the 1750s and 60s. Smollett was editing the modern era, to be linked to 20 additional volumes of the ancient era produced between 1729 and 1747. Thus. here is someone of no marginal ability who believed the British public should know about the whole world as it was, and who then took a big trip to see it for himself. Travels through France and Italy relates how an informed traveler greets the places he writes about.



Life of Johnson

Boswell - 1791

So you're an Edinburgh lawyer who writes exceedingly well, and your name is James Boswell. You are worldly, you studied in Holland, fell in love with a girl who was your class superior, and even admired her for sticking to her class pretensions and not marrying you. You could write your own autobiography, but you find there is someone more interesting, more heroic, more tragic, more self-deceiving because more moral, who can, with the right biographer, be placed in the realm of myth and legend. You cannot pass that chance up, and end up writing his memoirs instead! The heroic figure  in question is Dr. Samuel Johnson. Literature professor Harold Bloom calls the result: "The greatest biography in the English language." Boswell traveled all right, he travelled through the life of this man Johnson. He has detractors, but what does he say to them? He says, "Edmund Burke didn't tell King George III that my critics wrote the most entertaining book ever, he told the king that I did. Macaulay, he continues, didn't say, "Boswell's critics are the first of all ctitics and they have no second, having distanced themselves from competitors so decidedly," he said I was the first of all biographers. Carlyle said of it: "The thing I want to see is not Redbook Lists and Court Calendars but the LIFE OF MAN in England: what men did, thought, suffered, enjoyed; the form, especially the spirit, of their terrestrial existence, its outward environment, its inward principle." Long after Johnson's own works would be forgotton, Macaulay predicted, he would be remembered in Boswell's Life of Johnson. And he is.



Voyage around the World

Captain James Cook - 1760

A teenager joined the Royal Navy during the Seven Years' War and was sent to map the St. Lawrence Seaway during the Siege of Quebec. His detailed work attracted the attention of the Royal Society. Later as Captain, Cook made three voyages to the Pacific, first aboard the legendary HMS Endeavour, then aboard Resolution, and on the third voyage aboard Resolution accompanied by Discovery. 200 years later two of his ships would be adopted as names for US space shuttles. Cook discovered Australia, mapped New Zealand for the first time, discovered Hawaii, sailed thousands of miles along uncharted areas of ocean, stove a hole in his boat within the Great Barrier Reef, tried to find the Northwest Passage, had countless encounters with natives—and died during one of them, trying to stop Hawaiians from stealing a lifeboat off the Resolution. It wasn't pretty- he was stabbed ignobly when he took the Hawaiian chief hostage until the boat's return. Even so, Cook was one of the great explorers of all times, and luckily, before he died, he published his Journals, found by National Geographic to be: "A sober but fascinating account of how it felt to redefine the boundaries of the known world."



The Mutiny on the Bounty

Captain William Bligh - 1790

According to National Geographic's review, "The movies have taught us to see Captain Bligh as a villain and the mutineers as justified, but Bligh's own account, naturally, tells a different story. Once the rebellious sailors force Bligh and 18 loyal crew members onto the Bounty's 23 foot longboat, it becomes a remarkable survival story: an open-boat voyage of nearly 4,000 miles on a scrap of bread and a half cup of water per man per day." Courage, yes, but also comraderie got them through. Bligh used dead reckoning to make it to a speck of land in the middle of the ocean. In this book we see the struggle for order against anarchy (with positive aspects of each fairly told), and the strggle of duty against desire, and responsibility against short term gain, on the far side of the world.



Mutiny of the Elsinore

Jack London - 1870

Not many know Jack London wrote a fourth book. Everyone knows Call of the Wild and White Fang, and some people know The Sea Wolf, but no one knows what may well be the best of them all: Mutiny of the Elsinore. Unlike the others, it isn't assigned reading all over the world. Why? It isn't because some people remember London as a socialist, since he joined a socialist organization for awhile (albeit before communism), when he thought socialism in its national sense could be a grand outlet for the romantic spirit of helping others in your society be strong again. Few know, but he also resigned from it when he realized his passion for helping people was being taken advantage of by an alien people whose only ambition was advancing themselves. On the Elsinore, there was a mutiny, like on the Bounty, but this time, one man who did not know he had it in him stood up to try and save the passengers and the woman he loved from the ship's crew, which had hijacked the boat. This book is more personal, a metaphor of society being taken over by forces seemingly beyond any single person's control, and yet about a personal rise to courage and honor, in the truest noble sense, when you've well-nigh had enough.



Journals Across America

Lewis and Clark - 1804

Are there any American explorers more famous? Were there any more brave? When they left St. Louis in 1804 to find a water route to the Pacific, no one knew how extensive the Rocky Mountains were or even exactly where they were, and the land beyond was labeled on the map: terra incognita. But they went anyway, crossing a whole continent. National Geographic says Lewis and Clark's Journals, "are the closest thing we have to a national epic, magnificent, full of the wonder of the Great West. Here are the first sightings of the vast prairie dog cities; here are huge bears that keep on coming at you with five or six bullets in them, Indian tribes with no knowledge of white men, the mountains stretching for a thousand miles; here are the long rapids, the deep snows, the ways of the Sioux and the Crow; here are buffalo by the millions. Here is the West in its true mythic proportions. Historian Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage gives a fine overview, but there is nothing like hearing the adventure in the two captains' own dogged, rough-hewn words. Dive in, and rediscover heroism."



Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville - 1835

Master of the acute observation, when this young man of 30 (and future foreign minister of France) got permission to go to the young USA to study prisons, he took notes on everything he did and saw, prison-related and otherwise. He concluded that social welfare systems would not help pauperism and that they were a waste of money. Tom McCarthy told National Geographic that what he treasures most about this landmark outsider document of American mores, and what makes it a great travel book, are de Tocqueville's impressions of the land itself, "as something dark, brooding, and inscrutable." Jennifer Egan adds something that cuts to the lore of North America: "His observations still resonate—in part as a measure of how much we've changed... 'what an admirable position,' De Tocqueville writes of the New World, 'that man has yet no enemies but himself.'" Imagine.



The Oregon Trail

Francis Parkman - 1846

Can I trade a unit of health for a couple of wagon axles? Oregon Trail, the old proto-computer game now, brought gamers from Independence, Missouri to the Oregon Country. What inspired it? But this is the story of the people who played that game in real life. In 1846, the future historian of the American West went west himself, following the trail of the emigrant trains into the Rockies. National Geographic reviewed the sub-rosan aspects of the book: "A month ago," Parkman writes along the way, "I should have thought it rather a startling affair to have an acquaintance ride out in the morning and lose his scalp before night, but here it seems the most natural thing in the world." Generations of readers have loved this book; you will, too.



Voyage of the Beagle

Charles Darwin - 1839

His father had just told him to go to college and be a lawyer, but he had other plans. His father was skeptical, but Darwin was emphatic. He said he wanted to go to the far side of the world, and the grand old man of modern biology, formerly a gentleman of leisure and crack shot but no scientist, got his wish. At the age of 22, he boarded the HMS Beagle for its long survey voyage to South America and the Pacific, and his record of the trip is rich in anthropology and science both. To read it is to see it. His shipmates called him "the Fly-catcher" because as a budding naturalist, he was capturing local fauna to catalogue for the first time. According to National Geographic: "The adventure comes in watching over Darwin's shoulder as he works out the first glimmerings of the theory of evolution."





Two Years Before the Mast

Richard Henry Dana - 1840

There are no aristocrats in America, so we purport, but there are some blue bloods out there. Mostly they keep it to themselves, or in plain sight never seen. The Danas are of this type, like the Kennedys, but one among them got dirty. Scion of a prominent Boston family, Dana's habitus expected certain things of him. But instead, he dropped out of Harvard and, hoping to recover the strength of his eyes, weakened by measles, signed on with a merchant ship as a common sailor. National Geographic had good things to say about what followed: "Dana's book about his time at sea is an American classic, vivid in its description of the sailor's life and all its dangers and delights." Sometimes, you just gotta follow your bliss.



Travels in the Yucatan and Central America

John Lloyd Stephens - 1843

National Geographic asks us to consider this book: "Imagine hacking your way through thick jungle while racked with malaria. The country around you are in is in chaos and on the brink of civil war. And you discover, despite all this, the lost city of Tikal. And 43 other Maya ruins. Stephens is the father of American archaeology, and this is his beautiful account of the expedition that made him so." This is a big book- 1,000 pages. This guy took detailed accounts and used his photographic memory to evoke everything that happened, to paint the picture of being there, on the verge of discovery after discovery in a world where few dared to penetrate, where even the locals didn't go for 500 years.



The Interior Districts of Africa

Mungo Park - 1799

Remember how there is something about being first? Park did. While the Dutch had been in South Africa for 150 years, and while triangle trade brought European ships along the coast, no one had yet ventured into Africa. Then Mungo Park did, and National Geographic said the following about his resulting book: "In 1795, Park enters the African interior with a servant, a horse, some clothing, a few trade goods, a pair of pistols, and two days' worth of provisions. Eighteen months later, he emerges with nothing but the clothes on his back and his notes, which he'd kept in his hat. In between lies perhaps the best of the great early African explorations. The Scottish explorer who 'discovered' the Niger River (and drowned in it a decade later) wrote this perennially popular log of his journey. 'An iconic work,' says Peter Godwin, 'and probably the best description of pre-colonial life in Africa.' It has inspired a host of writers from Hemingway to T. C. Boyl." Inspiring Hemingway? Pretty good. Going into a difficult land with a mission like noting the terrain and the sights? Even better. Being the first? Priceless.



Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land

Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand - 1837

Perhaps it is appropriate that the Byron of France, founder of the Romanic movement in that country's lterature, wrote travel notes evoking the spirit of the Near East. When the Revolution broke out in 1789 he was sympathetic, despite being an aristocrat, to its ideals. But when the Jacobins radicalized everything, he fled for America. He later returned out of pride and fought for the Royalists. Czarina Elizabeth sent him money because he was vocally defending Christianity when the revolutionaries banned it. Wounded and called "half-dead," Napoleon appointed him to foreign ministry, but he resigned when Napoleon betrayed the royal line by executing Louis XVI's cousin. Byron admired Chateaubriand, as did Stendahl and Victor Hugo, who inspired himself to write, by noting: "To be Chateaubriand or nothing!" Impossible to catagorize politically, Chateaubriand said, "I am a Bourbonist out of honor, a monarchist out of reason, and a republican out of taste and temperament." Yes, he perfected the steak named after him. His foray into the Near East  has that certain merit that one only finds before, as Clark said, "a little was taken off the top."



