The Best Travel Books From The Golden Age Of Globetrotting

The Books I Picked & Why

Brazilian Adventure

By Peter Fleming

Brazilian Adventure

Why this book?

In 1932, Peter Fleming – literary editor of The Times and elder brother of James Bond creator Ian – set off on an expedition to find the explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett who went missing in the Brazilian jungle a few years earlier while searching for the fabled Lost City of Z. The expedition itself was a fiasco, poorly planned, ill-equipped and with the party members falling out bitterly, then racing each other back to civilisation to try to be the first to get their version of events before the public eye. At times it reads like some darkly comic fiction from the pen of Evelyn Waugh. The tale is entertainingly told, with wit and flair by Fleming whose account is generally regarded as the authoritative version of events. If you enjoy this one try also Fleming’s News From Tartar: A Journey From Peking to Kashmir (1936) If you want to read more about Colonel Fawcett – whose fate remains a mystery to this day – and the fabled for which he was searching, try The Lost City of Z (2005) by David Grann.


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Eothen, or Traces of Travel Brought Home from the East

By Alexander William Kinglake

Eothen, or Traces of Travel Brought Home from the East

Why this book?

If you’re looking for the literary antecedents of today’s best travel writers, look no further. One can pretty well mark the start of modern travel writing with this witty travelogue, published anonymously in 1844 about a journey Kinglake made through Palestine, Syria, and Egypt some ten years earlier with his friend Lord Pollington. The book was an immediate best-seller but what distinguishes it today from other Victorian travelogues, some of which can be rather turgid, is the bright, engaging, and surprisingly modern style with which Kinglake tells his tale.


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Wind, Sand and Stars

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Wind, Sand and Stars

Why this book?

Better known for his children’s book The Little Prince, the aristocratic Saint-Exupéry was also a pioneering aviator with the legendary Aeropostale mail service which connected France with North Africa and, later on, South America. This vivid, poetically written memoir of these early open-cockpit days of aviation brings alive the people, heroism and danger, the lure of faraway places, the camaraderie among pilots, and the beauty and romance of flight in its golden age. A book one can read many times and still find something new. A favourite.


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The Worst Journey in the World

By Apsley Cherry-Garrard

The Worst Journey in the World

Why this book?

In 1910 the wealthy, Oxford-educated 24-year-old Apsley Cherry-Garrard joined Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole as its youngest and most intellectual member – a berth he obtained by donating £1000 to the expedition’s meagre coffers. Although the title of his book refers specifically to the harrowing mid-winter trek Cherry-Garrard made to Cape Evans to collect an emperor penguin’s egg for science, it could well apply to the disastrous expedition as a whole. Although many of the early Antarctic explorers wrote rough-and-ready memoires, Cherry-Garrard’s is easily the best; a beautifully written piece of literature and a travel classic in its own right.


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The Wheels of Chance: If You Fell Down Yesterday, Stand Up Today.

By H.G. Wells

The Wheels of Chance: If You Fell Down Yesterday, Stand Up Today.

Why this book?

A work of fiction rather than a travelogue, this is a gently told story of a young cockney draper’s assistant, Hoopdriver, who sets off on a two-week cycling holiday along the south coast of England in the summer of 1895 – when the great Victorian cycling boom was at its peak. Revelling in his independence and the sense of boundless possibility that comes over him as he pedals grandly through the countryside, Hoopdriver finds himself coming to the aid of the mysterious and beautiful Young Lady in Grey, an upper-class female cyclist who is seeking to avoid the attentions of another cyclist, a wealthy cad named Bechamel. A shrewd social observer and a keen cyclist himself, Wells saw the bicycle as a vehicle for change, equality, and the breaking down of class barriers. Wheels of Chance captures beautifully that all too brief fin de siècle period when the future really did seem to belong to the bicycle.


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