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Wednesday, 02 October 2019


My vote goes for the writings of Eric Shipton and William Tillman. They were both superb mountaineers in the inter-war period, and the latter then took on sailing to remote places. The main point, however, is that both wrote well and often.

Here are a few great titles that I re-read lately:

South: The Story Of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-1917 - Sir Ernest Shackleton. (Of course you should buy this one together with: The Endurance - Caroline Alexander, with many beautiful pictures by Frank Hurley).

The Fatal Impact: The Invasion of the South Pacific, 1767-1840 - Alan Moorehead

Krakatoa: The Day the World exploded - Simon Winchester

Ran across a turn of a phrase somewhere in Leath Tonino's wonderful book on adventuring in VT, "The Animal One Thousand Miles Long", that we "read landscapes and trek in books.."

Paul Theroux's "Pillars of Hercules" quenched my thirst for the Mediterranean countries. He gets bonus points for shifting to a cruise ship at tale's end, an amazing contrast to the rest of the book.

Perhaps (though I know you're touched on this in the past), you might do a similar post on photography books? Would love to hear from the TOP community also on their three favorite photography books. It would surely give me a good reason to go through my photography book collection (numbering perhaps 25-30), with an eye toward paring it down (or making room for the new).

Hugh Lofting, The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle. This is the first book I remember reading -- the same broken backed, loose covers copy my father read as a child.

As the doctor and animals arrive back in England after their great voyage …

“Can this be Merrie England?” asked Bumpo, peering into the fog—“doesn’t look like any place in particular. Maybe the snail hasn’t brought us right after all.”

“Yes,” sighed Polynesia, shaking the rain off her feathers, “this is England all right—You can tell it by the beastly climate.”

“Oh, but fellows,” cried Jip, as he sniffed up the air in great gulps, “it has a smell —a good and glorious smell! Excuse me a minute: I see a water-rat.”

“Sh!—Listen!” said Chee-Chee through teeth that chattered with the cold. “There’s Puddleby church-clock striking four. Why don’t we divide up the baggage and get moving. We’ve got a long way to foot it home across the marshes.”

“Let’s hope,” I put in, “that Dab-Dab has a nice fire burning in the kitchen.”

“I’m sure she will,” said the Doctor as he picked out his old handbag from among the bundles—“With this wind from the East she’ll need it to keep the animals in the house warm. Come on. Let’s hug the river-bank so we don’t miss our way in the fog. You know, there’s something rather attractive in the bad weather of England—when you’ve got a kitchen-fire to look forward to....Four o’clock! Come along—we’ll just be in nice time for tea.”

It is that passage at the end of The Voyages that I think about every time I return from a long trip … wondering if the spring flowers have sprung, the summer leaves have turned or the snow finally melted. A place that has changed but is still the same. Home.

Not quite an "adventure" yarn, but it does involve a fascinatingly detailed exploration into the recent history of a city once based on adventure, and now succumbed to "overtourism," namely- Vanishing New York, How A Great City Lost Its Soul by Jeremiah Moss.

As an expat New Yorker, I can attest to the accuracy of the reporting done by Mr. Moss on how a once defiantly unique city succumbed to the arbiters of the mainstream...

One of my favourite armchair adventure books is "The Adobe of Snow" written by Andrew Wilson in the 19th century. Mr. Wilson undertook a six-month adventure in 1873 traveling through the Himilaya with a personal cook and a butler along with porters from village to village. Mr. Wilson traveled from Bombay to Allahabad, passing by Mount Everest.

A great list, and a great set of synopses by our humble editor. Haven’t read your Eric Newby example but enough of his others to know he belongs on the list. (“Newbs! How ‘bout a pummel” a teenage co-worker would say. And they would until another more matronly coworker would demand they stop the racket. A real life-affirming humanist.

And if you need another photo connection, James Norman Hall, Bounty books co-author was the father of Hollywood great cinematographer Conrad Hall. His grandson Conrad Hall, Jr also an accomplished Director of Photography. And of course the books remain a fresh and wonderful adventure.

North of the Sun by Fred Hatfield.


This is a great story.

Allow me to add a travel documentary by
Laurens van der Post:
The lost world of the Kalahari.

For those interested in a mythology *very* different from those in the east and west, that of the San people, his
The Heart of the Hunter.

( And two great adventure novels by him:
A Story Like the Wind,
A Far-Off Place.)
- * -

Books about the sea...
Joseph Conrad,
The Mirror of the Sea.
Recollections from the time of sail ships in a very poetic language.
[ Available at Project Gutenberg, this is my absolute favorite book by Conrad, and a great book on the Sea.]