Empire of the Czar

The Marquis de Custine - 1839

When this book was reprinted 150 years later, Librarian of Congress Emiretus Daniel Boorstin said: "Behind the Soviet Union and the news about glastnost lies Eternal Russia, and this is the ultimate Russian travel book." Custine, a French aristocrat like Chateaubriand, met everyone from the Czar and his fawning courtiers to drunken cossacks. George Kennan called the book "a neglected travel classic, showing how Russians can no more forget the Mongol occupation, expansion east and sacred Czardom than Americans can forget their own ties to the Magna Carta, the common law and constitutions." Custine's prophetic insights help us grasp the Empire of the Czar. "Besides being a vivid account of horse-drawn travels in an exotic land," Boorstin said, "this is an uncanny and tantalizing book. What gives any man the clarivoyant power to see the broad deep currents of a nation's life? Custine somehow sensed features of Russian life that reached back for milleniia before his time, and are still present today."



Eothen (From the Early Dawn)

Alexander William Kinglake - 1846

Already well known as a writer and graduate of Eton and Trinity College, Kinglake decided to travel to the east, something a Victorian man was wont to do as a capstone to their education, though most settled for France or Italy. National Geographic noted the education, both literary and worldly, one gets from this book: "The writer whom Winston Churchill recommended for lessons in prose style gives a subtly self-mocking account of his travels in the Middle East. It's in many ways the portrait of a considerably dislikable young man, a colonial type who takes a superior air toward the locals he meets. Edward Said utterly detested it, but [the reviewer says], I think he deliberately misread it and didn't catch the irony." And there is irony in this book. In fact, "Eothen violates every rule of the travel narrative- its conversational style, sense of humor and irony toward himself, his character portraits and conversation, his concentration on artiface and entertainment, make the book the paradigm for travel literature. Its influence may be discerned in comic travel writers from the erudite Robert Byron to the glib Peter Fleming. Kinglake threw open the doors of the genre."




Letters from Egypt

Florence Nightingale - 1854

It may seem unbelievable, but Florence Nightengale, the most famous nurse in history, took a trip down the Nile River in 1854, and wrote letters to her relatives every step of the way which are eminently suitable for weaving into a book, but it wasn't ever made. That all changed 133 years later in 1987, and it took armchair travelers by surprise. According to a National Geographic reviewer: "I was astonished when I read it. I know the name doesn't conjure big laughs or big adventure, but this book has both. She was incredibly well-traveled and erudite, had a wicked sense of humor, and was a truly gifted writer. A very valuable look at Egypt at the dawn of tourism there." Miss Nightingale tended wounded soldiers by night during the Crimean War, and by day in the prefabricated hospital designed by Islambard Kingdom Brunel in Britain, built in Britain, and shipped to Crimea. Six years later, she established a school for nurses in London, and argued for improving healthcare for poor Britons.



Pilgrimage to Al-Medina and Mecca

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton - 1855

Well, the sentence for a non-Muslim sneaking into Mecca "on a pilgrimage" was death. But that didn't stop Burton, who took the most daring journey imaginable- being surrounded by millions of people who would kill him instantly if they found out his true identity. There were not many white Muslims, so he had to be convincing. He learned Arabic manners and speech, which he could do, because like Indiana Jones, he was a scholar-adventerer. He knew history and literature in and out. He translated the 1001 Arabian Nights into English, which helped him to blend in. The resulting book he wrote, which chronicled his danger-filled yet ultimately successful accomplishment of the mission to Mecca, Pilgrimage to Al-Medina and Mecca, is one of the towering travel books of all time.




First Footsteps in East Africa

Richard Francis Burton - 1856

After all the fame of his Mecca work, Burton could have just chilled out for the rest of his life in comfort, speaking at colleges and being a socialite. But instead he went to try to find the origin of the Nile River- no easy thing due to hostile and warring tribes, infectious diseases and dense jungle. He and John Speke set out to do it, and Burton split off to visit, Harer, Ethiopia. National Geographic says, "Burton wrote this extraordinary book about his adventures there- he was the very archetype of the British explorer—eccentric, restless, brave. A product of his time, he was consciously superior to the natives, but remarkably adept at making his way through alien cultures nonetheless. You read him for him as much as for what he accomplished." This attempt failed when Somali warriors attacked their camp and speared Burton through the cheek. Barely escaping with his life, he went back to England, and then guess what? After recuperation, he left to fight in the Crimean War, and when that was over, it was back to Africa to try again!




Lake Regions of Central Africa

Richard Francis Burton - 1860

In the second attempt to find the Nile's source, Burton and Speke paired up again and got to Zanzibar, but then inland, both got fever in the jungle. Burton's tongue became ulcerated to the point he couldn't talk, and Speke went temporarily blind. For months of miserable progress, they moved until they couldn't anymore, then stopped to rest, then moved again. When they finally discovered a huge lake (Tanganyika) it seemed like a miracle. Was this the source of the Nile? They would have to conduct a survey in canoes, but Burton was about to die. They met Arab traders, moreover, who told them of another lake to the north. Speke went alone to search for it while Burton rested, and found Lake Victoria. He couldn't verify if it was the source, however, and was going off the basis of a local tribe exaggerating the lake's size. When they got back to Zanzibar, Burton was still too sick to sail for England, so Speke promised not to talk about the discovery until he and Burton could address the RGS together, but he LIED! He took all the credit for "discovering the source of the Nile" himself! Burton eventually made it back, and wrote Lake Regions of Central Africa to tell the real story. But he wasn't too happy with Speke.



The Source of the Nile

John Hanning Speke - 1863

The Nasamones, a Libyan desert tribe, made sacrafices to Ammon and to Alexander the Great for 800 years after Alexander's appearance in 332 BC. Herodotus tells about five young men of these Nasamones who tried and failed to find the source of the Nile. They never came back. More than 2,200 years later, the true source of the Nile was still unknown. Enter explorers Speke and Burton, who endeavored to find it. As we have seen, Speke went on to locate and name Lake Victoria, and at last determined that this was the origin of the Nile, although he ripped off Burton at the end by not crediting him for his part. National Geographic says of Speke's book: "It reads like Victorian fiction- sweeping, detailed, and hip-deep in exploits." Speke may have had some remorse over the Burton thing, because when Burton called him out to a debate at the Royal Geographic Society, Speke never made it. Why? He was hunting and his gun discharged a bullet into his body. No one knows if it was an accident or on purpose, but it was ruled an accident.



Travels and Researches in South Africa

David Livingstone - 1865

The capital city of Malawi, Blantyre, is named after his birthplace in Scotland. He is one of the great heroes of 19th century Britain. He went from rags to riches, from nothing to scientific investigator of unexplored lands, finally achieving mythic status. So who is it? Dr. Livingstone, you may presume! He discovered for Western science Lake Ngami, Lake Malawi, Victoria Falls. Isolated from the outside world for 6 years, he wrote 40 letters and dispatched them to Zanzibar, though only one made it. The letter said, "I am terribly knocked up... doubtful if I will ever see you again." And so, Henry Morton Stanley was dispatched to find him, and, amazingly, he did. This was tongue-in-cheek: Livingstone was the only white for hundreds of miles in any direction. So Livingstone was found, but he wouldn't leave. He stayed to complete his missionary work, eventually dying in Zambia of dysentry and malaria, but before he died he wrote this great work of travel history. His heart was buried where he died, and the monument is still standing, and though it has been damaged and beaten about numerous times, it has always been repaired.


The Dark Continent

Henry Morton Stanley - 1878

More Victorian boldness. We know him for finding Livingstone, who wasn't lost, in 1871, but the truly adventurous trip was Stanley's next, in 1874, when the British explorer became the first European to run the length of the Congo. His account of that journey reads like some wonderful old boys' adventure tale—except that it's true. NG



The Innocents Abroad

Mark Twain - 1869

Journeying through Europe to the Holy Land with some hilariously insular fellow Americans, Twain mocks both tourist and native, sometimes subtly but always mercilessly. "It's a book you laugh out loud at," says Robert Sullivan, "and that eventually—in the description of coffee with a guy the vigilantes have deemed a no-good killer and will soon hang—makes you see that America is a dark place, a place we have to be careful about". NG



Cultural Life of America

Knut Hamsun - 1889

"Hamsun did not particularly like what he saw of 19th century America, and published this witty, highly personal, impressionistic assessment of the American cultural performance. He attacked America's materialistic goals, moral and religious hypocracy and inflated sense of superiority. It is prophetic and remarkably modern as a protest against the flaws in the country's social and democratic institutions. Though he later moderated his attitude towards America, and was a little ashamed of the excessive vitriol in this book, the work stands as a rare expression of the disillusionment literate European immigrants  experienced. The wildness of the mind of the writer of Growth of the Soil, his paradoxical traits of irony and innocence, humor and outrage, and fact and fantasy all stand out in this great travel book." -flyleaf




Portrait of America

Henryk Sienkiewicz - 1890

In the tradition of de Tocqueville, Poland's great writer visited America and took notes for Warsaw's newspaper. They are "an incomperable portrait of America a century after the Declaration of Independence... Sienkiewicz pictures America as young and virile, and determined to get ahead. He is excited by America's willingness to experiment with new ideas. He moves with grace from city spleandors to life on the frontier. He travels across the country on the recently completed Transcontinental Railroad, living among squatters in remote mountain canyons, hunting deer, bear and buffalo. He sees the effect of America on new immigrants, and documents in sympathetic detail the rewards and hardships of their new life. In short, a welcome relief- and probably a fairer estimate- than the sour comments of others. -flyleaf



Near Home: Countries of Europe Described

Favell Lee Mortimer - 1885

As a young lady, she invented flashcards in 1835 as a teaching aid. He used phonics to help kids learn their ABCs with great success. Her teaching notes were collected as guidebooks for other teacher, Peep of the Day and Reading without Tears. Education historian Todd Pruzan said almost a century later that she was "something of a literary superstar," in her time. So... travel? Oh yeah. Mrs. Mortimer went all over the world, at least, she told her students she did. What did she find? She basically ripped every national and ethnic group, no one was spared. In Near Home, subtitled The Countries of Europe Described, she explained to the budding geography students how dirty and nasty everyone was. Wonderful stuff!!!




