The best books about traveling to dangerous places

Why am I passionate about this?

I started out like most travelers, attracted to new places and to meeting people whose worlds were different from my own. Typically, this meant tried-and-true destinations in Europe until a book project required me to visit an utterly daunting place, the West African nation of Liberia during a civil war. I was in no way prepared for the experience and it changed everything. Seeing how people behave when faced with extreme circumstances profoundly altered my view of the world. Everything was magnified. Though I still enjoy a cup of espresso on the Piazza Navona, there is nothing like traveling to a forbidden zone and meeting someone destined to be a lifelong friend on the roof of a bombed-out building. It opens the world in ways that are challenging and scary, but also incomparably rewarding. 


I wrote...

Here I Am: The Story of Tim Hetherington, War Photographer

By Alan Huffman,

Book cover of Here I Am: The Story of Tim Hetherington, War Photographer

What is my book about?

Tim Hetherington (1970-2011) was one of the world’s most distinguished and dedicated photojournalists. In Here I Am, I recount Hetherington’s life: his first interests in photography; his critical role in reporting the Liberian Civil War; and his tragic death in Libya. I also trace Hetherington’s photographic milestones, from his prize-winning photographs of Liberian children to the celebrated portraits of sleeping U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

Here I Am explores the risks, challenges, and thrills of war reporting, and is a testament to the unique work of people like Hetherington, who risk their lives to give a voice to people ravaged by war.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa: Performed Under the Direction and Patronage of the African Association, in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797

Alan Huffman Why did I love this book?

Beyond the occasional adrenaline rush, one of the chief attractions of risky travel is that it enables us to see how we and others behave under challenging circumstances. For readers whose exposure typically comes from UNILAD Adventure posts or edgy Bruce Chatwin travelogues, this book is refreshingly unself-conscious and uniquely terrifying.

In his quest to locate the legendary Niger River as a potential trade route during the late 18th century, when most of Africa was still unmapped, Park, at 24, set off with two days’ worth of provisions and a few strategic supplies (including an umbrella – he was Scottish), relying upon his wits and native guides to complete an epic journey in which he suffered bouts of malaria, nearly starved, was held captive by Moors, got repeatedly robbed and at one point had to bang on a village gate to escape being eaten by lions.

Given modern sensibilities, we have to remind ourselves that none of this was staged or over-emphasized for effect. When Park resurfaced eighteen months later, dressed in rags and beat to hell, he had long since been presumed dead. His book became an immediate bestseller, but he basked in the glory for only a few years: His entire party later died during a more organized and hyped follow-up expedition.

By Mungo Park,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 18th century was a wealth of knowledge, exploration and rapidly growing technology and expanding record-keeping made possible by advances in the printing press. In its determination to preserve the century of revolution, Gale initiated a revolution of its own: digitization of epic proportions to preserve these invaluable works in the largest archive of its kind. Now for the first time these high-quality digital copies of original 18th century manuscripts are available in print, making them highly accessible to libraries, undergraduate students, and independent scholars.
Delve into what it was like to live during the eighteenth century by reading the…


Book cover of The History of the Conquest of New Spain

Alan Huffman Why did I love this book?

Any account of dangerous travel holds the potential for unexpected revelation, but this one taps a motherlode of rare insights and observations. Part of the reason is that Diaz, a twenty-something soldier of fortune in Hernán Cortés’ 16th-century expedition to the New World, became enchanted by the Aztec civilization that he and his compadres had come to pillage and destroy. Diaz writes vividly and lyrically, with a keen eye for graphic detail, and is unsparing in his accounts of the remarkable brutality on both sides. Five centuries later, his account remains illuminating and disturbing, and shows it’s not always necessary to like your traveling companion to gain insight into a perilous, previously unknown world.

By Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Davíd Carrasco,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The History of the Conquest of New Spain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The History of the Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a new abridgement of Diaz del Castillo's classic ""Historia verdadera de la conquista de Nueva Espana"", offers a unique contribution to our understanding of the political and religious forces that drove the great cultural encounter between Spain and the Americas known as the 'conquest of Mexico.' Besides containing important passages, scenes, and events excluded from other abridgements, this edition includes eight useful interpretive essays that address indigenous religions and cultural practices, sexuality during the early colonial period, the roles of women in indigenous cultures, and analysis of…


Book cover of The Things They Carried

Alan Huffman Why did I love this book?

The protagonist in this book travels to the danger zone under duress, having been drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Not surprisingly, the experience propels him beyond his physical, mental, and emotional comfort zones. Blending fiction and nonfiction, author O’Brien creates O’Brien the character to narrate a series of short stories focusing on the memories and mementos his fellow soldiers carry with them into the abyss, as well as on the process of how we discern the truth – or some facsimile of it – under fire. O’Brien’s writing is visceral and at times mesmerizing and intentionally disorienting, as when the soldiers curiously watch a Vietnamese girl dancing alone through the ruins of her burned-out village. In O’Brien’s world, everyone struggles to make sense of the unfamiliar, menacing new reality unfolding before their eyes.

