Travel reading...suggestions by destination good reads to evoke a place, time or personality

A selection of holiday reading. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Here are some books that make great reading; especially if read in their appropriate destinations...

Afghanistan: The Road to Oxiana; Robert Byron (1937) - a erudite and irreverent and highly amusing journey through the Middle East, Iran and Pakistan, en route to Afghanistan; 

Albania: Enver Hoxha: The Iron Fist of Albania, Blendi Fevziu (2016);

Antarctica: I may be some time, Francis Spufford, (1996), Polar regions

Arabia: Arabian Sands, Wilfred Thesiger, (1959), Arabia, Sultan in Oman; Jan Morris, (1957), The Arabian Knights, Anonymous and translated by Richard Francis Burton; Lawrence of Arabia, Alistair McLean; Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E Lawrence (1922), for the Levant; The Kingdom, Robert Lacey (1982); A Line in the Sand, James Barr (2012); Among the Believers, an Islamic Journey, V.S. Naipaul (1981); Desert Queen, the Extraordinary life of Gertrude Bell, Janet Wallach (2004);

Australia: Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes (1986) history of convict Australia; Digger: Max Anderson (2004) is a highly entertaining account of gold prospecting in a titchy Australian mining settlement;

The Caucasus: Ali and Nino, Kurban Said (1937) is a love story set amidst some swirling cross-cultural complications of Azerbaijan just after the First World War; 

Specs on books. Photo This is Insomnia

China: Before the Deluge; Deidre Chetham (2002), life along the Yangtze before the completion of the Three Gorges Dam; News from Tartary, Peter Fleming (1936) traces a seven month and 3,500 miles long journey from what was then Peking to Shrinigar in Kashmir; Hong Kong, Epilogue to an Empire, Jan Morris (1988) is an evocative and romantic account of Britain's history in Hong Kong;  


The Galapagos Affair, John Treherne (2002) is the compelling true story of a group of disgruntled German settlers who decided in the early 1930's to make a break for the uninhabited Galapagos island of Floriana. What happened next defies belief, as their search for an island idyl soon turned into a nightmare.

Railroad in the Sky, Elizabeth Harman Brainard (2003) is a corking - if detailed and a long-winded - look at how the most difficult railways in the world was built. It's a fascinating window into the politics of the day, the engineering challenges faced, the setbacks, and the dire working conditions. 

Plundering Paradise, Michael D'Orso (2009) is a brutally un-Disney take on the islands, looking at the destruction caused by humans and their uncontrollable appetite for fishing, tourism, and development. A poor choice for romantics, but essential reading if you are curious about the pressures at play on the islands.

Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut (1994) is a typically bizarre take on the human condition, with the archipelago featuring as little more than a vague location for Vonnegut's consideration of the evolution of the human brain. If you know and love Vonnegut this is a winner, but if not then I'd say that this isn't perhaps the best novel to start with.

Egypt: A Thousand Miles up the Nile, Amelia B Edwards (1877); The White Nile, Alan Moorehead (1960) (The Blue Nile, 1962); Alexandria, a History and a Guide, E.M. Forster (1922) is still a solid companion to uncovering the somewhat overlooked treasures of Alexandria; Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie (1937); The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell (1957-1960);

Ethiopia: The Barefoot Emperor, Philip Marsden (2007), Ethiopian history;

France: A Sentimental Journey, Lawrence Sterne (1768) France and Italy;

Germany: The Swan King, Ludwig II of Bavaria, Christopher McIntosh (1982);

India: A Passage to India, E.M. Forster (1924) remains one of the greatest explorations of the mistrust and misdemeanours during the British Raj; Indian Journals, Allen Ginsberg (1970); Staying On, Paul Scott (1977); The Hill of Devi, E.M. Forster (1953) is a richly textured account of Forster's stint as private secretary to the Maharaja of a then minor Indian state; Plain Tales from the Hills, Rudyard Kipling (1888); Hindoo Holiday, J.R Ackerley (1932) is a witty look at life accompanying the Maharaja of Chhokrapur in the 1920s; The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy; The Mulberry Empire, Philip Hensher (2002); India: a Wounded Civilisation, V.S. Naipaul (1977); No Full Stops in India, Mark Tully (1991);

Islands: Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe (1719) was inspired by the real life castaway Scot Alexander Selkirk who was marooned on Juan Fernandez, 360 miles west of Chile, and serves as an allegory for coping with loneliness and hardship. 