Far Off: Asia, Australia, Africa and America Described (2 vol.)

Favell Lee Mortimer - 1887

Did you think Europe was bad after Vol. 1? Wait till you hear about Mrs. Mortimer's travels to these heathen lands! You will never want to leave your house again, unless you live there, then you will want to look yourself in the mirror and ask if it is really worth going on. How many countries did she actually visit before commenting on them? Thing is, no one knows. Yet there is a good chance a distant relative of yours learned from her books.



Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad - 1899

It came out inconspicuously, in a small book called simply Youth, with a story before it and one after it. Heart of Darkness was the middle one. But then it hits you. This is something mystical, almost beyond belief. Conrad visited Africa and worked there awhile driving a steamer up and down the Congo River, and places himself in the book, as the character Marlow. Marlow over time and experience controversally figures out what constitutes a barbarian society vs. a civilized one. He comes to some hard truths about the world, unpleasant ones, and that is why this book is now derided as a product of Western imperialism and racism. The guy who wrote King Leopold's Ghost hates it, as does Chinua Achebe, the guy who wrote Things Fall Apart. Achebe even called it "an offensive and deplorable book that should not be considered a great work of art." Everyone in the book is a real person Conrad knew in Africa 120 years ago. The interview between the man and the girl at the end, Conrad said, "locks in the whole 30,000 words of narrative description into one suggestive view of a whole phase of life and makes the story something quite on another plane than an anecdote of a man who went mad in the center of Africa." And he ought to know, because the trilogy is his literary autobiography. Francis Ford Coppola was moved by the story to the point he transliterated it into his grand Vietnam War epic movie, Apocalypse Now, in 1979.





Joseph Conrad - 1904

Robert Kaplan loved it, Edward Said hated it, which may be good enough reason to seek it out. But why such love and hate? As for the love, Kaplan's inimitible report on the book tells it well: "Nostromo is neither overly descriptive and moodily vague like Heart of Darkness, nor is its ending entirely unhappy. For a civil society-in-the-making does emerge in Costaguana, but it is midwived by a ruined cynic of a doctor who has given up on humanity, a deeply skeptical journalist, and two bandit gangs, not by the idealist whose actions had helped lead to the country’s earlier destruction. Conrad never denies the possibility of progress in any society, but he is ironic enough to know that 'The ways of human progress are inscrutable', and that is why 'action is the friend of flattering illusions.' Charles Gould, the failed idealist of the novel, who believes absolutely in economic development, 'had no ironic eye. He was not amused at the absurdities that prevail in this world.' Nostromo is Conrad’s best and most difficult work, in this media-obsessed age, when intellectuals spend their evenings watching C-SPAN and CNN. People may be better acquainted with Heart of Darkness than with Nostromo only because the former is exceedingly short and amenable to skimming, on account of a thin plot and lengthy landscape descriptions. In Nostromo, however, landscape ambiance is a tightly controlled, strategic accompaniment to political realism. It matters because so little has changed in the developing world. It is a tribute to Conrad’s insight that his description of Costaguana and its port, Sulaco, captures so many of the crucial tidbits and subtleties about troubled Third World states (particularly small and isolated ones) that foreign correspondents of today experience but do not always inform their readers about, because such details do not fit within the confines of 'news' or 'objective' analysis... There are, for example, the handful of foreign merchants in Sulaco, without whom there would be no local economy; the small, sovereign parcels of foreign territory (company headquarters and embassies) to which people flee at times of unrest; and the obscure army captain who has spent time abroad hanging about cafés in European capitals, and who later finds himself back home, nursing resentments, and at the head of a rebellion provoked by soldiers who drink heavily. There is deep isolation and the general feeling of powerlessness; yet also a wealthier, more developed part of the country that wants to secede because its inhabitants are even more cynical. Conrad shows us, too, how bad forms of urbanization deform cultures: 'the town children of the Sulaco Campo,' for instance, are 'sullen, thievish, vindictive, and bloodthirsty, whatever great qualities their brothers of the plain might have had.' He describes oscillations between chaos and tyranny, and political movements named after their leaders- because in Costaguana, despite the talk of 'democracy' and 'liberation', there are no ideas, only personalities. He describes 'the dread of officialdom with its nightmarish parody of administration without law, without security.' He describes a port, an ocean port no less, that because of Costaguana’s lawlessness is 'so isolated' from the world. His conclusion is of a sort that a novelist can make with less damage to his reputation than a journalist: 'The fundamental causes [of the Monterist terror] were the same as ever, rooted in the political immaturity of the people, in the indolence of the upper classes and the mental darkness of the lower.' Giorgio Viola, an Italian who fought with Giuseppe Garibaldi and now lives in Costaguana with his dying wife and two daughters, believes, moments after several bullets strike his house and a mob tries to set fire to his roof, that 'These were not a people striving for justice, but thieves.' :(



Travels in Arabia Deserta

Charles Montagu Doughty - 1888

During his two years in the desert, Doughty traveled with camel caravans, lived in Bedouin tents, went hungry, and faced much danger. Then he wrote it all up in the most stylized, peculiar prose, which nevertheless gives us a fascinating picture of a type of Arab life that has been all but forgotten today. Readers might be better served by a modern distillation of this nearly 1,200-page study of life with the desert nomads in the 1870s—put to paper decades later. The ornate style makes Doughty a must-read despite his Victorian attitude toward non-Christians. He was beloved in his day, too. "England was considered rather dull in the twenties and thirties," says Colin Thubron. "This feeling of excitement was all abroad". NG



Sailing Alone around the World

Joshua Slocum - 1900

At loose ends and in your 50s, what better way to pass the time than to sail alone around the world? The epic journey took three years and covered 46,000 miles; Slocum was chased by pirates, survived major storms, suffered hallucinations. But he made it. He was the first to do it alone. Then he wrote this marvelous book, salty as the sea air from which it came. The once in a lifetime trip really was a one time shot, too, for in 1909, he put to sea again. This time, he disappeared. -NG+DT


The Worst Journey in the World

Apsley Cherry-Gerraud - 1910

As War and Peace is to novels, so is The Worst Journey in the World to the literature of travel: the one to beat. The author volunteered as a young man to go to the Antarctic with Robert Falcon Scott in 1910; that, and writing this book, are the only things of substance he ever did in life. They were enough. The expedition set up camp on the edge of the continent while Scott waited to go for the Pole in the spring. But first, Cherry-Garrard and two other men set out on a midwinter trek to collect emperor penguin eggs. It was a heartbreaker: three men hauling 700 pounds (318 kilograms) of gear through unrelieved darkness, with temperatures reaching 50, 60, and 70 degrees below zero (-46, -51, and -57 degrees Celsius); clothes frozen so hard it took two men to bend them. But Cherry-Garrard's greater achievement was to imbue everything he endured with humanity and even humor. And—as when he describes his later search for Scott and the doomed South Pole team—with tragedy as well. His book earns its preeminent place on this list by captivating us on every level: It is vivid; it is moving; it is unforgettable. The adventurer's retelling, from inside the expedition, of Captain Scott's disastrous last attempt to reach the South Pole (made more so by Roald Amundsen's arrival there a month earlier) is "justifiably famous—and well named," says Jim Shepard. Paul Theroux considers it a classic because he is "partial to travel books where difficulty is involved. -NG 



Sir Ernest Shackleton - 1914

Shackleton's story bears endless retelling (and it has been retold, in fine accounts by Alfred Lansing and, more recently, Caroline Alexander). But only here do we have it in the great British explorer's own words, quiet, understated, enormously compelling. We know the astounding story: the expedition to Antarctica aboard the Endurance, the ship breaking up in the ice, the incredible journey in an open boat across the world's stormiest seas. Though Shackleton's literary gifts may not equal those of Cherry-Garrard, his book is a testament, plain and true, to what human beings can endure. NG



John Lawson Stoddard - 1900

Tracing his ancestry all way back to the Pilgrims, Stoddard was an American through and through. Yet he traveled the world for fun and learning, and documented everything. He believed zionism was right, that the Jews of the world should travel to Palestine and reestablish it as Israel, arguing it was "a land without a people for a people without a land." He took a sabbatical from teaching to trek across Europe and the Near East, and when he came home, he talked about what he ate, what he saw and where he went at 'lectures' in school and for the public. "His intellect, wit and charisma transformed him into an extremely popular speaker on the American lecture circuit. He went back and to other places, hiring a photographer to accompany him and take pictures of what he told them to, and make slides out of them, so his lectures could become visual experiences... For example, his lecture on Constantinople included a mixture of photographs, engravings, recreations of historical scenes, and reproductions of drawings from noteworthy sites. Typically, contemporary slideshows offer no such media variety, which made Mr. Stoddard's lectures particularly unique... His attitude was essentially, 'Anything goes,' as long as the visuals emphasized his verbal descriptions." He established a homeless shelter in America and a school in Italy with the money he made, and taught his son Lothrop to take a keen interest in the future of humanity.



Journey Across Hayti

Hesketh Prichard - 1900

Future ace WWI sniper in the British Army, Hesketh Prichard rang in the new century by visiting Haiti, which, aside from Liberia, was the world's only "black republic." What qualifies as such a place? Africans, or Afro-Caribbeans, as it were, must rule the country's governmental apparatus. He went not on holiday, but to report on the status of the country, at the behest of the Daily Express newspaper, a century after the great Haitian Revolution in which the French were exorcised from the island. He narrowly avoided death a number of times, including once by not drinking something that was poisoned on purpose. He investigated Voodoo religion on Haiti as well, reporting on it as the first white man to visit the island in almost 100 years.



