100 books like Slow Boats to China

By Gavin Young,

Here are 100 books that Slow Boats to China fans have personally recommended if you like Slow Boats to China. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America

Patrick Forsyth Author Of Smile Because It Happened: Antidotes to Melancholy in Thailand, the Land of Smiles

From my list on feeding your lust for travel.

Why am I passionate about this?

I worked for many years in business consultancy before branching into other genres, including fiction. Through working regularly in Singapore I was able to travel around the region, finding I loved that part of the world. I came to regard Thailand as the jewel of Southeast Asia. I continue to visit and aim for my light-hearted travel writing to encourage others to enjoy the area and be ambitious in their travel plans. I regard my book as an invitation to share my love of a unique place and was delighted when one reviewer described my writing of it as “Brysonish.”

Patrick's book list on feeding your lust for travel

Patrick Forsyth Why did Patrick love this book?

Any recommendation about travel writing must surely include Bill Bryson. I love his writing, and I reckon this, his first book, is still the best.

I love the idea–brought up in small-town America he revisits the tours by car his family took as holidays. I love his descriptions and especially his ability to spot absurdities in a way that can have the me laughing aloud. It is a book that had me moving on to read everything he wrote thereafter.

By Bill Bryson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Lost Continent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to'

And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn't hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14,000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set. Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres.…


Book cover of Shadow of the Silk Road

Patrick Forsyth Author Of Smile Because It Happened: Antidotes to Melancholy in Thailand, the Land of Smiles

From my list on feeding your lust for travel.

Why am I passionate about this?

I worked for many years in business consultancy before branching into other genres, including fiction. Through working regularly in Singapore I was able to travel around the region, finding I loved that part of the world. I came to regard Thailand as the jewel of Southeast Asia. I continue to visit and aim for my light-hearted travel writing to encourage others to enjoy the area and be ambitious in their travel plans. I regard my book as an invitation to share my love of a unique place and was delighted when one reviewer described my writing of it as “Brysonish.”

Patrick's book list on feeding your lust for travel

Patrick Forsyth Why did Patrick love this book?

Again, a writer I love, more serious than the likes of Bill Bryson but no less readable.

This book records a journey from China along the historic Silk Road and across the world to the mountains of Central Asia, encompassing time in places such as Afghanistan, which was a difficult place then and one where circumstances deteriorated subsequently.

It is writing that makes you dwell on the history and want to follow every step—and every page.

By Colin Thubron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shadow of the Silk Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Colin Thurbon's beautiful prose unfolds along the Silk Road, unearthing a richly layered past on his most ambitious journey.

On buses, donkey carts, trains, jeeps and camels, Colin Thubron traces the drifts of the first great trade route out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran into Kurdish Turkey. A magnificent account of an ancient world in modern ferment, Thubron covers over 7000 miles in eight months enduring a near-miss with a drunk-driver, incarceration in a Chinese cell, and undergoing root canal treatment without anaesthetic, along the way.…


Book cover of Fresh Air Fiend: Travel Writings, 1985-2000

Patrick Forsyth Author Of Smile Because It Happened: Antidotes to Melancholy in Thailand, the Land of Smiles

From my list on feeding your lust for travel.

Why am I passionate about this?

I worked for many years in business consultancy before branching into other genres, including fiction. Through working regularly in Singapore I was able to travel around the region, finding I loved that part of the world. I came to regard Thailand as the jewel of Southeast Asia. I continue to visit and aim for my light-hearted travel writing to encourage others to enjoy the area and be ambitious in their travel plans. I regard my book as an invitation to share my love of a unique place and was delighted when one reviewer described my writing of it as “Brysonish.”

Patrick's book list on feeding your lust for travel

Patrick Forsyth Why did Patrick love this book?

Paul Theroux has long led the field of travel writing and is a favourite of many.

This book is untypical in that it is a series of essays and articles and thus provides a broad introduction to his writing and surely an encouragement to read his other books. It demonstrates for me the power of shorter pieces to give a real flavour of places and their character.

A great read, the sort of book I keep by the bed and love dipping into rather than reading straight through.

By Paul Theroux,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fresh Air Fiend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Paul Theroux's first collection of essays and articles devoted entirely to travel writing, FRESH AIR FIEND touches down on five continents and floats through most seas in between to deliver a literary adventure of the first order, with the incomparable Paul Theroux as a guide. From the crisp quiet of a solitary week spent in the snowbound Maine woods to the expectant chaos of Hong Kong on the eve of the Hand-over, Theroux demonstrates how the traveling life and the writing life are intimately connected. His journeys in remote hinterlands and crowded foreign capitals provide the necessary perspective to "become…


Book cover of Kiwis Might Fly: A New Zealand Adventure

Patrick Forsyth Author Of Smile Because It Happened: Antidotes to Melancholy in Thailand, the Land of Smiles

From my list on feeding your lust for travel.

