To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.

A.C. Grayling

Dervla Murphey, who is just wonderful, will always (for me) remain at the top of the travel writing genre; for her spirited, lively writing, and reflections on life on the road, and for her courage and determination at giving her children a chance to see the world. Ms. Murphey has penned innumerable works that touch upon deeply important, very human, events and times, and if there is one common theme that stretches through her writing, it is her fascination with all walks of life and all ways of livelihoods.  She writes with grace and humbleness, simultaneously teaching and learning from a amazing array of people and situations.

There are three other books, and authors, that have, in particular, inspired me to think bigger and smaller at the same time, and yearn for adventure.

Firstly, William Dalrymple‘s “Nine Lives“. This is an extraordinary book about India, covering (but not fixating on) caste, religion, tradition, and beliefs – above all it is a book full of life.  Beautifully written and meticulously researched, Mr. Dalrymple at the same time manages to leave his soft touch through the prose but also remove himself completely from his commentary on the ways and whys of a modern, changing India. My favourite tales are those of the Buddhist monk taking up arms, and the illiterate goatherd, guardian of an ancient, sacred epic and the almost sole keeper of the oral tradition. It is mesmerising and extraordinary.

Secondly, Ryszard Kapuściński’s “The Shadow of the Sun“.  As someone fascinated and drawn to Africa, this is unmissable. Mr. Kapuściński writes about Africa with insight and understanding, bringing us through history and culture to a very modern continent struggling to confront it’s past and even more so it’s present. Although at times he writes of very challenging and very saddening times from across Africa, it is far from a depressing read.  Instead, threads of hope weave the chapters together, and as well as admiring his balls and luck, whilst reading this work, it is difficult not to get caught up in the drama of life in the shadow of the sun. 

Thirdly, VS Naipaul‘s “The Masque of Africa“.  This is another work at the forefront of literature on Africa.  Mr. Naipaul writes of his amazing experiences across the continent, in particular giving us glimpses into the amazing myriad belief systems that stretch across the countries. There is no sense that he is dramatising the exotic, only looking at the completely unusual and unknown, and whilst he does dedicate several chapters to the more intriguing beliefs, he also takes his time to go through those smaller, often missed traditions. His writing is at the same time engaging and simple, and each page draws you deeper into this exploration of African beliefs.

Following swiftly on the heels of these four come the works of Bill Bryson, Michael Palin, Paulo Coelho, and, particularly following the time I spent in Central Asia, the beautiful texts from Colin Thubron.

There are many others whose stories make you want to find a plane immediately and just go. This is only a partial list of such writings, but each well worth the read:

Robert Bryon’s The Road to Oxiana, Steve Combie’s Lost on Earth, Burckhardt’s Travels in Syria and the Holy Land,  the works of Bill Bryson’s and Paulo Coelho, Lawrence of Arabia’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Jack Wolfe’s Wild, Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Paulina Simmon’s The Bronze Horseman, Cecil Helman’s Suburban Shaman, Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between, given my preoccupation with Shackleton’s amazing story, South will obviously feature,  Matthiessen’s The Tree Where Man Was Born, Corinee Hofmann’s The White Masai, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns

If you have found inspiration in a book not mentioned here, please add your thoughts in a comment, and we’ll see how long the list will grow.


3 responses to “books

  1. Henry Morgan Stanley’s “How I Found Livingstone” is great! It’s all about how he was sent to eastern Africa to track down Livingstone, which he successfully managed with the famous phrase “Dr Livingstone, I assume?”.

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