Seven Pillars of Wisdom

T.E. Lawrence - 1917

It is World War I, and the British are fighting the Ottoman Turks. Intelligence services recommend sending a James Bond type figure, a spy with great charisma, to rouse the Arabs of the Turkish Empire against their masters. National Geographic says, "a desert woman speaks to the British adventurer of his 'horrible blue eyes which looked like the sky shining through the eye-sockets of an empty skull.' Indeed. He must have been something- crazily intense in his white robes, as romantic a figure as any who has ever lived: Lawrence of Arabia. Who could resist such a book as this?" NG



A Pilgrim in Palestine

Charles Finley - 1919

The first American to visit Jerusalem and the Near East after General Allenby's army captured it from the Ottomans during WWI, after 800 years of Muslim rule since the days of the medieval Crusaders, was Charles Finley. Others like Tissot had gone without having a problem, but Finlay, attached to the Red Cross there, was on hand to reintroduce the Levant to the Western world: "There is an aloofness about the book that carries the reader back to scenes of entrancing memory and luminous nights. The spirit of detatchment is sustained chiefly through the author's unconcern with the life of the native (Palestinian) village- everything is the symbol of something biblical... Finlay voices the hope that 'this holy land might be an international reservation unto the cause of human brotherhood... a reservation so small that its beautifying would be of no greater financial burden than is the maintenance of Central Park with its Natural History and Art Museums.'"




Across Mongolian Plains

Roy Chapman Andrews - 1920

If Richard Francis Burton was the epitome of the Victorian scholar-explorer, Roy Chapman Andrews actually was Indiana Jones, as in, Indiana Jones from the movies was based on his life. As a young man, he led expeditions to the Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia during times of political unrest. He discovered the first dinosaur eggs, and wrote about the adventures his team had. He got a job as a janitor at the Museum of Natural History in New York just to work in his dream building, yet he kept collecting specimins for the museum while achieving a master's degree! He then set off to the Indies to collect rare specimins for the museum, which are still displayed there 90 years later.




Ends of the Earth

Roy Chapman Andrews - 1929

The great dinosaur hunter returned to the Gobi to discover Protoceratops, eggs, Ovieraptor and Velociraptor, the "Raptor" from Jurassic Park which is the mascot of the Toronto basketball team. His team found an ancient giant mammal called Baluchitherium too. The Chinese authorities seized some of this findings but gave most back.




Under a Lucky Star

Roy Chapman Andrews - 1933

When he was older, Andrews the real Indiana Jones did exactly what Indy's father, played by Sean Connery, did. He became director of the Museum of Natural History. He wrote Under a Lucky Star as a farewell to America, detailing other interesting adventures. Recently the new director of the museum, Andrews' successor, had this to say about him: "[He was] a famous explorer, dinosaur hunter, examplar of Anglo-Saxon virtues, crack shot, fighter of Mongolian brigands, the man who created the metaphor, 'Outer Mongolia' to denote any exceedingly remote place.


A Vagabond Journey around the World

Harry Franck - 1900

From humble beginnings in Michigan, Harry A. Franck was the son of a blacksmith. After graduating, he bet his friend in Ann Arbor that he could travel around the world without money. He taught for a year, then bolted when he was 24 without any cash, doing weird stuff in weird places, working along the way to earn his way through wherever he was. He walked across the Malay Peninsula. Getting by on a shoestring, he returned to America over a year later, and got a job as a teacher in Massachusetts for five years, before deciding to screw that and bolt again.



Vagabonding Through a Changing Germany

Harry Franck - 1920

This first of Franck's journeys inspired Richard Halliburton, and he did make some money off his book, so aside serving as an example of what one can do with the will and the desire, it allowed him to travel some more. But where? WWI had just ended and tthe surrender of the German Empire was accepted, so Franck hightailed it to the Fatherland as the country tried to pick up the pieces and deal with the Versailles Treaty stipluations. "He had many adventures, not all of them pleasant, but all described in his plain, somewhat sarcastic style, which was the antithesis of the romantic prose of Halliburton."




Footloose in the British Isles

Harry Franck - 1932

During the Depression in America, Britain was marginally better off, and Franck left for the Isles. He was carefree, yet with a more morose attitude than, for example, Halliburton. He now spent his whole life traveling and selling the books he wrote about the adventures he went on, not a bad life. He documented how industrialization was changing Britain, and "many find it hard to believe the societies he describes existed less than a century ago."




A Vagabond in Sovietland

Harry Franck - 1935

Going to the Soviet Union was another big adventure entirely. It was another thing entirely. Guess what? He faced the same kind of bureaucratic crap that everyone else did, and yet his insights into Russian life penetrate the layers of Soviet society. Franck was now a professional traveler and observer of other lands and peoples. What did they show him, what did he see? How did this expert of the road fare, when he came head to head with a closed society in the middle of the Great Purge and the Ukrainian Terror-Famine, the Holodomor?



The Royal Road to Romance

Richard Halliburton - 1925

The sophisticates at Vanity Fair hate this guy- they put him on a short list of celebrities they "nominate for oblivion" for "making a glorious racket out of dauntless youth." More recently, Smithsonian Magazine called him, "the forgotton hero of 1930s America." Halliburton grew up in Tennessee, loving geography and history. As a teenager, he developed a rapid heartbeat and was bedridden for months in a special hospital in Michigan. But no sooner did he leave Princeton than he worked his way across the Atlantic as a deck hand, getting off for the ride and bicycling through Germany, then climbing the Matterhorn. This latter was filmed and put in a movie, but it has since been lost, to the chagrin of Halliburton enthusiasts. He hit London and Paris, and was stuck with wanterlust. He was in jail and out; he hunted tigers in India and trekked in Kashmir. And he was never anything less than exuberant- the ultimate can-do kind of guy. He dedicated this book to his roommates at Princeton, "whose saintly, consistancy and respectability... drove me to this book." He also climbed Mt. Fuji, the first person documented as having done so in wintertime.




The Glorious Adventure

Richard Halliburton - 1927

This time Halliburton went to the Mediterranean to retrace the adventures of Odysseus so long ago. His dad told him to be more evenkeeled and settle, and Halliburton said, "As far as I am able I intend to avoid that condition- when impulse and sponteneity fail to make my way uneven than I shall sit up nights inventing means of making my life as conglomerate and vivid as possible, and when my time comes to die, I'll be able to die happy, for I will have heard and experienced all the joy, pain and thrills- any emotion that any human ever had- and I'll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed." Indeed, recently reissued, the intro to this book reminds us that, "From the Jazz Age to the eve of WWII, Halliburton thrilled an entire generation of readers. He was clever, resourceful, undaunted, cheerful in the face of dreadful odds, ever-optimistic about the world and the people around him, and always scheming about his next adventure."




New Worlds to Conquer

Richard Halliburton - 1929

Halliburton refused to settle down. This time he went to Mesoamerica and retraced the steps of Cortez and his men, including Bernal Diaz, 400 years earlier. He descended into the Mayan Well of Death at Chichen Itza, and received occasional trouble from authorities. He swam the whole length of the Panama Canal and paid the lowest toll in its history, 36 cents. Usually boats pay tolls, this time it was just a dude in the water, like if someone walked up to the drive thru window and ordered fast food. He went to Macchu Picchu, and got locked up in Devil's Island, exchanging stories with inmates. He then had a boat drop him off on Tobago in the Caribbean with nothing- castaway style- to see if he could "build civilization" for himself, like Robinson Crusoe. As an interesting note, actor Douglas Fairbanks used Halliburton as a role-model for his role in Mr. Robinson Crusoe (1932) a great movie about a New York businessman building civilization by himself on a South Pacific island.




The Flying Carpet

Richard Halliburton - 1932

Doing well financially, Halliburton hired a private pilot to fly him around the world in an open cockpit bi-plane. He named the plane Flying Carpet. His dad said he was crazy, but for fans and detractors alike, this would be called, "one of the most fantastic, extended air journeys ever recorded." It over a year to accomplish, stopping in 34 countries and traveling 33,600 miles. First they crossed America, but thing is, planes couldn't cross the ocean yet, so they had to transport it across the Atlantic and Pacific by boat. They stopped all over Europe, then landed in Timbuktu, on a Shell Oil Company drilling station, hung out with the French Foreign Legion, Egypt (where he slept on the very top of the Great Pyramid), Petra, Arabia (where he tried to enter Mecca like Burton but was found out and rejected), Persia, India (where he swam in the reflecting pool at the Taj Mahal and pushed an obnoxious train ticket guy off before the guy pushed him off!), Borneo, the Philippines and back to America. The journey cost Halliburton $50,000, but he doubled his money on the book's sales, which, even during the Great Depression, brought in $100,000. The plane was tired out and retired, but Halliburton had one more adventure left.




Seven League Boots

Richard Halliburton - 1935

Now a houshold name, Halliburton was paid by the Boston Globe to travel, giving weekly reports they could print. Vince Lombardi and Walter Cronkite saw him as college students and credit him with inspiring to go into journalism. He went around to remote places in the USA, visited some interesting people, and then to Cuba, Miami, Washington DC, New York, Europe to ride an elephant across the Alps like Hannibal, and finally Russia, sending back what he did each week. When he got back, he moved with his wife and kids to a custom built home in Laguna Beach, CA. It hung over the edge of a plateau of sorts, and he had a full size wall covered with a painted map of the world. "It flies!" he said, on first seeing the house. Ayn Rand visited it, and used it as the model for "Heller House" in her book The Fountainhead. But Seven League Boots was to be Halliburton's last. On his next journey, he died, lost at sea, trying to sail a Chinese junk called The Sea Dragon actoss the Pacific Ocean from Hong Kong to San Francisco. His last message by radio said, "Having wonderful time wish  you were here instead of me." Fifteen years later, an oriental boat washed ashore in California, believed to be Halliburton's ship. Seven League Boots, incedentially, was deemed by the Bobbs-Merill company the "last of the great travel books of the classic period."



