The best US travel writing chosen by a travel writer

Mike Gerrard Author Of Snakes Alive and Other Travel Writing
By Mike Gerrard

Who am I?

I always wanted to be a writer but never thought I’d become a travel writer. And like many British teenagers, I also had a passion for the USA – its movies, its music, its writers – but never imagined I would end up living in Arizona. I’ve now traveled in the US widely and understand why its landscapes, its people, and its culture have produced so much good travel writing. It’s a country that’s inspiring and surprising in equal measure, ever-changing, vast, and even though I didn’t grow up there it certainly made me who I am. 


I wrote...

Snakes Alive and Other Travel Writing

By Mike Gerrard,

Book cover of Snakes Alive and Other Travel Writing

What is my book about?

Mike Gerrard's travel writing has won awards in the UK and USA and has been published in The Times, Time Out, The Washington Post, Wanderlust, The Independent on Sunday, The Express, The Sydney Sun-Herald, The Guardian, and many other publications.

In this collection of his best travel writing, his pieces include vivid accounts of eating snake in China, taking a taxi ride through troubled Belfast, camel-trekking in the Sinai Desert, canoeing in Venezuela's Orinoco Delta, dodging orangutan dung in Sumatra, and visiting a country that doesn’t exist. 

The books I picked & why

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Deep South

By Paul Theroux, Steve McCurry (photographer),

Book cover of Deep South

Why this book?

The greatest living travel writer? In my opinion, yes, and his books get better and better. After enjoying his adventures all over the world it was fascinating to see him turn to his own country. He originally intended to drive to the Deep South once in each season of the year, but the conditions and people he encountered kept him going back for much longer. It’s a raw portrait of a part of America that is poorer than many third-world countries but is also rich in history, in compassion, in music, in food, and in characters. Theroux’s gift, as with all the best travel writing, is that he listens to them. I’ve traveled a lot in the Deep South myself, but not to the places that Theroux uncovers.

Deep South

By Paul Theroux, Steve McCurry (photographer),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

SUNDAY TIMES TOP TEN BESTSELLER

Acclaimed and beloved travel writer Paul Theroux turns his attention to his own country - America - for the first time in Deep South

For the past fifty years, Paul Theroux has travelled to the far corners of the earth - to China, India, Africa, the Pacific Islands, South America, Russia, and elsewhere - and brought them to life in his cool, exacting prose. In Deep South he turns his gaze to a region much closer to his home.

Travelling through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, Paul Theroux writes of…


Blue Highways: A Journey into America

By William Least Heat-Moon,

Book cover of Blue Highways: A Journey into America

Why this book?

The fact that this book has stayed in print since it first came out in 1982 is a testament to its timelessness. It’s a classic of travel writing about the USA. The author sets off on a journey along America’s back roads with no other purpose than to explore the unknown, including discovering the history of those US places that have strange names, from Why in Arizona to Whynot in Mississippi. He describes an America that is filled with character, and with characters, and he writes about both it and them in thoughtful prose. Finding it on the bookshelves and re-reading it again recently, it made me want to jump in the car and go wherever the road took me.

Blue Highways: A Journey into America

By William Least Heat-Moon,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Blue Highways as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed as a masterpiece of American travel writing, Blue Highways is an unforgettable journey along our nation's backroads.
William Least Heat-Moon set out with little more than the need to put home behind him and a sense of curiosity about "those little towns that get on the map -- if they get on at all -- only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill: Remote, Oregon; Simplicity, Virginia; New Freedom, Pennsylvania; New Hope, Tennessee; Why, Arizona; Whynot, Mississippi."
His adventures, his discoveries, and his recollections of the extraordinary people he encountered along the way amount to a revelation…


Old Glory: An American Voyage

By Jonathan Raban,

Book cover of Old Glory: An American Voyage

Why this book?

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see deeper into a country. Raban was a respected English novelist and critic when he moved to the USA and settled there – something I would later do myself. He proceeded to produce a series of brilliantly vivid travel books about his new homeland, of which this was the first. Avoiding the inevitable road trip (though he did those later), he takes a motorboat for a solo journey down the Mississippi River. Long periods alone allow him the chance to reflect on the river, nature, and the USA, but he also has lively encounters with the people who live by the river, revealing their passions and their pains.

Old Glory: An American Voyage

By Jonathan Raban,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Jonathan Raban is one of the world's greatest living travel writers.' William Dalrymple

'The best book of travel ever written by an Englishman about the United States' Jan Morris, Independent

Navigating the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans, Raban opens himself to experience the river in all her turbulent and unpredictable old glory. Going wherever the current takes him, he joins a coon-hunt in Savana, falls for a girl in St Louis, worships with black Baptists in Memphis, hangs out with the housewives of Pemiscot and the hog-king of Dubuque. Through tears of laughter, we are led into the…


Coming Into the Country

By John McPhee,

Book cover of Coming Into the Country

Why this book?

Before I went to Alaska for the first time, I did some background reading and thankfully discovered this book and the writing of John McPhee. He and Alaska were made for each other. He’s the kind of writer who is interested in everything, and everyone, and conveys his curiosity and his discoveries with enthusiasm. Alaska is unique, as is McPhee’s style of writing, jumping from topic to topic as the mood – and his journey – takes him, and hauling the reader along with him. He’s the kind of traveling companion who’s forever saying: let’s see what’s down there, I wonder how that works, let’s go talk to that guy.

Coming Into the Country

By John McPhee,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Coming Into the Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Coming into the Country is an unforgettable account of Alaska and Alaskans. It is a rich tapestry of vivid characters, observed landscapes, and descriptive narrative, in three principal segments that deal, respectively, with a total wilderness, with urban Alaska, and with life in the remoteness of the bush.

Readers of McPhee's earlier books will not be unprepared for his surprising shifts of scene and ordering of events, brilliantly combined into an organic whole. In the course of this volume we are made acquainted with the lore and techniques of placer mining, the habits and legends of the barren-ground grizzly, the…


Travels with Charley in Search of America

By John Steinbeck,

Book cover of Travels with Charley in Search of America

Why this book?

I still recall reading Of Mice and Men in one sitting in my bedroom as a teenager. It was the start of a lifelong passion for Steinbeck that has never wavered. In 1960 he set off in a camper van with his poodle Charley to re-discover his own country. He leaves his Long Island home in a raging storm and traces a circular route across to the Pacific Northwest, down to California and Salinas where he was born, and back through Texas and the south. The Nobel Prize-winning novelist pitches up at campsites and chews the fat with whoever he meets, and even the later discovery that chunks of the book were fictionalized didn’t take away my admiration for the journey and the telling of it.

Travels with Charley in Search of America

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Travels with Charley in Search of America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An intimate journey across America, as told by one of its most beloved writers

To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light-these were John Steinbeck's goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.

With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the…


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