The best books about hospitality, and the art of dealing with strangers

The Books I Picked & Why

Finn Family Moomintroll

By Tove Jansson, Elizabeth Portch

Finn Family Moomintroll

Why this book?

Tove Jansson’s Moominhouse is the perfect image of hospitality. In Finn Family Moomintroll, Jansson conjures the enchanting image of a place where guests, however strange, are made at home by just “adding another bed and putting another leaf in the dining-room table.”

Muskrat philosophers, mysterious ancestors, troublesome children, unsettling wayfarers: everyone seems to be accommodated, somehow or other. In the chaos that ensues, Jansson writes, “very often unexpected and disturbing things used to happen, but nobody ever had time to be bored, and that is always a good thing.”


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Odyssey

By Homer, Emily Wilson

The Odyssey

Why this book?

Homer’s Odyssey is a huge treatise on the art of dealing with strangers. It tells you what to do (invite your guests to leave their spears at the door), what not to do (don’t eat your guests, if you can avoid it), and how to navigate the difficulties of dealing with people we don’t know. And it explores the blurred lines between hospitality and hostility, guests and hostages.

Wilson’s contemporary translation is fun, brilliantly readable, and makes Homer’s classic work feel both contemporary and profoundly relevant.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies

By Marcel Mauss, W. D. Halls

The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies

Why this book?

Our rituals of hospitality often involve gift-giving: a cup of tea, a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers for the host. So if you have ever turned up at somebody’s door bearing a gift, and worrying about whether it will be well-received, this is the book for you.

Mauss himself was an extraordinarily gifted thinker: his interests included anthropology, Sanskrit, the religions of India, the Māori language, and amateur boxing. The Gift is an anthropological marvel that revolutionised our understanding of gift-giving.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You

By Dina Nayeri

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You

Why this book?

Dina Nayeri’s powerful book—half memoir and half polemic—challenges us to rethink our assumptions about nations, borders, strangers, and the meaning of asylum.

“Asylum seekers is so mild a phrase,” Nayeri writes. “We weren’t politely seeking, we were ravenous for it, this creature need for the safety for our bodies.” In this hard-hitting book, Nayeri skillfully weaves together stories of exile, asylum, and refuge to ask deep questions about what it means to be at home or not at home, welcome or unwelcome.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

By Kwame Anthony Appiah

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

Why this book?

The idea of cosmopolitanism goes back to ancient Greece when the ancient philosopher Diogenes the Cynic claimed that his home—his city or his polis—was the cosmos as a whole.

In this humane, wise book, Appiah brings together philosophy, literature, and stories from his own life to update the ancient idea of cosmopolitanism, and to ask why it matters today. Along the way, he sets out a vision for how we can live better—more openly and more hospitably—in a world where almost everybody we meet is a stranger.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Random Book Lists