The Road to Oxiana

Robert Byron - 1933

In 1933, the delightfully eccentric travel writer Robert Byron set out on a journey through the Middle East to Oxiana, near the border between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Throughout, he kept a thoroughly captivating record of his encounters, discoveries, and frequent misadventures. His story would become a best-selling travel book throughout the English-speaking world, until the acclaim died down and it was gradually forgotten. When Paul Fussell published his own book Abroad, in 1982, he wrote that The Road to Oxiana is to the travel book what Ulysses is to the novel between the wars, and what The Waste Land is to poetry. His statements revived the public"s interest in the book, and for the first time, it was widely available in American bookstores. Now this long-overdue reprint will introduce it to a whole new generation of readers. This edition features a new introduction by Rory Stewart, best known for his book The Places In Between, about his extensive travels in Afghanistan. Today, in addition to its entertainment value, The Road to Oxiana also serves as a rare account of the architectural treasures of a region now inaccessible to most Western travelers, and a nostalgic look back at a more innocent time



When the Going was Good

Evelyn Waugh - 1935

What happens when one of the greatest of prose stylists of the English language, author of great works of 20th century British literature, gets a job as a newspaper correspondant and goes to strange places? A traditionalist Catholic opposed to Vatican II like Mel Gibson, Waugh despised the welfare state concept, and came across as hardnosed at times, at home and abroad. He went to Abyssinia to see Haile Selassie's coronation, and reported less than favorably that it was a "propaganda effort". He went to the Congo, and later to South America. He recounted all this in When the Going was Good, a later compilation of all his travel books into one. During WWII, he was a captain, but was an unpopular officer, called arrogant and curt. He got demoted to Intelligence Officer. In combat, his superiors said he "had undoubed courage, but his unmilitary and insubordinate character rendered him effectively unemployable as a soldier." He was dispatched to discuss things with Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia, and his plane crashed, but he lived. He lost popularity when things like, "[Ethiopia] is a savage place which Mussolini was doing well to tame," became less acceptable to say after the war.




Journey without Maps

Grahme Greene - 1935

Why anyone would take a 350 mile, monthlong walk through Liberia, where, "The great majority of all mosquitoes caught in Monrovia are of a species known to carry yellow fever," remains unclear. He wanted to leave civilization, inspired by Conrad, and find the "heart of darkness." So, he consulted a U.S. Army map of the country's interior, and it got to the point where it was blank because it was literally unknown. There was only one word in the large space: "Cannibals." "Have you thought of the leeches?" someone asked Greene. He went anyway, into the forest, on foot, village to village. "Be glad," National Geographic says, this book is just plain great." Paul Theroux read it and marveled at it.




Behind God's Back

Negley Farson - 1941

Raised by his grandfather, a general in the Civil War who rode with Sherman when they burned Georgia from Atlanta to the sea, Farson emigrated to England and became one of the most renowned foreign correspondents of the day, writing for the Chicago Daily News. He was in Petrograd when the Bolsheviks took over during the "ten days that shook the world," watched speeches by Lenin and Stalin- live- and was in the Irish parliament the day they voted to cease saying the pledge of allegiance to King George. He partied with F. Scott Fitzgerald and outdrank Ernest Hemingway during the Roaring Twenties, met Franklin Roosevelt, witnessed Gandhi being arrested in Poona, India, and interviewed him later. He was one of the rare Westerners to get an interview with Hitler in the 1930s, who patted his little son Daniel's head and called him "a good Aryan boy." In this book he travels the length of Africa trying to ascertain whether colonialism is good or bad.



Caucasian Journey

Negley Farson - 1939

Described when it was published as, "the record of an unrepeatable journey- adventurous, wry and robustly evocative," Caucasian Journey takes Farson to a remote place: "One of Farson's adventures stands alone, his equestrian exploration, with an eccentric, aging Englishman, of the Caucasus Mountains. With no prior equestrian travel experience between them, they discovered the harsh realities of life on the road. They were lashed by hailstorms, threatened by Soviet commissars, denied shelter by suspicious natives, and spent night after night in rain soaked misery. On top of that Farson was an amazing alcoholic, whose personal bouts of blacking out, suffering hangovers and getting mangled again is a behind-the-scenes interest story in itself. This book tells how Farson also discovered the seldom-seen splendors of this remote region with its alpine snowfields painted gold by the sun, picturesque villages forgotten by the outer world, and magnificent horsemen. [It is] a thrilling account and a poetic rememberance- an adventure classic."



News from Tartary

Peter Fleming - 1936

Armed with a rifle, six bottles of brandy, and Macaulay's History of England (but lacking a passport), Fleming set out from Peking for India in the 1930s via forbidden Xinjiang, and he reports, with typically British irony, the troubles he ran into. (The rifle came in handy.) If only all adventurers could write this well. Ian Fleming's brother was in many ways his alter ego. He writes with understatement of crossing on foot from Peking to Kashmir with a Bond-girlish Swedish woman he doesn't much like. "He was a journalist, so it's very pacey," says Colin Thubron. What makes it a classic is Fleming's irony and restraint. "He was making little of it," says Thubron, "while Ian Fleming was making a lot of what little he did. NG




Black Lamb, Gray Falcon

Rebecca West - 1938

The writer's chronicle of Yugoslavia on the eve of World War II enjoyed a boost in popularity when that country finally dissolved a half-century later. Robert D. Kaplan calls it "a sprawling world unto itself—an encyclopedic inventory of Yugoslavia and a near-scholarly thesis on Byzantine archaeology, pagan folklore, Christian and Islamic philosophy, and the nineteenth-century origins of fascism and terrorism. It all unfolds with the meticulous intricacy of an expert seamstress. NG



Into the Darkness

Lothrop Stoddard - 1942

John Lawson Stoddard's son, Lothrop Stoddard graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. Impeccably versed as his father's real life experiences no doubt encouraged, he attained a doctorate in history at Harvard with a celebrated dissertation on the Haitian Revolution. He argued the Germans fueled WWI with their bent to Teutonic supremacism, when they should have been working to forge bonds with the other nations of Europe. He predicted Japan's military rise, the Second World War midcentury, and mass immigration from the Third World, as well as the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, in the decades after that. In The Great Gatsby, Daisy talks about one of his actual nonfiction books, which were well read, but less read is his travel book to Nazi Germany: Into the Darkness. He interviewed Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Robert Ley, and when William L. Shirer, famed historian of the Third Reich needed interviews, he was instructed to see Stoddard first. Written when the war was on, Stoddard took care to see how ordinary Germans were affected as well.



Seven Years in Tibet

Heinrich Harrer - 1945

A championship skiier and mountain climber, Harrer climbed the impossible vertical cliff called the North Face of Eiger, which was illegal because so many people died trying, earning him the nickname "The White Spider." He led a 4-man team through avalanches and rock falls. After the Anschluss, Harrer joined the SS and was photographed with Hitler, and married the daugher of Alfred Wegener, who discovered continental drift and devised the theory of plate tectonics. According to National Geographic: "Escaping from a British prisoner-of-war camp in India, the great Austrian climber headed for the mountains, Tibet, and freedom. Amazingly, he got all the way to Lhasa, where he befriended the young Dalai Lama. Revelations of Harrer's Nazi past have clouded his reputation, yet the book's deeply sympathetic portrait of the Tibetans endures."



Story of a Secret State

Jan Karski - 1944

A member of the Polish Diplomatic Service, Karski joined the underground resistance during WWII. At first, his unit tried to reach Hungary to regroup with others and continue the fight, but it was captured by the Red Army. In prison, he did a uniform exchange to hide his true rank, and avoided being executed by the Soviets at Katyn. From the German sector of Poland, he smuggled operational details of German forces out of the country as a courier, moving past border guards all the way to London. He was arrested by the Gestapo at one point and interrogated in Slovakia, then smuggled out of the hospital by Polish agents. He was then smuggled into the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto to see the conditions, and then disguised himself as a Baltic (or probably Ukrainian) prison guard to see what was going on at the Belzec transit camp. He brought this inside information to Washington, and warned Roosevelt about Soviet plans for postwar Europe. He predicted the fate of stateless and displaced people repatriated to the USSR (Operation Keelhaul), but this information was not acted upon. Only after 1989 and the fall of communism did he receive the highest decoration of the Polish state: the Order of the White Eagle.




West with the Night

Beryl Markham - 1942

"A bloody wonderful book," Ernest Hemingway called it, and so it is—Africa from the seat of an Avro biplane, winged prose, if you will, about the lion that mauled her, about the Masai and the Kikuyu, about flying over the Serengeti, searching for the downed plane of her lover. It appears that Markham's third husband, writer Raoul Schumacher, contributed some of the literary polish. But what of it? The book, and the life, still radiate excitement: "I have lifted my plane from the Nairobi airport for perhaps a thousand flights and I have never felt her wheels glide from the earth into the air without knowing the uncertainty and the exhilaration of firstborn adventure." A bush pilot and the first person to fly solo, east to west, across the Atlantic, Markham writes vividly about her discoveries, explorations, and narrow escapes. NG



Journey Among Warriors

Eva Curie - 1943

During WWII, Eva Curie fought the Axis as a journalist. She joined the Free French Forces in Britain after the surrender of 1940, and was employed by the International Herald Tribune in New York. They sent her to as a foreign correspondant to Africa, the Near East, Soviet Union, India, Burma, China and Singapore, all in the space of six months. It wound up being a round the world tour, as she came back via San Francisco. She talked to emirs and shadowed the British in North Africa as the only woman allowed near the front lines. In Tehran she met the Shah, Reza Pahlavi, and General Sikorski. She reported in Moscow just after the Russians repulsed the Germans outside the city, talked to Nazi POWs and also Polish POWs just released from Soviet Gulags. She met Chiang Kai-Shek in China, but things got crazy when she was heading to Singapore, because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and took Singapore, so everything changed mid-trip. The resulting book was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, but the prize was given to Private Ernie Pyle for his war correspondance.