By Tim O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked The Things They Carried as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

The million-copy bestseller, which is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

'The Things They Carried' is, on its surface, a sequence of award-winning stories about the madness of the Vietnam War; at the same time it has the cumulative power and unity of a novel, with recurring characters and interwoven strands of plot and theme.

But while Vietnam is central to 'The Things They Carried', it is not simply a book about war. It is also a book about the human heart - about the terrible weight of those things we carry through…


Book cover of Among the Thugs

Alan Huffman Why did I love this book?

This account of Buford’s time spent among violent soccer fans illustrates that dangerous travel can encompass familiar, otherwise mundane locales. On short jaunts between European stadiums, Buford, an American ex-pat, seeks to understand how sporting events sometimes turn deadly, treading a surprisingly thin line between friendly competition and mass violence. He eventually gets caught up in the mayhem, is beaten numerous times, turns violent himself, and comes away with a new understanding of the potential for sudden societal collapse.

In this world, the sound of shattering glass in a local store window is a source of terrible inspiration. Though the action takes place in the eighties, primarily in the UK, it is impossible not to think of the similarly savage coalescence during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when participants fed on collective energy and their own internal dissatisfaction. Thugs, it turns out, are where you find them.

By Bill Buford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The author of this book has spent most of his spare time "among the thugs", the hooligans whose violence scars the face of English football. He has written a work of investigative journalism and a meditation on the violence that lies just beneath the surface of English life.


Book cover of Apeirogon

Alan Huffman Why did I love this book?

The perilous distances traveled in this intense, genre-bending novel are likewise abbreviated – sometimes measured in meters, between Israel and Palestine, but they are as fraught with peril as any thousand-mile survival trek. Based on the author-embellished experiences of two men, one of whom is Israeli, the other Palestinian, who also appear as themselves in factual passages, the book mixes fiction and nonfiction to magnify the drama of traveling back and forth between two adjacent, lethally fractious zones. An unexpected friendship develops between the two men after each loses a daughter to terror violence perpetrated by the other side, which alters their views as they repeatedly crisscross the boundary line.

Despite the book’s comparatively confined settings, the effect is of near-constant, life-changing motion as the two struggle to bridge a seemingly impassible gap in search of the truth. It works. Words of praise like “staggering” and “transformative” barely hint at the book’s power.

By Colum McCann,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Apeirogon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE SHORTLISTED FOR THE DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD SHORTLISTED FOR THE PRIX FEMINA AND THE PRIX MEDICIS SHORTLISTED FOR THE GOLDSBORO BOOKS GLASS BELL AWARD WINNER OF THE PRIX DU MEILLEUR LIVRES ETRANGER WINNER OF THE 2020 NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARDS CHOSEN AS A BOOK OF 2020 BY THE SUNDAY TIMES, OBSERVER, GUARDIAN, i PAPER, FINANCIAL TIMES, NEW STATESMAN, SCOTSMAN, IRISH TIMES, BBC.COM, WATERSTONES.COM 'A wondrous book. It left me hopeful; this is its gift' Elizabeth Strout 'An empathy engine ... It is, itself, an agent of change' New York Times Book…


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A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,

Book cover of A Theory of Expanded Love

Caitlin Hicks Author Of A Theory of Expanded Love

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My life and work have been profoundly affected by the central circumstance of my existence: I was born into a very large military Catholic family in the United States of America. As a child surrounded by many others in the 60s, I wrote, performed, and directed family plays with my numerous brothers and sisters. Although I fell in love with a Canadian and moved to Canada, my family of origin still exerts considerable personal influence. My central struggle, coming from that place of chaos, order, and conformity, is to have the courage to live an authentic life based on my own experience of connectedness and individuality, to speak and be heard. 

Caitlin's book list on coming-of-age books that explore belonging, identity, family, and beat with an emotional and/or humorous pulse

What is my book about?

Trapped in her enormous, devout Catholic family in 1963, Annie creates a hilarious campaign of lies when the pope dies and their family friend, Cardinal Stefanucci, is unexpectedly on the shortlist to be elected the first American pope.

Driven to elevate her family to the holiest of holy rollers in the parish, Annie is tortured by her own dishonesty. But when “The Hands” visits her in her bed and when her sister finds herself facing a scandal, Annie discovers her parents will do almost anything to uphold their reputation and keep their secrets safe. 

Questioning all she has believed and torn between her own gut instinct and years of Catholic guilt, Annie takes courageous risks to wrest salvation from the tragic sequence of events set in motion by her parents’ betrayal.

A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,


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