Why am I passionate about this?

I worked for many years in business consultancy before branching into other genres, including fiction. Through working regularly in Singapore I was able to travel around the region, finding I loved that part of the world. I came to regard Thailand as the jewel of Southeast Asia. I continue to visit and aim for my light-hearted travel writing to encourage others to enjoy the area and be ambitious in their travel plans. I regard my book as an invitation to share my love of a unique place and was delighted when one reviewer described my writing of it as “Brysonish.”

Patrick's book list on feeding your lust for travel

Patrick Forsyth Why did Patrick love this book?

This writer wrote a series of delightful travel books, but I have found nothing new from her recently, sadly. This book starts wonderfully; the author passes her test to ride a full-size motorbike, which she can barely hold upright and decides (as you do) to test out her newly acquired skills by riding throughout New Zealand.

There is a good description here about a great country and humour too–all enhanced by the struggle to make progress with this, for her, a new form of transport.

By Polly Evans,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kiwis Might Fly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Polly Evans was a woman with a mission. Before the traditional New Zealand male hung up his sheep shears for good, Polly wanted to see this vanishing species with her own eyes. Venturing into the land of giant kauri trees and smaller kiwi birds, she explores the country once inhabited by fierce Maori who carved their enemies’ bones into cutlery, bushwhacking pioneers, and gold miners who lit their pipes with banknotes—and comes face-to-face with their surprisingly tame descendants. So what had become of the mighty Kiwi warrior?

As Polly tears through the countryside at seventy-five miles…


Book cover of River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

Brett Dakin Author Of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos

From my list on books about living abroad in Asia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Right after college, I lived abroad in Asia, in the small, landlocked country of Laos. A key theme of the book is the role of the U.S. in the world. During the Vietnam War, Laos was subject to a massive bombing campaign by the U.S., and decades later, the country was still coping with the effects. As unexploded bombs continued to kill people every year, how would my colleagues and neighbors react to an American living among them? The book is mainly about the joys of navigating another culture, and while Laos is unique, I’ve read a lot of books about living abroad in Asia, and common themes certainly emerge.

Brett's book list on books about living abroad in Asia

Brett Dakin Why did Brett love this book?

I love just about anything Peter writes, but this book is special; it’s his first, about his stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in China in the late 1990s, just about the time I moved to Laos. It was a great inspiration to me: the perfect combination of personal memoir and cultural insight.

Bonus: Peter continues to write for the New Yorker magazine about his students from all those years ago and what they are up to today.

By Peter Hessler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Peter Hessler went to China in the late 1990s, he expected to spend a couple of peaceful years teaching English in the town of Fuling on the Yangtze River. But what he experienced - the natural beauty, cultural tension, and complex process of understanding that takes place when one is thrust into a radically different society - surpassed anything he could have imagined. Hessler observes firsthand how major events such as the death of Deng Xiaoping, the return of Hong Kong to the mainland, and the controversial consturction of the Three Gorges Dam have affected even the people of…


Book cover of The Man Awakened from Dreams: One Man's Life in a North China Village, 1857-1942

Peter Zarrow Author Of After Empire: The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885-1924

From my list on how imperial China became modern China.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like many Americans of my generation (boomer) who became China scholars, I witnessed the civil rights and anti-war struggles and concluded that we in the West could learn from the insights of Eastern thought and even Chinese Communism. I ended up specializing in modern political thought—I think of this field as the land of “isms”—nationalism, socialism, liberalism, and the like. I have lived in China and Japan, and spent twelve years as a historical researcher in Taiwan before returning to America to teach at the University of Connecticut. Today, I would not say China has the answers, but I still believe that the two most important world powers have a lot to learn from each other.

Peter's book list on how imperial China became modern China

Peter Zarrow Why did Peter love this book?

This beautifully written book gives a picture of the life and times of one ordinary man. Unusually, he maintained a daily diary throughout his entire life, which was mostly lived in a remote—but certainly not isolated—village. Harrison highlights the tumultuous political, social, and economic changes China was undergoing through the lens of a man who lived from the Qing Empire through the 1911 Revolution and the warlord era and into the rise of the Communist movement.

By Henrietta Harrison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Man Awakened from Dreams as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this beautifully crafted study of one emblematic life, Harrison addresses large themes in Chinese history while conveying with great immediacy the textures and rhythms of everyday life in the countryside in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Liu Dapeng was a provincial degree-holder who never held government office. Through the story of his family, the author illustrates the decline of the countryside in relation to the cities as a result of modernization and the transformation of Confucian ideology as a result of these changes. Based on nearly 400 volumes of Liu's diary and other writings, the book illustrates what it…


Book cover of Country Driving

Brantly Womack Author Of China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry

From my list on China perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

Where you sit determines what you see. China is complex, and so it pays to move around and view it from as many perspectives as possible. My view of China is formed by visits to all of its 31 provinces and to most of its neighbors.  A professor of foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, I have taught and written about Chinese politics for the past forty years, and I have worked with Chinese universities and scholars. This list suggests some excellent books presenting different vantage points on China’s past and present.

