The best travel photography books that make the past come alive

Why am I passionate about this?

As an author of 50+ books of historical fiction and non-fiction for kids, teens, and adults I am handicapped by being unable to travel in time or go to the places I set my stories. I have long used photography as an attempt to capture a sense of places and the people who inhabit them, but I gradually realized that my images were not simply an adjunct to the stories I was telling but that the best of them had their own tales to tell. Through photographs, jumbled piles of stone became a gateway to a lost, magical past and a trigger for my imagination.


I wrote...

Places not Paisley: Photographic Peregrinations: Book 3, The Ruined World

By John Wilson,

Book cover of Places not Paisley: Photographic Peregrinations: Book 3, The Ruined World

What is my book about?

I have a sense of almost intoxication when I stand before the moss-covered ruins of a lost world. Whether it be the vine-tangled faces of a Thai temple, the massive, shaped stones of an Inca mountain fortress, or the gentle curves of an abandoned English abbey, history, legend, and myth are all there to feed my imagination.

Whether I am in Asia, South America, or Europe, I am standing before my heritage as a human being, partly in awe of my ancestor’s stupendous achievements and partly humbled by their transience.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Image and Exploration: Early Travel Photography from 1850 to 1914

John Wilson Why did I love this book?

Not only am I enthralled by the large images of lost places and people, but I am in awe of the fact that the photographers even reached some of the wildest places on earth with over a hundred pounds of camera equipment and boxes of mostly poisonous chemicals.

I will never again complain about sitting in the cold or the heat with my lightweight 35mm camera, waiting for the lighting to be just right.

By Olivier Loiseaux (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the second half of the 19th century, unprecedented advances in technology resulted in the collision of travel and photography. Explorers were able to document their journeys, hauling enormous amounts of equipment over arduous terrain. The results were breathtaking. This collection of photographs takes readers on a historic global tour that includes five continents and offers a visible record of worlds long-since vanished. Beginning in North Africa amid the pyramids and along the Nile, this book takes readers down through the Sahara to South Africa via Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Zanzibar. The journey continues from South to North America, capturing images…


Book cover of Roloff Beny Interprets in Photographs Pleasure of Ruins

John Wilson Why did I love this book?

Many, many years ago, Rose Macauley’s classic book, The Pleasure of Ruins, went a long way to inspiring my sense of wonder at the remnants of past worlds.

In this book, Roloff Beny interprets Macauley’s words in the same way that I attempt to encapsulate and share some of the feelings of awe I get when I visit these magical places.

Book cover of Over Vales and Hills: The Illustrated Poetry of the Natural World

John Wilson Why did I love this book?

For me, poetry from Chaucer to Seamus Heaney can trigger an emotional reaction in the same way that a well-chosen image can.

So, it is natural that photographs and poems of the natural world should be paired. The depths that each adds to the other can hold me in thrall for hours as I delve back and forth and draw out every last emotion.

Book cover of Lost London 1870-1945

John Wilson Why did I love this book?

I love cities: Rome, Paris, Madrid. These are easy cities to love; all you need do is stroll around the Colosseum, walk along the banks of the Seine, or hang out in the Puerto del Sol.

I love London as well, but it hides itself better. You have to work to see the real London. Great damage was done during the Blitz, but much greater damage was done over the years by thoughtless development.

These photographs allow me to browse through a landscape that no longer exists.

By Philip Davies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lost London 1870-1945 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A spectacular presentation of photographs of Tudor, Georgian and Victorian buildings captured just before their destruction - most seen here for the first time.
"This endlessly absorbing book that is at once a record of destruction, a haunting collection of relics, and a door into the past." - John Carey, The Sunday Times.

"Each picture contains a novel in this deeply moving, unforgettable book." - Duncan Fallowell, Daily Express. "A magical book about the capital's past." - Sunday Times.


Book cover of South with Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917

John Wilson Why did I love this book?

Antarctica is the one continent I have never taken a photograph in. It has barely changed in the past 100 years, but Hurley’s images still take me to an unknown world and how people have struggled to survive there.

I love the way he can capture the majesty of a landscape that is mostly just one colour and how his photographs give a sense of the puny humans grappling with the harshness of the environment.

By Frank Hurley (photographer),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

pp.244, b/w illustrations, heavy book additional postage will apply


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The Wind Blows in Sleeping Grass

By Katie Powner,

Book cover of The Wind Blows in Sleeping Grass

Katie Powner Author Of The Wind Blows in Sleeping Grass

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Small town resident Animal lover Question asker

Katie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Pete is content living a simple life in the remote Montana town of Sleeping Grass, driving the local garbage truck with his pot-bellied pig Pearl and wondering about what could've been. Elderly widow Wilma is busy meddling in Pete's life to try and make up for past wrongs that he knows nothing about. Yet.

When the sister Pete was separated from as a child shows up, Pete must confront a past he buried long ago, and Wilma discovers her long-awaited chance at redemption may cost more than she’s willing to pay.

The Wind Blows in Sleeping Grass

By Katie Powner,

What is this book about?

For the first time in his life, Pete has everything to lose.

After years of drifting, fifty-year-old Pete Ryman has settled down with his potbellied pig, Pearl, in the small Montana town of Sleeping Grass--a place he never expected to see again. It's not the life he dreamed of, but there aren't many prospects for a high-school dropout like him.

Elderly widow Wilma Jacobsen carries a burden of guilt over her part in events that led to Pete leaving Sleeping Grass decades ago. Now that he's back, she's been praying for the chance to make things right, but she never…


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