The best books about serving in the Peace Corps

The Books I Picked & Why

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

By Peter Hessler

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

Why this book?

Considered by many to be the gold standard of the Peace Corps memoir genre, this volunteer’s account is resplendent in its imagery, witty insights, and down-to-earth prose. The depiction of day-to-day life serving as a schoolteacher in China, interspersed with the challenges of learning a new language and culture, and the occasional plunge into the history of the region (anthropologically, geographically, and politically) round out the narrative to give the reader an immersive cultural experience unlike any other. The narrative’s boots-on-the-ground perspective gives the reader a true insider peek at life in China—at turns baffling, humorous, poignant, and, above all, fascinating.


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

Dear Exile: The True Story Of Two Friends Separated (For A Year) By An Ocean

By Hilary Liftin, Kate Montgomery

Dear Exile: The True Story Of Two Friends Separated (For A Year) By An Ocean

Why this book?

This story is told in a series of letters exchanged between two former college roommates, one who marries and joins the Peace Corps in Kenya with her husband, the other striking out on her own in New York City. Each writer has a magic in her writing style that is all her own, which would make either of their tales a standalone success, but the “secret sauce” of this book lies in the juxtaposition of their two very different lives. Each writer’s tales of triumph and woe—lifestyles that could not be more polar opposite—play off one another in the most hilarious and tender way. With acerbic wit and disarming candor, this offbeat correspondence is bound to delight even the most jaded Sex-in-the-City-ish Manhattanite’s heart.


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

Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali

By Kris Holloway

Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali

Why this book?

Equally heartwarming and heartbreaking, this tale of friendship between a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali and her local counterpart vividly portrays the realities of volunteer life. Holloway gently guides the reader through sensitive and taboo subjects—often through heart-to-heart conversations with Monique—such as menstruation, domestic violence, rape, female genital mutilation, sexually transmitted diseases, childbirth, and motherhood. Kris illustrates how women in her village—as in many places around the globe—suffer and fall to untimely deaths due to lack of education, personal agency, available resources, or financial independence. A beautifully written and important read.


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

Walking Each Other Home Again: A young Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, 1960's, and her return 30 years later

By Laurie Oman

Walking Each Other Home Again: A young Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, 1960's, and her return 30 years later

Why this book?

Truly a “two for the price of one” read! This tale begins in the early days of the Peace Corps, where newlyweds Laurie and Rich are assigned volunteer posts in Niger (pronounced nee-zher), Laurie as a public health worker, and Rich on an agricultural assignment at a peanut cooperative. Packed with lively prose and riveting tales of close calls, humorous misunderstandings, finding one’s feet, discovering meaning in the midst of suffering, and the bewildering feeling of displacement upon arriving back in the States, the first half of the story encompasses all the earmarks of a “classic” Peace Corps experience.

After 30 years, Laurie—now remarried, mother of grown children, and retired from an active career in liberal politics—travels back to Niger to reconnect with loved ones. Despite the chafing between this American woman’s independent spirit and the restrictive patriarchal Muslim society, along with the inevitable modernization of the humble agrarian village she once called home, Laurie still succeeds in rediscovering life-affirming connections with the land and people she served during her years in the Peace Corps.


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

História, História

By Eleanor Stanford

História, História

Why this book?

Breathtaking in its honesty and poetic style, this is the Peace Corps memoir “hidden gem” you’ll be glad you’ve unearthed! Eleanor and her husband are newlyweds sent to the remote Portuguese-based Creole-speaking islands of Cape Verde. Not long after arriving, Eleanor develops an eating disorder that drains the vitality of her body, her mind, her work, and her marriage. The narrative nimbly weaves poetic imagery, keen observation, personal stories, history, and geography lessons together into a fascinating literary tapestry. This is a story about fidelity, the search for meaning, the frailty of the human condition, suffering, perseverance, and redemption; in short: a survivor’s story.


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

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists

Random Book Lists