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

Who am I?

I’m a writer originally from the UK, but now usually found elsewhere in the world. Currently, I’m based in Sofia, Bulgaria. I have always been fascinated by the subtle art of connecting with strangers, and by the complex ways that human beings forge bonds with those they don’t know. I have an MA in anthropology and a PhD in philosophy. Hello, Stranger is my thirteenth book, and in August 2021 was selected by BBC Radio 4 to be the book of the week.


I wrote...

Hello, Stranger: How We Find Connection in a Disconnected World

By Will Buckingham,

Book cover of Hello, Stranger: How We Find Connection in a Disconnected World

What is my book about?

We navigate our interactions with strangers according to a host of unwritten rules, rituals and (sometimes awkward) attempts at politeness. But what if the people we meet were not a problem, but a gift?

When philosopher and traveller Will Buckingham’s partner died, he sought solace in throwing open the door to new people. Now, as we reflect on our experiences of the pandemic and its enforced separations, and as global migration figures ever more prominently in our collective future, Buckingham brings together insights from philosophy, anthropology, history, and literature to explore how our traditions of meeting the other can mitigate the issues of our time. 

The books I picked & why

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Finn Family Moomintroll

By Tove Jansson, Elizabeth Portch (translator),

Book cover of 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.”

Finn Family Moomintroll

By Tove Jansson, Elizabeth Portch (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Finn Family Moomintroll as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Special Collectors' Hardback Editions Lovingly Restored to Original Designs

'I love these editions-so beautifully produced, so solid and permanent, just as Tove Jansson deserved.' Philip Pullman

A beautiful collectors' edition of this classic Moomin story, using original 50s and 60s cover artwork, a fold out map and gorgeous endpapers

In case you didn't know, the Moomins are kind, loyal and welcoming creatures with smooth round snouts, who live in a tall blue house shaped like an old stove in a valley in the forests of Finland. They love sunshine and sleep right through the winter, when the snow turns their…


The Odyssey

By Homer, Emily Wilson (translator),

Book cover of 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.

The Odyssey

By Homer, Emily Wilson (translator),

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Odyssey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first great adventure story in the Western canon, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty and power; about marriage, family and identity; and about travellers, hospitality and the changing meanings of home in a strange world.

This vivid new translation-the first by a woman-matches the number of lines in the Greek original, striding at Homer's sprightly pace. Emily Wilson employs elemental, resonant language and an iambic pentameter to produce a translation with an enchanting "rhythm and rumble" that avoids proclaiming its own grandeur. An engrossing tale told in a compelling new…


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

By Marcel Mauss, W.D. Halls (translator),

Book cover of 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.

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

By Marcel Mauss, W.D. Halls (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Gift as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since its first publication in English in 1954, The Gift, Marcel Mauss's groundbreaking study of the relation between forms of exchange and social structure, has been acclaimed as a classic among anthropology texts.

A brilliant example of the comparative method, The Gift presents the first systematic study of the custom―widespread in primitive societies from ancient Rome to present-day Melanesia―of exchanging gifts. The gift is a perfect example of what Mauss calls a total social phenomenon, since it involves legal, economic, moral, religious, aesthetic, and other dimensions. He sees the gift exchange as related to individuals and groups as much as…


The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You

By Dina Nayeri,

Book cover of 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.

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You

By Dina Nayeri,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ungrateful Refugee as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What is it like to be a refugee? It is a question many of us do not give much thought, and yet there are more than 25 million refugees in the world. To be a refugee is to grapple with your place in society, attempting to reconcile the life you have known with a new, unfamiliar home. All this while bearing the burden of gratitude in your host nation: the expectation that you should be forever thankful for the space you have been allowed.

Aged eight, Dina Nayeri fled Iran along with her mother and brother, and lived in the…


Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

By Kwame Anthony Appiah,

Book cover of 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.

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

By Kwame Anthony Appiah,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cosmopolitanism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on a broad range of disciplines, including history, literature, and philosophy-as well as the author's own experience of life on three continents-Cosmopolitanism is a moral manifesto for a planet we share with more than six billion strangers.


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