These 5 must-read travel books will change the way you see the world.
1. Indonesia, Etc. by Elizabeth Pisani
“Declaring independence in 1945, Indonesia said it would ‘work out the details of the transfer of power etc. as soon as possible.’ With over 300 ethnic groups spread across over 13,500 islands, the world’s fourth most populous nation has been working on that “etc.” ever since. Author Elizabeth Pisani traveled 26,000 miles in search of the links that bind this disparate nation.”
2. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
“The River of Doubt—it is a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world. Indians armed with poison-tipped arrows haunt its shadows; piranhas glide through its waters; boulder-strewn rapids turn the river into a roiling cauldron.
“After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many at the time refused to believe it. In the process, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever.
“Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.”
3. Postcards from the Borderlands by David H. Mould
“What are borders? Are they simply political and geographical, marked by posts, walls and fences, or should we think of them more broadly? In his third book on travel, history and culture, college professor, historian and journalist David Mould rambles through a dozen countries in Asia and southern Africa by car, bus, train, shared taxi and ferry, exploring what borders mean to their peoples.
“Many countries are the artificial creations of colonial powers. Their borders, set by surveys and treaties, took no account of topography or the ethnic groups that were cobbled together. There are also borders within countries, defined by race, ethnicity, or caste. Borders may be physical and economic, even perceptual—the borders of our minds.
“On his travels, David faces shakedowns by border guards, finds old-time religion in Malawi, revisits the legacy of apartheid in Johannesburg, traverses the rivers of Bangladesh, wanders through the ancient kingdoms of Nepal, explores Malaysia’s troubled colonial past, sets off security alarms in Karachi, counts yaks and discovers dinosaurs on the Mongolian steppe, savors the cuisine of Georgia and fulfills a Dr. Zhivago fantasy on the Trans-Siberian Railway.”
4. The Age of Kali: Travels and Encounters in India by William Dalrymple
“William Dalrymple, who wrote so magically about India in ‘City of Djinns’, returns to the country in a series of remarkable essays.
“Featured in its pages are 15-year-old guerrilla girls and dowager Maharanis; flashy Bombay drinks parties and violent village blood feuds; a group of vegetarian terrorists intent on destroying India’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet; and a palace where port and cigars are still carried to guests on a miniature silver steam train.
“Dalrymple meets such figures as Imran Khan and Benazir Bhutto; he witnesses the macabre nightly offering to the bloodthirsty goddess Parashakti – She Who Is Seated on a Throne of Five Corpses; he experiences caste massacres in the badlands of Bihar and dines with a drug baron on the North-West Frontier; he discovers such oddities as the terrorist apes of Jaipur and the shrine where Lord Krishna is said to make love every night to his 16,108 wives and 64,732 milkmaids.”
5. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
“In this breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport.
“As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi’s “most-everything girl,” might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal.
“With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds—and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.”
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