The best travel books that enrich landscape with history while guided by an intelligent and personable writer

Who am I?

After reading travel books that voyaged beyond mere tourism into the life of the land, its people, and its histories, I found myself longing to launch my own journeys. I took a thousand-mile canoe trip with my son following the 1673 route of the French explorers Marquette and Joliet; I crossed the Rockies with two sons by foot, mountain bike, and canoe following Lewis and Clark and their Nez Perce guides; I took to sea kayak and pontoon boat with a son and daughter, 400 miles along the Gulf Coast in pursuit of the 1528 Spanish Narvaez Expedition. Writing of these journeys gave me the chance to live twice.


I wrote...

Bitterroot: Echoes of Beauty & Loss

By Steven Faulkner,

Book cover of Bitterroot: Echoes of Beauty & Loss

What is my book about?

Bitterroot includes encounters with both historical travelers and modern residents: a survivor of LA gangland now working as a lumberjack, a woman and her nine children who live in a school bus, and many more.

Steven Faulkner and his teenage son, Alex, travel the old Nez Perce trail by foot, mountain bike, and canoe, over the Rocky Mountains in the footsteps of that remarkable 19th-century traveler and missionary priest, Pierre Jean De Smet. There they join Lewis and Clark who are guided by two Nez Perce men who help save the lives of Lewis and Clark and their “corps of discovery.” Faulkner then traces the journey of the Nez Perce 70 years later as they are chased out of their homeland by the U. S. army.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Goodbye to a River: A Narrative

Steven Faulkner Why did I love this book?

I heard about this book on the car radio. The speaker said John Graves was Texas’ best living writer. He was certainly Texas’ best living travel writer. Graves takes us on a canoe trip down the Brazos River in late fall through an area soon to be dammed and obliterated by the Army Corp of Engineers. Graves grew up on that river and loves it. He knows its history and details elements of that history with scenes from pioneer days, the Comanche wars, feuds, hermits, and encounters with modern citizens as Graves and his little dog, a dachshund, wind their way downriver for three weeks, camping out on gravel bars, fishing, hunting, and exploring.

His book inspired me to take my son on a 1000-mile canoe trip that I wrote about in my own book.

By John Graves,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Goodbye to a River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 1950s, a series of dams was proposed along the Brazos River in north-central Texas. For John Graves, this project meant that if the stream’s regimen was thus changed, the beautiful and sometimes brutal surrounding countryside would also change, as would the lives of the people whose rugged ancestors had eked out an existence there. Graves therefore decided to visit that stretch of the river, which he had known intimately as a youth.

Goodbye to a Riveris his account of that farewell canoe voyage. As he braves rapids and fatigue and the fickle autumn weather, he muses upon old…


Book cover of West with the Night: A Memoir

Steven Faulkner Why did I love this book?

Beryl Markham was a bush pilot in Africa during the early years of aviation. She is a marvelous writer and an adventurous soul. Ernest Hemingway wrote of her: “Did you read Beryl Markham’s book? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I am completely ashamed of myself as a writer.... She can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers.”

Hemingway is right. This is the best written travel book I’ve read. I grew up in what is now called South Sudan, not far from Kenya where Markham grew up. Her writing brings back the land and people, the weather and hardships, the beauty of that land and its lonely skies.

By Beryl Markham,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked West with the Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WEST WITH THE NIGHT appeared on 13 bestseller lists on first publication in 1942. It tells the spellbinding story of Beryl Markham -- aviator, racehorse trainer, fascinating beauty -and her life in the Kenya of the 1920s and 30s.

Markham was taken to Kenya at the age of four. As an adult she was befriended by Denys Finch-Hatton, the big-game hunter of OUT OF AFRICA fame, who took her flying in his airplane. Thrilled by the experience, Markham went on to become the first woman in Kenya to receive a commercial pilot's license.

In 1936 she determined to fly solo…


Book cover of The Path to Rome

Steven Faulkner Why did I love this book?

This may well be my favorite travel book of all time. I have read it several times. Belloc is an opinionated, humorous, deeply insightful writer who, when he was a young man, decided to walk from France, where he had served in the French army, to Rome on a pilgrimage that almost killed him. Each day is a revelation. He passes on to the reader his wonder at his first sight of the distant Alps, his miserable boredom on a long muddy walk in the rain (which he makes funny and engaging by creating a contest with his readers). There are days of exhaustion and joy. His reflections on Europe, tourism, Catholicism, and travel inform and delight, open the mind and open the heart.