One quote, at the end of chapter XXXVI:
“… And I looked upon the true sea— ….. Open to all and faithful to none, it exercises its fascination for the undoing of the best. To love it is not
well. It knows no bond of plighted troth, no fidelity to misfortune, to
long companionship, to long devotion. The promise it holds out
perpetually is very great; but the only secret of its possession is
strength, …”

Beryl Markham’s “West With the Night”. It reminds me of Hemmingway without the machismo.

For a great armchair adventure look no further than The King Must Die by Mary Renault. It's the Theseus legend brought to life in a most believable way.

I suggest "Travels with Charley" by John Steinbeck. An interesting journey through America in beginning of the '60s.


I haven't read "On the Move" by Oliver Sacks, M.D., but since he has authored many books including the best seller "The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat", I always thought of him as "professional".

George Andros

A couple of books about an adventure turning into a nightmare are the Shackleton book Endurance (of course), and less well known - Annapurna by Maurice Herzog, wow, what they went through.

I recommend any Bill Bryson travel book. Especially his Australian adventure In a Sunburned Country. Witty and informative. As to sea epics, the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin make you want to be out to sea.

Super list, Mike, and I agree (naturally) about the ones I've read. Will be looking at the others and at comment suggestions to come.

May I add "Beyond the Hundredth Meridian" by Wallace Stegner, the tale of John Wesley Powell's journey down the Green and Colorado rivers, through the Grand Canyon? Adding to the "holy cow!" factor is the inconvenience of his having the right arm, shot off in the Civil War.

Another good Stegner read is "The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail." Adventure and misadvanture aplenty. Handcarts with all your worldly goods across the desert and over the mountains before winter arrives? Why the heck not? (Let us now count the reasons.)

A coda to the Powell book is "The Man Who Walked Through Time" by Colin Fletcher, a 20th century walk through the same Grand Canyon country, albeit the dammed edition Colorado River. Armchair travel is seldom better than this.

"The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Morris captures well the man's restless passion for adventure, from boyhood leading up to the moment he learns he has become president [spoiler alert]. There are two more volumes for me to read, and the third doubtless chronicles his almost-mad journey up the Amazon headwaters, a journey that nearly takes his son's life and ultimately, his after he returns.

I'm also halfway through Chernow's Grant bio, and if anything he outdid Roosevelt as a traveler, farmer and soldier.

I'll stop now.


In Patagonia and The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin are great travel books. "In Patagonia made Bruce Chatwin famous overnight. On the book's publication in 1977, reviewers rightly compared it to Mandeville's Travels, to Alexander Kinglake's Eothen and Robert Byron's The Road To Oxiana. Like those predecessors, In Patagonia revolutionised travel writing."



I just started reading “Istanbul” by Orhan Pamuk. Chapter 2 is called “The Photographs in the Dark Museum House”. This guy can write.

The story of the Bounty has a checkered history on film. My favorite version is the Clark Gable/ Charles Laughton version but that does not mean I love it.
The Marlon Brando version is a legendary mess but like a train wreck I can't punch past it without watching some.
The least fun of the three is the Mel Gibson/Antony Hopkins film. It might have been the best if the original director and screen writers had taken the project to completion.
David Lean was originally going to direct it from a script from Robert Bolt. Oh well that's show biz for you.

Just about any work on Lewis & Clark, e.g. Undaunted Courage, is fascinating to me. How that daring trip actually succeeded, and the rigorous map accuracy and documentation of tribes and animals, still amazes me. Shackelton's south-pole ordeal is also amazing.

The Oregon Trail - Francis Parkman, 1849 - was an early "rich person's adventure travelog." He set out on a grand excursion, but got sick and ended up being forced to live with Indians who nursed him back to health. His travel plans went awry, but he had a social experience beyond anything expected.

Of your list I only know, and love, Strayed and Heat-Moon. His River Horse, about a boat trip across the continent, is also excellent.

Hi Mike,
Speaking of the Bounty, I’ve recently moved to Norfolk Island which is where most of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers ended up. The island was originally a penal colony. It has a violent and tragic history, Even now it is controversially engaged with protests over its administrative annexation by the Australian government. A good book to read is Dark Paradise by Robert Macklin.

The island is scenically spectacular with colonial and convict ruins, magnificent seascapes and lush forrests. The people are friendly and welcoming and proud of their heritage. Photo opportunities abound.

If your ever over here this way.....