Ingrid Rimland - 1945

The author grew up in Russia between the wars as part of a German Mennonite community that had lived there for centuries. Her travels as a refugee with her community of pacifists during the most violent decades of all time took her to twenty countries on three continents in search of, as the trilogy's subtitle says, "land and peace." Some of the world's best agriculturalists, Rimland's diaspora tribe brought their farming expertise with them wherever they went, and when some wound up in North America, they planted some of the most productive natural strains, contributing mightily to American agriculture.



Letters from a Traveler

Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - 1951

It may seem like an irony at first glance, that a Catholic priest discovered the bones of Peking Man, one of the so-called evolutionary missing links from ape to man: Homo erectus. But like Roy Chapman Andrews, Teilhard was an archeologist and a traveler to remote places. His digs took him from Spain and France to China, Mongolia, Burma, the Indies, South Africa, Ethiopia and the American Rockies. He chronicled the trials and tribulations of his trips, and the solemnness and deeper meaning of each occasion. He saw God in the evolutionary process itself, ever-perfecting, and combined with a moral imperative of eternal writ, came to understand that God created us to evolve in his image- to approach him more closely as the generations pass. Teilhard's philosophical and achrological accomplishments, with the events in this book providing the background, are of epic proportions- this is life on the astral plane.



Barbarian at the Gates

Zbiginew Herbert - 1962

Disgusted by the social realist style enforced in the communist world for all arts and literature, Herbert was granted, in a rare stroke of luck, the right to travel. "A will to escape from this gloomy reality and see 'a better world' was one of the driving forces behind his passion for traveling," according to a biographer. His first lively impressions of the west, a world "beautiful and of such variety," were produced in a travel book called Barbarian at the Gates. He had no money, and his health was variable. From Austria to England to France he journeyed, seeing the Europe of the post-WWII pre-James Bond 1950s, but this book has a twist. It is "composed of essays which describe the particular places and things seen by the poet, as well as two historical essays, a story about the Albigensians and the Templar Order... [and] it takes place in two dimensions simultaneously- it is both contemporary travel and time travel." Herbert evokes history wherever he goes.



All the Time in the World

Hugo Williams - 1967

His father was a British actor and his mother was a model. Together they wrote The Grass is Greener, starring Carey Grant. Hugo went to Eton College and wrote for the Spectator, New Statemen, etc. So basically, he lived at the end of history. And what does a young man do at the end of history? Take a totally carefree trip around the world- alone. After the deepness of Teilhard and Herbert, according to a critic, "We'd choose to join Williams because he is fun, and smart, but we wouldn't, even for a moment, consider his ridiculous itinerary... Williams is one of those people who everyone cottons [gets attached] to, because he sees things in a curious, bemused, observant, thoughtful, wide-awake way- a view that gets sharpened by the not-too-far-from-the-surface terror of being on your own. No one understands the sounds coming out of your mouth... Your typewriter is stolen from the seat next to you... but you are on the road to nowhere so who cares. Who really fucking cares.




The Harmless People

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas - 1959

The daughter of a successful anthropologist, she went to Andover, Radcliffe and was primed to... go live with the most primitive people on the planet, the iKung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. Huh? And she kept journals the whole time, "the beauty, style and concept of which would be hard to match," according to the Times Book Review. The Times goes on to state, "It is groundbreaking... the charm of this book is that the author can so truly convey the strangeness of the desert life in which we perceive human traits as familiar as our own- this is a model of exposition: the style very simple and precise, perfectly suited to the neat, even fastidious activities of a people who must make their world out of next to nothing."



To Jerusalem and Back

Saul Bellow - 1975

The great Jewish writer of Herzog, Ravelstein and other novels takes the trip to Israel, but unlike most travelers, he sports a massive IQ and is a little skeptical of what he is going to find. But the other thing is that Bellow is a famous person in 1975, and so he talks with top people. When he got back, he discussed his trip with Henry Kissinger, for example. And he talked with many people, so we have the inside scoop. One guy in Isreal tells him "everyone brings their own version of heaven to Israel." Touche. One thing Bellow wonders about when talking to Sartre and other leftists is why no one expects as much out of the Arabs as they do the Jews. He says Israel has 1/6 of 1% of the land Arabs have. Well, these things can be touchy.




The Oak and the Calf

Alexander Solzhenitsyn - 1975

Awarded the Nobel Prize for the "ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature," Solzhenitsyn was a decorated WWII veteran of the Red Army, then was imprisoned in Lubyanka and then deported to a Gulag. In the Gulag he got cancer, and was taken to Tashkent where it amazingly went into remission. His intellectual and spiritual odyssey brought him to Christ, as Dostoyevsky's did a century before. Released after Khruschchev's Secret Speech, he was freed from exile and exonerated, but while teaching high school during the day, Solzhenitsyn secretly wrote at night. He allowed no one to read it, not even close friends. Not even his wife, for fear of the KGB. Later he would compare this to modern Western culture's PC banality: "The human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, by TV stupor and by intolerable music." His travel book, The Oak and the Calf, chronicles his attempt to publish his great work, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, in the USSR, to the point where he is expelled from the country a decade later.


Spirit of St. Louis

Charles Lindbergh - 1953

This is Lindbergh's account of perhaps the most famous air journey ever made, the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris. It's a spacious book, too, full of incident—bailouts over Illinois cornfields, Lindbergh's barnstorming days, family lore. More than the tale of a great adventure, it's a portrait of the adventurer. NG




Chuck Yeager - 1947

"For conspicuous gallentry and total disregard for his own safety" is what his file with the U.S. military actually says. He got in a tin can with wings and hit the jet engine until it broke the sound barrier. Then he flew more missions, and more than anyone else, set the stage for the space race in the decades to come. Yeager's heroism was legendary, but he was not foolhardy. He took calculated risks and using his amazing piloting skill, pushed the limits of the interaction of man and machine. His life story is an adventure that cannot be replicated in quite the same way.



The Right Stuff

Tom Wolfe - 1960

With all the flash and fireworks of Wolfe's writing, it's easy to overlook that, at bottom, he's a great reporter. And this long and intimate look into the lives, minds, and deeds of the men who rode the first American rockets into space remains Wolfe's best book and the first true classic from the dawn of space exploration. The race with the Russians, the dauntless Chuck Yeager—Wolfe piles story upon story, and it glows. NG



We Seven

John Glenn et al. - 1960

Mercury was the program. The mission: launch a man into space. Seven were chosen for this journey, and these are the seven. Each writes their own chapter, each tells of their lives, families, ambitions, and hopes. Some people were saying things like "man can't be in space, their blood will boil and they'll go blind..." but these guys were of that mind, that if you can dream it, we will find a way to do it. Remember these seven.



First on the Moon

Neil Armstrong - 1969

Many books have been written about the extraordinary events surrounding the Moon landing, but there is something about hearing it from the astronauts themselves that is different. Great journalists can write great articles, but Armstrong actually walked on the face of the Moon in July, 1969, and when you hear him tell what happened, it is a moment of cosmic significance we can share with those who voyaged farther than anyone ever has.



Return to Earth / Magnificent Desolation

Buzz Aldrin - 1974

He walked on the moon and was the first 'alien' who left the lunar surface to return to his home. He was at the apex of his life, and the life of humanity. Upon his return, after achieving the unbelievable, he began drinking to numb the already numb feeling that his accomplishment was all there was, in his life, and in our collective vision. His journey was the longest of all, from the Moon to the depths of despair, to banal depression, to self-pity and disgust at what our society has become, to hope again. Return to Earth is not just a reality for Buzz Aldrin, it is a metaphor too. Usually it's the opposite, but this is, after all, Buzz Aldrin. Magnificent Desolation is the sequel, published 40 years later.



Carrying the Fire

Michael Collins - 1974

An astronaut's life is adventurous by definition. Apollo 11 pilot Michael Collins's account of his own is clean, often funny at his own expense, modestly heroic. The best firsthand account of spaceflight so far, it tells us what it was like up there, encapsulated in the infinity of space, how it felt to fall off the edge of the known world. NG




Lost Moon

Jim Lovell - 1974

There was one moon mission that failed. But in the failure, there was a great success: the crew came home alive. Lovell reminds us how an onboard accident forced the crew to wrap around the moon and get back to earth as fast as they could. These voyagers had a trip unlike any other. No one has gone to the Moon since 1972, but these guys did. They saw the dark side with their own eyes, and lived to tell the tale.




Travels with Herodotus

Ryszard Kapuscinski - 1956

They would come to call him the master of literary reportage. When Kapuscinski was just a boy who read Herodotus and wanted to travel, no one imagined he would become the great foreign correspondant of the 20th century. First, he wrote in an obscure language, Polish, and originally, he simply volunteered to go abroad- beyond the Iron Curtain- if it was ever allowed or needed. After Stalin's death they sent him to India, with money- but none of it had any value- and sporting Warsaw Pact fashions ala 1956. "Wide-eyed and captivated, he would discover in those days his life's work- to understand and describe the world in its remotest reaches." He took Herodotus' original travel book on all his early journeys, and looked to him to help make sense of events, to find the story where it did not obviously exist. He proceeded in this great forerunner's spirit, from India to China, Persia and the Middle East, "both supremely worldly and innately occidental."




The Shadow of the Sun

Ryszard Kapuscinski - 1957

Since the Polish Press Agency had only one foreign correspondant, they sent him next to Africa, to report on the end of colonialism there and the transition to native rule. In this book he shows us the hopeful years of independence, "the bloodcurdling disintegrations of nations like Nigeria, and Rwanda... and indentifies the true geography of Africa- a little understood spiritual universe, an African way of being. He offers a moving portrait of Africa in the wake of two epoch-making changes, the departure of the white man, and the arrival of AIDS." Kapuscinski's rare humanity, the Knopf book company argues, "invests his subject with a dignity and grandeur unmatched by any other writer on the Third World. The Shadow of the Sun is a masterpiece from a modern master."




Another Day of Life

Ryszard Kapuscinski - 1975

"When our children's children want to study the cruelties of the late-20th century; when they want to read of murderous tyrants and drunken soldiers; when they wonder why revolution after revolution betrayed its promises through greed, fear and confusion, they should read Kapuscinski," the Wall Street Journal says. Now he goes to Portuguese Angola, to see the violent end of African colonialism, as the Portuguese load up their possessions and hi-tail it out before they are massacred by one of three roving guerrilla armies or angry or psychotic individuals- maybe not the best time to go. He sees the Border War emerge with South Africa and Rhodesia, delivering, according to the Financial Times, "a stunning account of a country divided by its newly won freedom... what linger in the mind are the surreal, haunting images conjured up by a poet who by some bizarre, inappropriate twist of fate ended up as an agency reporter."