Italy: Venice, Jan Morris (1960); Italian Neighbours, Tim Parks (1992); The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1958);

Kenya: Out of Africa, Karen Blixen, (1937), Kenya, West with the Night: Beryl Markham, (1942), Kenya

Latin America:

General: The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (1995) tells of the formative journey through Latin America on a Norton motorbike in 1952 (the film adaptation was released in 2004);

Lebanon: Pity the Nation, Robert Fisk (1990), History of the Lebanese war; Holidays in Hell, P.J. O’Rourke (1988), chapters on Lebanon, Philippines etc;

A selection of holiday reading. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Mexico: So far from God, Patrick Marnham, 1985, Mexico; Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry (1947); The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Carlos Castenada (1968);

Montenegro: Blood Revenge: the Enactment and Management of Conflict in Montenegro and Other Tribal Societies, Christopher Boehm (1986);

North Africa


Desert Divers, Sven Lindqvist (1990) visits the Sahara to re-tell colonial atrocities and examin the motives of some early western Orientalist writers, through a study of the people who clean out desert wells.

The Travels of Ibn Battutah, Ibn Battuta (14th century). Perhaps the greatest traveller the world has ever seen, this remarkable man left his home town of Tangier aged 20, and made journeys covering 75,000 miles (and the equivilent of 44 of today's countries), before returning to his native land and passing away at around seventy years old.  

The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles (1949) is a great evocation of the Moroccan desert and the moral and discombobulation of an an American couple who set out to travel in it (the 1990 film is a good accompaniment to visiting the Moroccan Sahara too).

Lords of the Atlas: The Rise and Fall of the House of Glaoua 1893-1956, Gavin Maxwell (1966). Here the Ring of Bright Water author describes a local rich familie's hold over their part of the Atlas Mountains.

Panama: The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, David McCullouch (1977);

The Pacific Islands: A Pattern of Islands; Arthur Grimble (1952), Kiribati and Pacific Islands, Tales of the South Pacific, James A. Mitchener; Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl; Coming of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead; South Sea Tales, Robert Louis Stevenson; Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree, and other stories, Albert Wendt (1974) is a good introduction to this Samoan writer's work;

Russia: In Siberia, Colin Thubron (1999); Ekaterinburg, the Last Days of the Romanovs, Helen Rappaport (2008) is the chilling account of the Romanovs' final fourteen days ahead of being assassinated on July 17th 1918; The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia; and Moscow Calling, Memoirs of a Foriegn Correspondant, both by Angus Roxburgh; The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov (1967).

South Africa: Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton (1986), Apartheid South Africa; Washing of the Spears, Donald Morris (1965), History of the Anglo-Zulu Wars;

Southern Africa: The Lost World of the Kalahari, Laurens van der Post (1958);

South East Asia

Cambodia: Pol Pot, The History of a Nightmare, Philip Short (2004);

Malaysia: An Outcast of the Islands, Joseph Conrad (1896) tells the fascinating but rather bleak tale of a man's descent after being exiled to a small Malay island; 

Thailand: The Beach, Alex Garland (1996), Backpacking in Thailand;

Train Travel: Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (1934);

Turkey: Towers of Trebizond, Rose Macaulay (1956) North-eastern Turkey; Istanbul, The Imperial City, John Freely (1996);

UK: The English: A Field Guide, Matt Rudd (2014); Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome (1889);

Ukraine: Borderland – A journey through the history of Ukraine, Anna Reid (2000); Death and the Penguin, Andrey Kurkov (1996);

USA: Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown (1970) Native American history, Selling Your Father's Bones, Brian Schofield (2011); Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck (1962) sees Steinbeck driving to rediscover his native USA with a camper van and a large poodle; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson (1971); The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925);

West Africa: Travels in West Africa, Mary Kinglake (1897) is an eccentric account of a lone woman's walk into the heart of the Congo; The Viceroy of Ouidah, Bruce Chatwin (1980); Wanderings in West Africa, Richard Burton (1863); Travels in the Interior of Africa, Mungo Park (1799).

General: Longitude, Dava Sobel (1998) is a tremendous telling of the search for the solution to the 'longitude problem'; Uganda’s Kitikiro in England, Ham Mukasa (1998); Within Wicker's World, an Autobiography, Alan Whicker (1982) and Alan Whicker, Journey of a Lifetime (2009); Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, (1981)