Whether you’re an armchair traveller or in the midst of an adventure half way across the world, a good book always invokes a passion to learn and venture beyond what you know. For us, books are half the reason for spurring our next journey, creating a sense of place and revealing truths not only about destinations but about ourselves. As such we have a lot of favourites. However in keeping with our Big 5 theme here are our top 5.
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1. Arabian Sands, Wilfred Thesiger
“Arabian Sands” is Wilfred Thesiger’s record of his extraordinary journey through the parched “Empty Quarter” of Arabia. In the spirit of T. E. Lawrence, he set out to explore the deserts of Arabia, traveling among peoples who had never seen a European and considered it their duty to kill Christian infidels. His now-classic account is invaluable to understanding the modern Middle East.
2. Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara
Written eight years before the Cuban Revolution, these are the diaries of Che Guevara, full of disasters and discoveries, high drama and laddish improvisations. Touring through Argentina, Chile, Peru and Venezuela, his greatest concerns are where the next drink is coming from, where the next bed is to be found and who might be around to share it.
3. Behind the Wall, Colin Thubron
Having learned Mandarin, and travelling alone by foot, bicycle and train, Colin Thubron set off on a 10,000 mile journey from Beijing to the borders of Burma. He travelled through the wind-swept wastes of the Gobi desert and finished at the far end of the Great Wall.
What Thubron reveals is an astonishing diversity, a land whose still unmeasured resources strain to meet an awesome demand, and an ancient people still reeling from the devastation of the Cultural Revolution.
4. Clear Waters Rising, Nicholas Crane
Alone – though he was just married – and on foot, Nicholas Crane embarked on an extraordinary adventure: a seventeen-month journey along the chain of mountains which stretches across Europe from Cape Finisterre to Istanbul. His aim was to explore Europe’s last mountain wilderness and to meet the people who live on the periphery of the modern world.
5. The Valleys of the Assassins, Freya Stark
Hailed as a classic upon its first publication in 1934, The Valleys of the Assassins firmly established Freya Stark as one of her generation’s most intrepid explorers. The book chronicles her travels into Luristan, the mountainous terrain nestled between Iraq and present-day Iran, often with only a single guide and on a shoestring budget. Stark writes engagingly of the nomadic peoples who inhabit the region’s valleys and brings to life the stories of the ancient kingdoms of the Middle East, including that of the Lords of Alamut, a band of hashish-eating terrorists whose stronghold in the Elburz Mountains.