The Emperor

Ryszard Kapuscinski - 1978

National Geographic recommends this of all Kapuscinski's books: "As Haile Selassie's regime in Ethiopia collapsed in 1974, the intrepid Polish journalist interviewed various functionaries and compiled a composite picture of that mysterious kingdom, right down to the emperor's dog, which had a habit of peeing on the shoes of dignitaries... As scathing and witty and sharp-eyed a portrait of autocracy as there is in print." Salmon Rushdie agreed: "Anybody who has any feeling for literature cannot resist Kapuscinski- he conjures marvels of meaning out of minutia- a fiercely comic, and finally compassionate book. One Kapuscinski is worth a thousand whimpering and fantasizing scribblers. He allows us to feel so close to the inexpressible true image of war." Alvin Toffler agreed, saying, "The Emperor is the nightmare that men of power dream when they are most alone. It is a bone-chilling, brilliant tale, as precise in its cut-glass literary style as in its political insights. Taut, yet brimming with aphorism, it is the ultimate recreation of power in decay." What no one knew is that there is an even deeper layer in this book- as an allegory of ditctatorship in general all throughout the communist world. Remember, he wrote it for the Polish press and so spoke to the people of his own country about their own dictatorship- in the guise of his observation of the downfall of an Ethiopian autocrat!




Shah of Shahs

Ryszard Kapuscinski - 1980

Now he goes to Iran for yet another, and what results is "a stunning account of how the ayatollahs were able to mesmerize the people into willingly replacing one brutal regime with another," according to Library Journal. National Geographic says: "What always separated this journalist from other foreign correspondents was his deep engagement with history. In Iran around the time of the shah's overthrow, he does the job of documenting the revolution's chaos and its many ironies (e.g., it was originally led by democrats) but also gives bountiful context to an earth-shattering event that still resonates today." Stripped of excess, remarkably void of cynicism, the Boston Globe argues, "Kapuscinski's book has the force and vision of literature."




The Soccer War

Ryszard Kapuscinski - 1980

By this time, Kapuscinski had witnessed 27 revolutions and coups in the Third World, firsthand, over 22 years, something probably no one else could say. He had been jailed 40 times and issued 4 death sentences, but somehow got out of dodge each time. While his books covered major events, in 1980 it was thought to compile his notes and diary entries on all the other ones too, that appeared in magazines and newspapers but not in books. The result is The Soccer War, a snapshot of war in our time, covering literal soccer brawls in South America, coups in Honduras and Mexico, Turkish-Greek violence on Cypress, East African coups that seemingly follow one right after another, and more. "He makes us know what it is like to find oneself, again and again, alone in somebody else's country during somebody else's war; he makes us know, as well, the frightening, grotesque and grotesquely funny details- from which distance normally shields us- of life in war." A reviewer states about the book: "Every rare, rare once in a while, a writer comes along of such power, such extraordinary gifts, that once feels not only gladdened to partake of his work, but privileged. Kapuscinski is one of those talents, and The Soccer War is one of those books."





Ryszard Kapuscinski - 1990

After having seen them all fall down, so many centers that could not hold, at the end of his long career, Kapuscinski got to see fall the granddaddy of them all: he saw the collapse of the Soviet Union. Imperium takes us in into the crumbling collossus at the very moment before it broke up into 14 countries and 22 autonomous republics within the Russian Federation. "This book is transcendental journalism, he begins with appearances, for which he has uncommon gifts of poetry, irony and paradox, and clambers down them into essences," says the Los Angeles Times, while the New York Times argued, "He is an enchanting guide, combining boundless stamina, felicitous writing, childlike curiousity, and the literate authority of a true intellectual." After he died in 2007, the Swedish press said that had he not, he probably would have won the Nobel Prize.




Michael Crichton - 1990

Before he wrote Andromeda Strain, Sphere, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, State of Fear, Timeline and other bestselling technothrillers, a sub-genre bridging regular fiction to science fiction, he probably invented, Crichton studies at Harvard Medical School to be a doctor. His journeys begin there, a search for self, sense and nonsense. He takes us around the world to adventures he has, and as a kind of weird guy (he was 6 ft. 9 in. tall), and an extremely smart deist.



Coups and Cocaine

Anthony Daniels - 1987

As a young doctor out of medical school, who practiced in the new Zimbabwe, Daniels went to South America to cross it, but gave himself one rule: do not use planes or private vehicles. Catch the spirit of each people and place. In Peru he goes into the Andes to Machu Picchu and further on to the Amazon, discusses liberation theology with Marxists, meets the widow of the President of Ecuador who shows him her "Inca gold" figurines, and finds the violence of the brutal drug cartels and the political intrigue is a fact of life. Daniels has "outstanding skills as an observer, an interlocutor, and a writer," and here he shows us the desperation and fascination of South America.




Sweet Waist of America

Anthony Daniels - 1989

Dr. Daniels moved north to Central America for his next book, and after hearing about some of the places, was surprised he didn't see bodies on the roads. But there was civil war and internecine strife aggrivated by drug abuse and cartels. Things were relatively calm when he was there, except in Guatemala, so he stayed there extensively, and found people are fascinated by the place, and wanted to find out why. The result is Sweet Waist of America, "a work both of history and philosophy, set in a land that is exciting, bemusing, dangerous and -above all- like nowhere else on earth." His work is called by the press "top drawer travel writing... Daniels is a fine writer, a master of the short sentence and punchy paragraph. It is stylish writing, sharp and cynical, with brilliant shafts of humor." This is not a surprise, for most people know Anthony Daniels under his later pen name: Theodore Dalrymple, the great English langauge essayist of our time.




Utopias Elsewhere

Anthony Daniels - 1990

Picking up where Kapuscinski left off, Dr. Daniels had the wonderful idea, as the communist world was collapsing, to see how the end of the Soviet Union would affect the "the Wilder Shores of Marx." What are these? The backwaters of the communist world like Albania, North Korea, Romania, Vietnam and Cuba, places influenced and to some degree controlled by communist bosses, who are watching their great benefactor in Moscow implode. "The result," according to the London Times, "is an excellent travelogue of an encounter with the pathetic subjects of imported communism- the ideology of which they cannot understand." Why title it Utopias Elsewhere? Certainly because the places he goes are far flung and not in the communist core of northeastern Europe and China, but also because, as Daniels states, "It is curious that Western intellectuals who have demanded, and generally enjoyed, the utmost freedom for themselves should for so long have felt a sentimental attachment to a form of tyranny more thoroughgoing than any other in history. They wanted a utopia, but they wanted it elsewhere." Daniels here produces a stinging testament to the price people pay when the Orwellian nightmare becomes real.




Zanzibar to Timbuktu

Anthony Daniels - 1992

Dr. Daniels next volunteered for the difficult job of medical work in Tanzania, East Africa. "He came to the grimmest possible conclusion about Africa's future," so in quest of some cause for hope, he decided to take a cross-section of the continent, traveling by public transport only, and without planes. He starts in Zanzibar, and discovers the on-hand situation in each new country- a string of them reaching all the way to far off Mali- again picking up where Kapuscinski left off. What he sees is terrible, of course, a "continent of misery," but there is one thing he is amazed at, the ordinary African's ability to resign from all the cruelty and poverty, and find happiness "long after we [Europeans] would have given up looking."




Monrovia Mon Amour

Anthony Daniels - 1994

Winding up his Africa tour before settling back to England and starting work at Birmingham prison (and becoming Britain's most famous doctor), Daniels was on hand to witness the devolution of Liberia into civil war. The African American Africans, the descendents of those black Americans who went back to Africa in the 19th century, ruled the country until the 1980s as an elite. They practiced slavery and were known to be corrupt like any other African regime. President Tubman, and then Tolbert, were overthrown by Samuel Doe, a military leader, to the happiness of most people. But then tribal war started, and Doe was captured by "freedom fighter" Charles Taylor, and then tortured by Prince Y. Johnson, who Daniels met and calls, "an insomniac psychopath who prowls the darkness with his AK47, bagging up to 32 (people) in one night. Daniels tours Monrovia, the capital, seeing the destruction of the university library, hospitals wrecked because they undermine tribal medicine of the witch doctors, the smashed remnants of the country's only piano, the busted up conference center "where only platitudes are delivered" and the churches with blood all over the floor after 600 Gio and Mano tribesmen were slaughtered there. "No one since Graham Greene" has reported like Daniels.




Mediterranean Winter

Robert Kaplan - 1976

Footloose and fancy free, Kaplan graduated from college and traveled to the Mediterranean basin. "In this colorful book, we watch the author- America's premier traveler- grow from an uncertain youth into an adept, mature commentator." From Tunis to Sicily to Athens, he takes us on this journey of a lifetime. The National Endowment for the Arts says of it, "We have come to expect carefully articulated and cogent history from Kaplan, but what is unexpected here is the lyrical grace and deep, personal attachment to the places and people he introduces us to. We travel by his side on this unusual journey to some of the world's most ancient civilizations.





Balkan Ghosts

Robert Kaplan - 1993

When the Soviet Union collapsed and Eastern Europe was free to hold elections and regular political life in the European way, the dark side was the rising of ethnic and religious enmity. Kaplan went to Yugoslavia as it was cleaving into five parts, visited Romania and Bulgaria as well, Translyvania, Moldavia and Greece. Following in the footsteps of his guide, Rebecca West, he reports on what all this means for the region and the world. The result was a book so erudite, that President Clinton was seen reading it, and it convinced him against intervention in Bosnia, because the violence was based on ancient hatreds beyond outside control. After that, people began asking "who is this Kaplan guy?" He became America's go-to foreign correspondant. In the Balkans, he came to realize the power of the past: "This was a time capsule world... I developed an obsession with medieval churches and old photographs. On the road, when I met people, I asked them always about the past. Only in this way could the present become comprehensible."




