Top 10 Best Travel Books - Page 2

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Himalaya Mountains in Tibet
The Tibetan Himalayas are the backdrop for Matthiessen’s hunt for the elusive big cat in The Snow Leopard.  (Hemera/Thinkstock)

5. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, by J. Maarten Troost
When 26-year-old Troost follows his girlfriend, Sylvia, to the incredibly remote South Pacific island of Tarawa—a “kindly dot” in the Republic of Kiribati—he expects two years of paradise. What he encounters is the stuff of (for the reader, at least) belly laugh after belly laugh: constant exposure to “La Macarena,” The Great Beer Crisis, a deranged beachcomber dubbed Half-Dead Fred, stray dogs that may or may not become dinner, capricious electricity, and peeping Toms. Troost has a masterful, self-deprecating comic voice and an eye for rich and telling details—which make him the perfect traveling companion.

4. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen
In a 1978 review, the New York Times said, “Not John McPhee, Annie Dillard, and Edward Abbey all rolled together have attempted a journey such as this.” But it’s not just a trip from Point A to Point B—yes, Matthiessen accompanies a zoologist 250 miles into the heart of Tibet in search of the elusive big cat, and describes the Himalaya with clarity and wonder. More important, The Snow Leopard is woven through with mysticism, honesty, adversity, and rhapsody, and this attempt to find a spiritual center gives the book a dimension that few others match.

3. Great Plains, by Ian Frazier
Exhaustively researched and peppered with Frazier’s dry wit, Great Plains chronicles a wandering, 25,000-mile journey around the midsection of America—from the Canadian border on down to Texas, past missile silos and tiny museums and wide-open spaces. And he weaves the past—Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, thundering herds of bison, and Wild West gun battles—with a quieter, quirkier present (at one point, he meets a woman who claims to have baked 14,000 pies). As the writer says at one point, “There’s an idea of the Plains as the middle of nowhere, something to be contemptuous of. But it’s really a heroic place.”

2. In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
Pick up anything by Bryson and you’re guaranteed two things: You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll chuckle the whole way through. And none of his books have more weird facts and hilarious moments than his loving tribute to Australia (for a start, there are place names like Borrumbuttock, Suggan Buggan, and Tittybong). Fully 80 percent of everything that lives Down Under lives no place else on earth, and that means deadly snakes and huge reefs, not to mention bizarre locals and dialogue you have to read to believe. It’s the perfect setting for Bryson’s signature wit and endless curiosity.

1. The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux
“The notion of travel as a continuous vision, a grand tour’s succession of memorable images across a curved earth . . . is possible only on a train.” So wrote Theroux in this 1975 classic, which traces his four-month journey from London to Tokyo and back on Asia’s fabled trains—the Frontier Mail, the Trans-Siberian Express, the Khyber Pass Local. Yes, he’s a cranky narrator; some find it infuriating, some find it endearing. But his eye for observation, his misanthropic opinions, and, above all, his interactions with locals (“I sought trains; I found passengers,” he writes) capture an Asia far different from the one we know now.

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