Take the Time
Our thought processes are amalgamations of other previous humans’ thought processes and their subsequent conclusions. Important questions are addressed by a number of intelligent current minds. I have spent much of my free time consuming these authors’ works thereby fuelling my thirst for more knowledge. My perspective, in turn, exists in part thanks to my past reading. I encourage you to always have a book on hand and take some time to read a real physical book.
Some of these works may not be purely travel orientated. Personally they provided some of the basis that lead me to want to see the places they described. I believe, too, that it is supremely important for us humans to understand our place in the world relative to other humans in history.
Further I believe that to appreciate a place more, it is important to do a bit of study beyond what you read in your travel guide’s country’s history and information page. Some categories below:
General Solid Reading
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey
One of my all-time favourites. Abbey is a libertarian/anarchist and this is sort of a biography and journal of his time working in Arches National Park. If you consider yourself a wilderness advocate or preservationist or just want a good story written in nonchalant prose, then pick this book up. (Plus its light and easy to travel with)
A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold
Right there on my bookshelf next to Desert Solitaire is a copy of Leopold’s beautifully written masterpiece on conservation. The book is on the cusp of poetry without meaning to be. You can sense the emotional inspiration that Leopold derived from the natural world. This should honestly be one that every person should read.
Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
This is cumulative outlook at history from an integrated perspective and encourages one to view the current geo-political world from an enlightened perspective. This is a must read, but, again, will be dense. (Commit to the introduction and then see how you feel)
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
One of those works of fiction that seemed to predict the future. I’m sure most of ya’ll recognise the title or read it in school. I would recommend reading it again as an adult. The eerie complacency of the utopian society- published in 1931, remember- contains odd parallels toward today’s society
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
A comprehensive and clear modern perspective on homo Sapiens. It is a view of history not often taught in schools and not talked about enough. Harari paints a succinct picture of where we came from and considers the direction we are heading. I would encourage you to read this more recent, and, honestly, easier-to-read, work and then attempt to start Guns, Germs, and Steel as they go hand-in-hand.
Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Steven Pinker
Our media focuses on the ills facing modern society. However, using objective statistics, Pinker urges us to view human history, and specifically our more violent tendencies, in context. While the book is a treatise on violence, you finish reading feeling optimistic for the future. It is a dense one, but I would strongly encourage at least reading the introduction.
1491, Charles C. Mann
On the same plane as Diamond’s books and Sapiens, 1491 delves into pre-Columbian America, both northern and southern halves. Upon reading the first few pages, the reader becomes astounded at what life was like for the Native Americans. Viewed from their perspective rather that a Western one, you are filled with curiosity and wonder at those past civilisations.
The Snow Leopard, Peter Mathiessen
I searched for this book amongst used book stores (gotta have an affinity for the used books) unsuccessfully whilst living in Wyoming in Colorado. Not until it was beginning to fade from priority did fate provide. In an eclectic shop in Newcastle, Australia there it was. I was pummelled with excitement. I read the book in awe of how the story line evolves into a work less of his time seeking the elusive snow leopard in the Himalayas and more of his personal growth.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
Once you begin this you are taking the ride with Michael Pollan on his journey to trace back to the roots of the food you eat. He will make you re-think societal norms and begin to seek alternatives or at least ask more questions. For instance, did you know that the most common meal Americans consume is while driving their car? Pollan created a movement and a call to action without meaning to. I say let’s all get on board.
How to sum up the enigma that is the USA? Obtaining a bachelor’s in history with a focus in American history only made me ask more questions about my home country. Always a good thing to stay skeptical and ask questions. I could add dozens of books to this list, but I stuck with just a few for simplicity’s sake.
I am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe
Often referred to as the Great Chronicler of Our Age; Wolfe does just that in my opinion. This book is one of his usual wild, interconnecting tales. What makes this one relatable to my own personal experience, was how frighteningly similar it is to my own college experience. Detailing the decline of intellectualism and rise of focus on social connections, partying, and college sports; Wolfe juxtaposes various elements in his usual genius fashion. Warning, though, it is a long read.
The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe
On a more positive side, The Right Stuff is the true story of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. Very few books can make Americans justifiably proud at their nation and astounded at the physical limits exemplified by the chosen few.
A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
I love Bill Bryson, and hopefully you will too if you enjoy laughing out loud while reading. This well-known work is the (mostly) true story of his sojourn to hike the famous Appalachian Trail during his late middle-age. It is full of insights and quips that only come from spending many a-night in the woods. He creates an unlikely hero and simultaneously encourages the reader to embark on his or her own adventure.
1776, David McCullough
We as Americans love to edify our founders. They have become god-like and immortal. There memory as flawed human beings that sought something seemingly impossible is nearly forgotten in modern times. Have a read of McCullough’s book to get more of the story that the often-repeated basics. 1776 is a work of mostly-history but extremely educational and entertaining to read nonetheless.
Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose
The true story, taken mostly from the accused journals of those present, of the amazing journey of Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean from 1804-1806. While detail orientated, it flows more like a work of non-fiction. As an historian Ambrose was gifted in writing more to captivate than for pure academic notoriety. I loved it and will certainly re-read it. Warning though, this is one where you do need your quiet reading space to soak it all in.
The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin
In Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson
Dirt Music, Tim Winton
Frederick’s Coat, Alan Duff
The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas
Wulf, Hamish Clayton
Whilst living on the South Island for 11 months, I had a difficult time detailing the environment that I called home. The intense, often overwhelming beauty of the natural world is beyond my humble descriptions. Finding this short work, taking place in 1820s New Zealand, I was taken aback by its poetry. I could not recommend any work higher than Wulf. I actually bought an electronic copy so I could re-read passages to friends.
A Brief History of Indonesia, Tim Hannigan
Just as the synopsis states on the back of the book, Hannigan complies a readable book that details the significant events of the diverse archipelago that struggles to find a united identity. It is often difficult to find a history book that contains a balance of historical detail but retains a level of entertainment. If you want to read and understand more about Indonesia as a country, even if you are just on a holiday in Bali, then pick this one up in the Denpasar (or Jakarta) airport.
No, I have not yet set foot in the continent, but it won’t stop me from creating its own section of works that, I believe, relate to or encourage travel there.
Blood River, Tim Butcher
I recently picked up Butcher’s book by chance from the local library in Te Anau, New Zealand based on appearances and plot line. While the prose is more matter-of-fact than Matheisson or the likes of Paul Theroux, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I felt as if it were one long article in National Geographic. The best part is how relatable Butcher is in his journey retracing the steps of Henry Stanley’s epic through the Congo. It is providing an impetus for a possible African adventure one day soon.
Remember to share, sometimes good books need to be kept in circulation rather than sit on a shelf!