Hive Mind: Please recommend your favorite travel and travel-related books!

Brisky's in Micanopy, FL
Booooks!!! I need your booooooks!

Dear Hive Mind:

I have just scored the dreamiest dream job a travel writer could every hope for: I’m curating a travel library for a cultural center abroad. I have been a dedicated reader of travel literature since I could crack open a book. I have crates filled with travelogues, travel photography tomes and journals of expeditions. If I could have Wade Davis’s One River tattooed directly into my brain, I would.

But, no one person can know everything. Which is why I’m doing an open call for your suggestions. Do you have have a favorite classic travelogue a la Travels with Charley? A book of photography that conveys a sense of journey or exploration, like Robert Frank’s Peru? Do you rely on a particular shopping or design tome to big cities that you think is essential to understanding a place — like Gestalten’s Berlin Design Guide?

My focus will be on the Americas and Europe, with other smaller categories to include subjects such as architecture, art, shopping, photography and food and drink. I am taking any and all suggestions — from how-to manuals on travel photography to sensational accounts of epic journeys. If it’s even tangentially related to travel and you think its good, then I want to know about it!!

There is only one rule: no fiction.

Please leave your suggestions below! I will review each and every one. And I’ll be deeply grateful that you took the time to help me out.

Thanks, as always, for reading C-Mon.



  1. GiovanniGF

    The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a 14th-century account of mostly made-up travels through the Middle East that get more fantastic the farther the narrator gets. Find an illustrated copy if you can.

  2. tiffany

    I admit that I don’t read many travel books, but I thoroughly loved Anik See’s “A Taste for Adventure: A Culinary Odyssey around the World.” She traveled to dozen countries, sometimes by bike, and writes about the food, scenery and people. Almost every chapter ends with a recipe for a dish from that country.

  3. Ben Valentine

    A Primates Memoir – must read, so good it’s hard to believe it’s nonfiction, set mostly in Kenya.
    I know it’s lame and cliche but, On The Road, inspired me as a young lad, I hate to draw a direct connection, but I’ve been loving long road trips ever since… lol

  4. Chon Noriega

    Lawrence Osborne’s The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World (2005). How do you best take in the unique features of a place and its history? Wine! This book was so much fun, but it is also a travel book with great insights into place, taste, wanderlust, and, of course, global corporate capitalism. My favorite passage had to do with the intrepid author drinking the foulest wine in the world, lovingly presented to him by the vitner. That’s it, I’m reading it again this summer….

  5. Joy

    Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods about the Appalachian Trail! Also, Heat by Bill Buford is one of my all time favorites. It may be more of a food book, but it also documents his travels through Italy.

  6. Abbie Fentress Swanson

    When I moved to Missouri, I was given these two books as presents to get to know the High Plains and the Heartland. I’d recommend both and here are the titles:

    Great Plains by Ian Frazier — extremely well-written book packed with historical details about the Plains. I zipped through this!


    Blue Highways: A Journey Into America by William Least Half Moon (a.k.a. William Trogdon), a memoir-ish travelogue that takes readers through the back roads of rural America.

    Good luck!

  7. Carolina Gonzalez

    Almost anything by Bruce Chatwin or Geoff Dyer
    on the foodie tip, Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris
    and on an associative tip, Daniel Hernandez’s Down and Delirious in Mexico City
    Los Motorcycle Diaries del Che ja ja ja
    More soon….

  8. Ariel Swartley

    Not in your designated area, but I am just now reading an extraordinary book about travels and traveling, A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East, by Tiziano Terzani, an Italian journalist long based in Asia who spends a year as a reporter who doesn’t take planes. (Yes, a fortune teller told him, and it helps that he speaks Chinese.) Chance and premonition turn out to be perfect topics for any traveler.

  9. Katherine Lorimer

    Simon Winder: Germania. In Wayward Pursuit of Germans and Their History. Picador, 2010
    Joseph Roth: What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933. WW Norton, 2004
    Christopher Isherwood: Goodbye to Berlin. New Directions, 2012
    Michael Gorra: The Bells in Their Silence: Travels through Germany. Princeton UP, 2006
    Hape Kerkeling: I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago. Free Press, 2009
    Plus a bonus classic: Mark Twain: A Tramp Abroad

  10. Desa Philadelphia

    Welcome Books does incredibly beautiful, current travel photography books. Their books on California are fantastic. Make sure you check out page two of the link I provided.

  11. Mansoor

    Whoops…Abbie told me to suggest something on Pakistan but if you are focusing on America and Europe just ignore my previous comment.

  12. Edward Lewine

    Italian Neighbors by Tom Parks
    The Caliph’s House Tahir Shah
    The Dangerous Summer Earnest Hemingway
    South from Granada, Gerald Brenan
    Arabian Sands Wilfred Thesiger
    The Miracle of Castel do Sangro, Joe McGinnis

  13. Jim Linderman

    First of all, the WPA Guides to the States series, all written from 1935 to 1937. The greatest series of books “on place” from the 20th Century.
    Ian Frazier “Great Plains”
    Bill Bryson “Lost Continent”
    Jack Kerouac “On the Road”

  14. Kristina Baker

    “TheTaste of Dreams” – an obsession with Russia and Caviar by Vanora Bennett.