I haven't read it for decades, but the introduction to Eric Newby's "A short walk in the Hindu Kush" had me rolling on the floor with laughter. I remember being disappointed that the rest of the walk was merely (merely!) an interesting travelogue...

[I think you're remembering the first couple of chapters, where he's extracting himself from the fashion business...or, as he put it, "it took me ten years to discover what everyone connected with it had been telling me all along, that the fashion industry was not for me...." (Or words to that effect.) --Mike]

A few I would add:
"Quartered Safe Out Here" George MacDonald Fraser's memoir of his time in Burma in WWII. Harrowing and hilarious.

"No Beast So Fierce" by Duane Huckelbridge. The true story about the record setting Tiger of Champawat

"The Man-Eaters of Tsavo" by John Henry Patterson. A memoir of the hunt for two lions killing railway workers in Kenya.

I would add anything by Paul Theroux

Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak by Maurice Herzog (1951).

I read this in the early 1950s (maybe Junior High?). Vividly write—it made you feel that you were there on the mountain. Herzog lost fingers and toes to frostbite, but he made it to the top. A great read.

It was my last armchair adventure book. After this I started reading SciFi.

Thanks Mike, I haven't seen the movie yet, so I'm going to read Touching the void for sure, I love these books. "Into the wild" and "into thin air" are both excellent, I really enjoyed them.
Let me make a recommendation to you, "In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic" by Valerian Alvanov tells an overwhelming true story of a disaster occurred in the early 20th century, it is just awesome.


PS - RE The Right Stuff, you will never look at a roast chicken the same way again!

You might add Tim Moore's "Frost On My Moustache" to your list - years since I read it and I don't remember much but I do remember it had me laughing out loud on virtually every page.

From “On The Road”

"The first was the mad one, with a burly blond kid in a souped-up rod. 'See that toe?' he said as he gunned the heap to eighty and passed everybody on the road. 'Look at it.' It was swathed in bandages. 'I just had it amputated this morning. The bastards wanted me to stay in the hospital. I packed my bag and left. What's a toe?' Yes, indeed, I said to myself, look out now, and I hung on. You never saw a driving fool like that. He made Tracy in no time. Tracy is a railroad town; brakemen eat surly meals in diners by the tracks. Trains howl away across the valley."

That was the town I grew up in, now the diners by the tracks that the brakemen ate their surly meals in are fancy Thai and Portuguese restaurants. I’m sitting there again typing this and the trains still howl across the valley. You had a photo of the old days on TOP a few years ago.

Travel writing is as much about time as it is about geography.

While TOP was on hiatus I went off and obsessed over Hiking/Backpacking gear. During this time I found a YouTube channel (Homemade Wanderlust) detailing a young woman’s (Dixie) first backpacking trip. She chose to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail for her first adventure. While the 20 minute video posts don’t usually pack the punch of a classic novel I found it fascinating to see her struggles and triumphs. Dixie went on to tackle other long thru-hikes and on one occasion while hiking alone on the Continental Divide Trail she came face to face with a mountain lion. Dixie stops…makes herself look big…and eventually bows on her harmonica. The lion tilts its head and stares for a bit before wandering off up the trail. At this point Dixie says to the camera, “Holy crapamoly y’all…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you’re not a real thru-hiker until you’ve crapped your pants.”

I will definitely be picking up Wild and one or to others from this post. Thanks for compiling the list.

Eric Newby’s “Love and War in the Apennines” is perhaps my favourite book, perhaps coloured by the fact that I live near the places were the events he writes about took place.

I guess it could be classed as a “travel” book too, if an Odyssey can be classed as travel.

War and combat never really enter into this book, but this illustrates in a backhanded way throughout, the pointlessness of nations going to war with each other. The episode where he meets a German officer collecting butterfly’s, is a perfect example of this theme that runs through the book.

It is also paints a very good picture of the extreme poverty of the people who lived in this area before the Italian industrial miracle of the sixties.

He was recaptured before the bitter partisan war began in this area, with the terrible toll these peasants paid in massacres like those that took place in Marzabotto, Sant'Anna di Stazzema and Vinca, which is near where the events in this book take place.

Patrick Leigh Fermor's "A Time of Gifts" is the epitome of travel literature for me. A war hero and prolific adventurer, Paddy was greater than life and his literary talent shines in his books where he describes a world long gone - the Europe between the world wars.