By Hilaire Belloc,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Path to Rome is one of the most well-loved travel books of the past century. Legendary writer Hilaire Belloc tells of his walk from Southern France to Rome.
But it is so much more than a travelogue. It is a history of Europe, and exploration of the English language, and journey to Christ and His Church. The Path to Rome is both the story of Hilaire Belloc and his path to becoming one of the most celebrated writers of the modern era; and the story of us as Christians, navigating the divide between history and our own age as…


Book cover of Among the Russians

Steven Faulkner Why did I love this book?

Colin Thubron showed me real travel writing: a journey in words that leads the reader through detailed landscapes, personal encounters with local people, and a depth of understanding that can only come through the human history of these landscapes.

I took this trip with Thubron when Russia was still the Soviet Union. Thubron met dissidents living in Moscow, drank vodka with them late into the night, traveled north to the remnants of Soviet concentration camps, took the rails through that vast continent across the steppes, over the mountains, around huge lakes, all the way to the Pacific coast. The book is beautifully written and introduced me to a travel writer I have read many times since.

By Colin Thubron,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Among the Russians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thubron learnt Russian and entered the then Soviet Union in an old Morris Marina in which he camped and drove for almost 10,000 miles between the Baltic and Caucasus. This book provides a revealing picture of the many races who inhabit the country and the human side behind state socialism.


Book cover of In Patagonia

Steven Faulkner Why did I love this book?

Chatwin is a storyteller and adventurer. He makes his way into Argentina, across the Pampas, and into the mountains at the tip of South America where he finds in a cave remnants of a giant ground sloth that had lived there thousands of years before. His writing takes you on the journey: listening to a pianist on a passenger ship playing on an out-of-tune piano, drinking with local shepherds, telling tales of old conflicts and revolutions. Like all good travel writers, he is precise: “I passed through a desert of black stones and came to Sarmiento. It was another dusty grid of metal buildings, lying on a strip of arable land between the fizzling turquoise Lake Musters and the slime-green Lake Colhue-Huapi.”

By Bruce Chatwin,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked In Patagonia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The book that redefined travel writing' Guardian

Bruce Chatwin sets off on a journey through South America in this wistful classic travel book

With its unique, roving structure and beautiful descriptions, In Patagonia offers an original take on the age-old adventure tale. Bruce Chatwin's journey to a remote country in search of a strange beast brings along with it a cast of fascinating characters. Their stories delay him on the road, but will have you tearing through to the book's end.

'It is hard to pin down what makes In Patagonia so unique, but, in the end, it is Chatwin's…


You might also like...

Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

By Sharman Apt Russell,

Book cover of Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

Sharman Apt Russell Author Of Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Explorer Runner Mother

Sharman's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Citizen Scientist begins with this extraordinary statement by the Keeper of Entomology at the London Museum of Natural History, “Study any obscure insect for a week and you will then know more than anyone else on the planet.”

As the author chases the obscure Western red-bellied tiger beetle across New Mexico, where she lives, she explores a dozen other citizen science programs with lyrical prose, humor, and a profound sense of connection to place. Diary of a Citizen Scientist celebrates a renewed optimism in the mysteries of the world and a renewed faith in how ordinary people can contribute to science and environmental activism.

Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

By Sharman Apt Russell,

What is this book about?

A critically acclaimed nature writer explores the citizen scientist movement through the lens of entomological field research in the American Southwest.

Award-winning nature writer Sharman Apt Russell felt pressed by the current environmental crisis to pick up her pen yet again. Encouraged by the phenomenon of citizen science, she decided to turn her attention to the Western red-bellied tiger beetle, an insect found widely around the world and near her home in the Gila River Valley of New Mexico.

In a lyrical, often humorous voice, Russell shares her journey across a wild, rural landscape tracking this little-known species, an insect…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Africa, Patagonia, and Rome?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Africa, Patagonia, and Rome.

Africa Explore 240 books about Africa
Patagonia Explore 8 books about Patagonia
Rome Explore 313 books about Rome