  15. Victoria J (@TrailMinx)

    I’m not seeing much by women writers here! So, two historical (19th century) greats:
    Isabella Bird: ‘A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains’, ‘The Hawaiian Archipelago’ and ‘Unbeaten Tracks in Japan’
    Gertrude Bell: ‘Desert Diaries’ and ‘The Letters’ (two good biogas of Bell, too…)
    And two superb contemporary writers:
    Sara Wheeler: ‘Terra Incognita’ (Antarctica)
    Dea Birkett: ‘Serpent in Paradise’ (Bounty Island)

  16. Salvaje

    Two new books—Oliver Bullough’s The Last Man in Russia, which is no joy-ride but rather a tremendously moving travelogue through modern Russia. And The Ringtone and the Drum: Travels in the World’s Poorest Countries from Mark Weston is vivid travel writing that somehow remains wholly sympathetic.

    For classics, it would be hard to beat Steinbeck’s A Russian Journal—he traveled the Soviet Union in 1948 with Robert Capa, which is about all you need to know.

    Not yet out (US release next week) is The Wet and the Dry: a Drinker’s Journey, by Lawrence Osborne. If your collection needs drunken Englishmen romping through Muslim countries.

  17. Felix Salmon

    I have a $1,000 bet on which of these two books is better. I am going for this one:
    It’s my favorite travel book of all time, just beautifully written, and tells you everything you need to know about Italy in the late 40s.

    On the other hand, I might lose to this one:
    which is also a classic travelogue. Both give a rare and wonderful woman’s-eye view of a time in history which was normally recorded by men.

  18. Margarita Miranda

    Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo by Tim Parks. I haven’t finished this book yet, but so far I’m really enjoying it. Interesting approach at defining the Italian culture through the experience of traveling by train.

  19. Claudia Wallis

    I love the Paris Walks books, both editions.
    Also, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi–a novel but very much a travel book about India. I’m sure In Patagonia must already be on your list. And declasse though this may sound, I loved the gorgeous old Time-Life book on Rome. Wish I hadn’t lost my copy.

  20. Linda Pilgrim

    French Lessons: A Memoir by Alice Kaplan. A beautiful, dreamy articulation of the invisible, interior experiences of travel or transport–the kind that occurs in your head and your heart.

  21. Ries

    In Trouble Again
    Redmond O’Hanlon
    Kind of like if Bruce Chatwin and Hunter S Thompson cowrote a travel book.

    An old version (late 70′s are the best) of the Indonesian Handbook, by Bill Dalton.
    Doesnt matter if its out of date, its a great read- physically, its kind of like a small Whole Earth Catalog from the 60′s, and its entertaining even if you never go there.

    Good Food in Mexico City- Nicholas Gilman

    The Authentics- Bars, Restaurants and Cafes of Buenos Aires

    Man’s Gotta Eat.

  22. Sam

    The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier
    L’oeil du voyageur by Nicolas Bouvier (photos taken during the trip described in The Way of the World)

  23. AdrienneA

    Mary Austin’s The Land of Little Rain, with introduction by Edward Abbey, and then Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.
    Look over Eliott Porter’s gorgeous photographs in The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado, and cry over what has been lost forever.
    After all that desert reading, try The Hudson River, A Natural and Unnatural History by Robert H. Boyle, Thurston Clarke’s Searching for Crusoe-A Journey Among The Last Real Islands, and
    Alex Webb’s book, Hot Light, Half-Made Worlds: Photographs From the Tropics.

  24. Lacey Smith

    Currently reading “One American Woman Fifty Italian Men” by Lynne Ashdown, Awesome book and it’s inspiring me to travel and take up cycling! Would definitely recommend it!

  25. BH

    LETTERS FROM RUSSIA, Astolphe de Custine (the source for Sokurov’s ‘Russian Ark’); the entire PETITE PLANETE series of travel books, Editions du Seuil, from 1954, edited/designed by Chris Marker and Juliette Caputo; LAST LETTERS FROM HAV, and HAV, and TRIESTE; OR, THE MEANING OF NOWHERE, Jan Morris; Colm Toibin, THE SIGN OF THE CROSS: TRAVELS IN CATHOLIC EUROPE; and, related, Jennifer Lash, ON PILGRIMAGE; Isak Dinesen, OUT OF AFRICA; Claude Levi-Strauss, TRISTES TROPIQUES; Claudia Andujar, AMAZONIA; Bill Holm, THE MUSIC OF FAILURE, and THE HEART CAN BE FILLED ANYWHERE ON EARTH: MINNEOTA, MINNESOTA, and ECCENTRIC ISLANDS, and COMING HOME CRAZY; and anything by Patrick Leigh Fermor; and Tim Hetherington, LONG STORY BIT BY BIT: LIBERIA RETOLD; and Emil Lengyel, THE DANUBE; and Euclides da Cunha, BACKLANDS.
    I love all these books.

  26. Brian Droitcour

    “Reading Chekhov” by Janet Malcolm (which is half literary criticism, half travel, all great)
    Anything by M.F.K. Fisher. I guess she’s known more as a food writer but I remember a lot of her essays taking place in Europe while she’s on the go

  27. Tom B

    Pretty dated, and political, but I’d say “The Impossible Country” by Brian Hall. It’s the best book I’ve ever read about the disintegration of Yugoslavia, written as a travelogue as Hall journeys from region to region and observes the rise of ethnic nationalism from a very personal perspective.

  28. Carren

    I’m really late to the party, but Alain de Botton’s Art of Travel is a great book to read, especially when on a plane, train or bus, the parts of travel that are in-between. :)