Okay, one more worthwhile obscurity, Horace Brock's "Flying the Oceans". Brock was a navigator and later a pilot for Pan American Airways in the 1930s-40s, the era of the flying-boat Clippers. They were the Space Shuttles of their time. Talking about navigating over the Pacific in 1937, he said "the navigation math was not so difficult; it was just that you could NEVER make a mistake". Fascinating and naturally, long out of print.

A lot of wonderful suggestions in the heroic mould so as a contrast I will mention Redmond O'Hanlon "In Trouble Again" and his earlier "Into the Heart of Borneo" ("The funniest travel book I have ever read" - Eric Newby).

Speaking of Newby, thanks for the tip about "What the Traveler Saw", borrowed it from the library here after you mentioned it and yes, the writing and photography are both rather good.


One more recommendation: "The Art of Travel" by Alain De Botton ("The travel industry is quick to tell us where to go but not how and why.")


As a few other s have mentioned, Shackleton's South or any other book about his Endurance expedition. Perhaps throwing in a photo theme by mentioning Frank Hurley. In fact Hurley was remarkably well travelled himself and had some adventures of his own to tell about.

Staying with a polar theme, there is also Nansen. The book I have is the Huntford biography, but again anything about his Greenland traverse would be a good read ( he succeeded by starting of in the unpopulated east coast and walking west, whereas most other attempts at tat time started at the west and walked east, but gave up out of fear of missing their ride back to civilisation). As well as being the grandfather of polar exploration he had a PhD in oceanography and a Nobel Peace Prize! He was also the original owner of the Fram, a ship that he had built for a trip into te Artic ice, but later made famous when Amundsen took it south.

That's a excellent list of travel books, Mike, but the capsule synopses by you are even better! I'm pleased to say I've read most of them, but will seek out the ones I haven't.

Back in the 1980s, there was a resurgence in interest in travel books, perhaps sparked by the literary historian, Paul Fussell and his book, Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars which is a must read. His book also sparked an interest in Robert Byron's book The Road to Oxiana about a 1930s car trip from Europe to Central Asia. I can recommend that, too.

Lastly, although he is terribly out of fashion, my favorite travel book, albeit fictional, is by Rudyard Kipling. It's Kim, and the description of the Grand Trunk Road in Northern India rang very true to me, even a hundred years later, and corresponded with my own memories of road travel in Northern India in the early 1960s, when I was very young.

PS: You should do more non-photography book recommendations and reviews here at TOP, from time to time, Mike. I really enjoyed your post.

I'm a bit late to the party, but....

I've read many of the books on this list, and reading your descriptions was delightful, Mike.

One of my favourite adventure books is by Farley Mowat: No Man's River https://shrtm.nu/FExg. He's not widely known outside of Canada, but he is a great storyteller of the North.

The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet's Lost Paradise, by Ian Baker, 2006. The story of the author's National Geographic-sponsored expedition to a fabled hidden waterfall in the unmapped depths of Tibet's perilous Tsangpo Gorge. A narrative of heroic exploration that entailed an encounter with the spiritual thought world of Tibet. A spellbinding and inspiring read.

I concur: you should do more book posts. Your reviews are inspiring. In plus, I have added also quite a few books to my to-read list thanks to them and the reader's comments

I notice you have already been pointed towards British explorers-writers like Leigh Fermor and Thesiger. I would add some female counterparts, like Freya Stark (The valley of the Assasins, for instance) or Alexandra David-Néel.

The accounts of his search for Troy, closely following the Illyad, make Heinrich Schliemann books fascinating. I discovered him as a teen reading Gods,Graves and Scholars, by C.W. Ceram, an account of the "founding fathers" of modern archeology. I'm sure George Lucas drew his inspiration for Indiana Jones from this book.

The ultimate travel-adventure book is, for me, The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Tahir Shah. No it's not the book the Disney movie is based on... It's a first person account of Shah's days in India trying to learn magic from street professionals. Coming from a cultured family (he's related to Idries Shah, the Sufi scholar) he ran away as a teen from his home in London to pursue his passion and had quite an experience, and he is really good at transmitting it. The rest of his travel books are equally memorable but not as engaging.

Finally, being a motorcyclist myself, I loved seeing The Motorcycle Diaries and Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance on your list. I re read Zen regularly and enjoy it every time. It's enlightning, even if it has become somehow cliched after all these years.

Travelling on a motorcycle is quite a different experience. We motorcyclists all love Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels and One Man Caravan, by Robert E Fulton.

My personal favourite is Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro's Cuba, but, hey, I ride an old BMW and always fantasised crossing Cuba with it. And isn't travel books written just for that, to satisfy fantasies without having to endure their inconveniences?

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