Eastward to Tartary

Robert Kaplan - 2000

Previously, Kaplan had gone on a shoestring, but now he would be funded and have access to the movers and shakers of the world, launching a brilliant career that is still going on. Sequel to Balkan Ghosts, this book moves from the European area of former Ottoman rule east to the other regions of the old Turkish Empire. Following in the footsteps of Burton and Doughty, Kaplan moves across Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Mesopotamia, the Caucasus and Central Asia on the way to Tartary. He looks at history and its effect on the present, and the newer influences of oil and international investment. "Kaplan is a national resource," a reviewer says, "he is a master of anecdote."




Ends of the Earth

Robert Kaplan - 1995

The big trip. Kaplan undertakes reporting on the whole swathe of the Third World, starting with Africa and moving east to Cambodia. Like Conrad, he finds the heart of darkness, and says it is not so much in our past, but in our future. He sees "the coming anarchy" of the Third World arriving in the West, and warns us that "Africa is our future." He predicts the center will not hold in the democracies of the West, based on what he sees all across the Third World. He predicts a futuristic dystopia instead, as if he were Dante, coming back from Hell to tell us what awaits. In that sense the book is a bit terrifying.



In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz

Michela Wrong - 1997

She covered Africa for Reuters, the BBC, and Financial Times during the 1990s, and had a firsthand account of the end of Mobutu Sese Seko's three decade reign. She could ask anyone what "they thought of Africa" and get a bunch of opinions, but the thing that helped her the most was to read Heart of Darkness. It helped her realize how it was that, for all that time, Mobutu duped and seduced the Western "powers" into giving the Congo money, which he then kept for himself and used to buy the political opposition. The ultimate African dictator and supreme gangsta, Mobutu dominated the people while drinking champagne and forcing slave workers to get diamonds for him out of the dirt. Mrs. Wrong wonders if it isn't the fault of Western liberals themselves that he ruled for so long. But now he is gone, and nothing has changed.



Out of America

Keith Richburg - 1994

After Kapuscinski, Daniels and Kaplan, there would be many new reporters from the edge of the world, from the edge of sanity, the edge of it all. First there is Richburg, who was hired by the Washington Post to be their foreign correspondant in Africa in 1992, and off he went, but he had no idea what that meant. He arrived and was in culture shock. He was a black man, and here he was, on the black continent, so what's the problem? Well, he was a black American. He had to get used to the idea that murder was something routine, that warlords silenced dissent with machine guns and machetes, and that that was reality. This triggered an intellectual crisis. He had come face to face with race. Before he got there, he thought Africa's problems were a result of white colonialism and all that. But as he took a trip from one coast to the other, he realized level playing fields and leftist intellectualism didn't matter a damn, and that Africa was not a place where blacks walked with dignity or political rights, which were European concepts in the first place. He was dismayed that the only place the police identified and investigated murders was in apartheid South Africa. About transatlantic slavery, he concluded, "Thank God my nameless ancestor, brought across the ocean in chains and leg irons, made it out alive. Thank God I am an American."



Facing the Congo

Jeffery Tayler - 2000

After Mobutu, what came next? Tayler goes on his own to find out, and "portrays the people, landscapes, and dilemmas he encounters with a vividness that stays." Robert Kaplan says of his work, which continues Kaplan's own, that "he goes off the beaten path to give us a much deeper version of the truth... and unlike so many other gonzo travel writers, he is not politically naive." You can't say Tayler wasn't adventurous. He slept in fishing net to keep misquitoes off him with a bunch of other people in the room on a Congo River boat. He then produced his own canoe, and navigated much of it on his own- 1100 miles to Kinshasa. Dangers lie at every turn- hostile tribes who think whites are the devil, to bad weather, to fog that makes it impossible to see. Got wanderlust? Follow Tayler.



The Great Railway Bazaar

Paul Theroux - 1976

Okay 1976 is a little vintage at this point, but its appropriate. See, Theroux, "who virtually invented the modern travel narrative," started his career by traveling across Asia, and then took the same trip 30 years later. So, its good to read both together. Graham Greene himself said of his first trip, The Great Railway Bazaar, "In the fine old tradition of travel for fun and adventure." National Geographic said of it, "Some travel writers prefer to hoof it or take a boat. But in this, his first travel book, Theroux proves himself a train man. As he goes from London to Tokyo—mostly by rail—his main subjects are the passengers he meets. It's the perfect travel book- there's a simple idea behind the journey, but an incredible range of landscapes and people. It has a wonderful sense of freedom." Perhaps the last of the great ones, Theroux shows us that in the age of supersonic jets, the best way to know a place is to stay on the ground.




Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

Paul Theroux - 2008

In his follow-up trip half a lifetime later, Theroux reminisces of decades gone past, and goes to his old stomping grounds, which are now totally new. Communism is gone, China has risen, India booms, Burma simmers, the Vietnam War is long over. Everywhere there is a new generation emerged. While few go to Laos and Cambodia, Theroux does, and he rips some of his conemporaries, like Chatwin (whose famous In Patagonia has since been found to be a fraud and therefore is not on this list) of whom he says, "He never traveled alone, and neither did his bete noire Naipaul." Indeed, Theroux travels by "stifling train, rattletrap bus, illicit taxi, and mud-caked foot." A reviewer wrote of this mature work, "No one writes with Theroux's head-on intensity and raptness... ghosts and shadows and underground presences flit through the narrative, giving the whole a half seen and haunting dimension that no book of travels I've ever read conjures up." Read the two in succession, and the goal of Theroux will have been met for you and me and him.




Dark Star Safari

Paul Theroux - 2003

Having crossed Asia and Russia by train, Theroux is now going to go by train from the top of Africa to the bottom: from Cairo to Cape, the old British dream. While the British Empire is gone, the railroad is still there. It starts in Egypt and goes through Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Solidifying his status as "the world's best travel writer," National Geographic says of this book, "Stephen Elliott prefers this cantankerous account of an overland journey—from Cairo to Capetown via canoe, cattle truck, armed convoy, and more— to others that cover more familiar ground. 'It was a fun way for me to learn about a lot,' says Elliott. 'It's a cynical book, but it really makes you want to take that journey.'" Well, bravo there Mr. Elliott. But is there any more to it than that? Theroux first came to Africa as a student 40 years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer, and in Malawi, when the train stops there, he reunites with some of his old friends. He tries to ascertain how much Africa has progressed since the end of colonialism, and concludes, "Africa is materially more decrepit than it was when I first knew it- hungrier, poorer, less educated, more corrupt, and you can't tell the politicians from the witch doctors. Africa is an assortment of motley rpublics and seedy chiefdoms. I got sick, I got stranded, but I was never bored. My trip was a delight and a revelation."




Last Train to Zona Verde

Paul Theroux - 2013

It was time for one last trip. This book is "an ode to the last African journey of the world's most celebrated travel writer." He starts in Cape Town this time, and heads north, believing he will reach Morocco. But, it doesn't turn out that way. As soon as he leaves Southern Africa, still under the influence of some last vestiges of European civilization, "Theroux encounters a world increasingly removed from both the iteneraries of tourists and the hopes of postcolonial independence movements. He crosses 'the Red Line' into a different Africa: the impoverished, slapped-together Africa of tumbled fences and cooking fires, of mud and thatch, of heat and poverty, and of roadblocks, mobs and anarchy. After 2,500 arduous miles, he comes to the end of his journey in more ways then one, a decision he chronicles with unsparing honesty in a chapter called, 'What am I doing here.' This book is a fitting final adventure from the writer who brought the world to generations of readers." What he finally says is that after decades and centuries and, if you count Herodotus, millennia of travel, Westerners might want to start looking again upon their own unique part of the world and, as tourists in their own lands, find again that special value in them that they ultimately deserve, as our only home, as yet, in the cosmos.


On the Road to Babadag

Stasiuk - 2010

"The heart of my Europe beats in Sokolow Podlaski and in Husi, not in Vienna." It is the new world, of postcommunism, of post-everything. And we end where we began, we end at home. Here, at the end of history, Satsiuk moves us around "the Europe called central" to show us the power of home. We all need to rediscover our homes, he says. This book is a good first step, a step into the future. For Stasiuk, as perhaps for us all, traveling away from Poland brings him back to Poland.


About Travel Books

New York Times questions popular author Russell Banks on what kind of books he reads in his spare time:

Any guilty pleasures? 

Travel books of all kinds, first-person accounts, travel memoirs, classics from Herodotus to Burton to Kapuscinski, even old out-of-date guidebooks for cities and countries I’ll never visit. Not sure why I feel guilty reading them, however. Maybe because serious travel is difficult and dangerous, and it’s so easy and safe to stay home and read about it instead.

What kinds of stories are you drawn to? 

Stories that I can both see and hear. In other words, stories that provide me with out-of-the-body travel by means of sustained, controlled visual and auditory hallucinations. Joseph Conrad famously said, Above all else, I want my reader to see. If he wrote better dialogue, he might have added, “and to hear.” Sometimes one of the two is enough, however. Elmore Leonard, for instance, lets us hear, all right, but we don’t get to see much. 

Notes about the 100 Greatest List

NB: The 100 selected here are not the same as National Geographic's selections. It is believed the preceeding are superior and more worthy of one's time than those selected by the Society for a  variety of reasons.

Aside from these 100 Greatest Travel Books, there are some handy volumes of compilations in book form, and then there is are online sources. The Jules Verne books are particularly recommended, they are the only nonfiction books he ever wrote, and provide the best overview of exploration I know of:

1) Verne, Jules, Exploration of the World,

2) Verne, Great Discoveries of the XVIII Century,

3) Verne, Great Exploration of the XIX Century,

4) Leithauser, Worlds Beyond the Horizon,

5) Newby, Travelers' Tales,

6) Bracewell, Orientations,

7) Lurich, Travels in the Reich, and

8) Boorstin, The Discoverers

Online Sources

Paul Halsall: http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/IHSP-travelers.html

National Geographic: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/0404/adventure_books_20-39.html

AP History Connected: http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/10.2/maunu.html


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