The best books that inspired us to go travelling

Who are Bradt Guides?

Founded in 1974, Bradt Guides is now the largest independently-owned guidebook publisher in both the US and UK. We have over 200 titles in print, with a particular focus on lesser-known places overlooked by other travel publishers. We also publish a series of Slow Travel guides to UK regions and a list of travel narratives. There are 15 people in the Bradt team, based (when Covid allows) in an office above a coffee shop in Chesham, Bucks. The following books are very different but all connected to travel in fun ways. The books were selected by Simon Willmore, Claire Strange, Iona Brokenshire, Deborah Gerrard, and Hugh Brune. 

Bradt Travel Guides

The world’s leading independent travel publisher

Bradt Guides will soon be launching new editions of acclaimed guides to Iraq, Iceland, Mauritius, and Barbados. Something for every travel taste! There are also two new travel narratives: Galapagos Crusoes by June Wilson, an account of a year spent watching birds on a remote island in the 1960s, and My Family and Other Enemies by Mary Novakovich, a part-travelogue, part-memoir that dives into the hinterland of Croatia.

For serious travellers, we’ll continue to develop our Travel Club, offering a monthly magazine with travel tips and features, monthly online talks, discounts from a range of travel partners, and all Bradt guides at half price. (Or even free at the higher membership tiers!)

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Year in the Merde

Bradt Guides Why did I love this book?

In A Year in the Merde, Stephen Clarke walks the line perfectly between berating the country he's in and making it clear he is, in truth, really enjoying himself. When I discovered the book, I (a Brit) was living in Grenoble in France so it was particularly relevant. At the time, I was desperately trying to complete my Masters - in engineering! - but Clarke's book opened my eyes to a world where you can earn a living by documenting your travel experiences. 

Within six months, I had completed my Masters (by the skin of my teeth), turned my back on engineering, and enrolled in a post-graduate course in journalism. 11 years later, I've worked on books of my own, including guides to Malaysia, India, Spain, and France - returning to Grenoble, the place where it all began.

By Stephen Clarke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Year in the Merde as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What are the French really like?

Paul West, a young Englishman arriving in Paris to start a new job, is about to find out.

They do eat a lot of cheese, some of which smells like pigs' droppings.

They don't wash their armpits with garlic soap.

Going on strike really is the second national participation sport after petanque.

And, yes, they do use suppositories.

Less quaint than A Year in Provence, less chocolatey than Chocolat, A Year in the Merde will tell you how to get served by the grumpiest Parisian waiter; how to make perfect vinaigrette every time;…

Book cover of Explore Australia: The Complete Touring Companion

Bradt Guides Why did I love this book?

Back in the early ‘90s in Melbourne, I talked my way into a temporary job typesetting Explore Australia, a mammoth full-colour guidebook. I ended up staying several years, undertaking desk-based research, managing the photo library, and editing text and maps. I spent my days poring over cartographic proofs, sifting through glorious photos of rust-red mountain ranges, cobalt-blue skies, and dense tropical rainforest abutting white-sand beaches. I spoke to those manning the tourist information offices around the country: at Coral Bay, where the Ningaloo Reef is just a metre from the beach, at Healesville, when the cackle of a kookaburra interrupted my call, and at Cossack, a gold-rush-era ghost town with a population of one man and one dog. Some years later I sold my home, bought a 4x4, and set off to see all those places that I had visited vicariously…

By Celia Pollock, Sue Donovan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Pollock, Celia, Donovan, Sue

Book cover of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Bradt Guides Why did I love this book?

The world was panicking about the unknown effects of a calendar rolling over from 1999 to a new century, when all electrical capabilities could disintegrate, plunging us into digital darkness. Immune to the Y2K bug, I headed to Nevada, determined to experience my own Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. The Raoul Duke to my Dr. Gonzo, was a bad-ass drummer: part Native American, part black American, 100% goth and rocking a lime-green mohawk. We stumbled through the casinos with their vibrant décor - swirling carpets that seemed determined to trip us up – and out into the cool night…

By Hunter S. Thompson,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like, "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive ..."'

Hunter S. Thompson is roaring down the desert highway to Las Vegas with his attorney, the Samoan, to find the dark side of the American Dream. Armed with a drug arsenal of stupendous proportions, the duo engage in a surreal succession of chemically enhanced confrontations with casino operators, police officers and assorted Middle Americans.

This stylish reissue of Hunter S. Thompson's iconic masterpiece, a controversial bestseller when…

Book cover of Northern Lights: A Practical Travel Guide

Bradt Guides Why did I love this book?

I’d been working at Bradt Guides for about three years when we commissioned Polly Evans to write the first edition of Northern Lights: A practical travel guide, and I’ve been fascinated by this natural phenomenon ever since.  Fast forward five years and I finally booked a dream trip to Swedish Lapland in celebration of a milestone birthday, armed with the 2nd edition containing all the information needed to have the most incredible few days. It snowed a lot whilst we were there creating a stunning winter wonderland, and although the Aurora Borealis didn’t make an appearance we packed in so many other adventures that made it memorable for all.

By Polly Evans,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An updated third edition of Bradt's practical guide to the best places to view the Northern Lights, the only guidebook that caters to the large number of people whose dream is to see the aurora borealis. Included is information on everything from how to photograph the aurora to what to wear, and how to understand northern lights forecasting, as well as the science behind the aurora and the auroral oval. Also detailed are the best locations from which the aurora can be viewed, covering, in Europe, Scandinavia, Lapland, Iceland and Greenland, and in North America, Canada and Alaska. In addition,…

Book cover of Homage to Catalonia

Bradt Guides Why did I love this book?

I was forced to read this at school, but it immediately made me want to visit Barcelona. I first went when I was 19 and have been back several times subsequently, re-reading the book on each visit. Part travel narrative, part history, part polemic, part love story, part gripping adventure yarn – you get something different out of Homage to Catalonia each time you read it. Here is Orwell on the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s great landmark, still unfinished 85 years later and now the city’s principal tourist attraction: “A modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world. It has four crenellated spires exactly the shape of hock bottles. Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution – it was spared because of its ‘artistic value’, people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance.”

By George Orwell,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Homage to Catalonia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Homage to Catalonia remains one of the most famous accounts of the Spanish Civil War. With characteristic scrutiny, Orwell questions the actions and motives of all sides whilst retaining his firm beliefs in human courage and the need for radical social change.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition is introduced by Helen Graham, a leading historian on the Spanish Civil War.

When George Orwell arrived in Spain in 1936, he…

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The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…

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