Brantly's book list on China perspectives

Brantly Womack Why did Brantly love this book?

The first step to enriching perspectives on China is to go there—something more difficult in times of COVID and political tensions. One of the most pleasant virtual visits is to take a back seat as Peter Hessler roams the Great Wall backcountry. He does American things in an un-American place: getting a driver’s license, renting a car, meeting hitchhikers, countryfolk, and their city kids. He moves on to the factories, and we meet the Chinese that put the “Made in China” label on our daily world. Hessler is a regular at the New Yorker, is living in China, and always a good read.

By Peter Hessler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

After living in China for five years, and learning the language, Peter Hessler decided to undertake an even more complicated endeavor: he acquired his Chinese driving licence. An eye-opening challenge, it enabled him to embark on an epic journey driving across this most enigmatic of countries. Over seven years, he travelled to places rarely explored by tourists, into the factories exporting their goods to the world and into the homes of their workers. Full of extraordinary encounters and details of life beyond Beijing, it is an unforgettable, unique portrait of the country that will likely shape all our lives in…


Book cover of Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

Derek Sandhaus Author Of Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

From my list on Chinese alcohol and drinking culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

Derek Sandhaus is an award-winning American author of several books on Chinese history and culture. He worked as an editor, publisher, and tour guide in Shanghai, then moved to Chengdu and turned to drink. In 2018 he co-founded Ming River Sichuan Baijiu with China’s oldest distillery, and now spends most of his time talking about Chinese alcohol to anyone who will listen. He currently lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and a very well-traveled dog.

Derek's book list on Chinese alcohol and drinking culture

Derek Sandhaus Why did Derek love this book?

In China there’s an expression that roughly translates, “It’s not a meal without alcohol.” The converse is equally true: Chinese alcohol yearns to be paired with food. This list would thus be incomplete without a book that seriously delves into Chinese food culture. And in many ways, my own journey into Chinese spirits was an unintentional compliment to Dunlop’s earlier book. We both learned from local experts, followed our respective passions around China, and spent the bulk of our time in the idyllic Sichuanese capital of Chengdu. I especially appreciate Dunlop’s willingness to explore uncomfortable cultural dissonances, and the compelling and poignant case she makes for overcoming them.

By Fuchsia Dunlop,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning food writer Fuchsia Dunlop went to live in China as a student in 1994, and from the very beginning she vowed to eat everything she was offered, no matter how alien and bizarre it seemed. In this extraordinary memoir, Fuchsia recalls her evolving relationship with China and its food, from her first rapturous encounter with the delicious cuisine of Sichuan Province to brushes with corruption, environmental degradation, and greed. In the course of her fascinating journey, Fuchsia undergoes an apprenticeship at China's premier Sichuan cooking school, where she is the only foreign student in a class of nearly fifty…


Book cover of Iron & Silk

Brett Dakin Author Of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos

From my list on books about living abroad in Asia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Right after college, I lived abroad in Asia, in the small, landlocked country of Laos. A key theme of the book is the role of the U.S. in the world. During the Vietnam War, Laos was subject to a massive bombing campaign by the U.S., and decades later, the country was still coping with the effects. As unexploded bombs continued to kill people every year, how would my colleagues and neighbors react to an American living among them? The book is mainly about the joys of navigating another culture, and while Laos is unique, I’ve read a lot of books about living abroad in Asia, and common themes certainly emerge.

Brett's book list on books about living abroad in Asia

Brett Dakin Why did Brett love this book?

Another inspiration for me was Mark’s first book, about his experience in the 1980s teaching English and studying martial arts in China. One of the first books to explore life in China after the reforms that followed the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, this book has become a classic.

A few years after this book was published, he even starred in a film adaptation! I’m a little old to do that now.

By Mark Salzman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This large print edition recounts the true adventures of a young martial arts student in China. Told as a series of lightly sketched episodes, the book allows the reader a glimpse of Chinese culture largely unaccessible to foreigners.


Book cover of Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

Marilyn Kriete Author Of Paradise Road: A Memoir

From my list on memoirs to take you on wild adventures.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a serial memoirist (two published, two more to come), and a true fan of well-written memoir. I read all kinds, but my favorites often combine coming-of-age with unusual travel or life choices. I love getting inside the authors’ heads, discovering not just what they did, but why, and how they felt about it later, and what came next. Great memoirs take us out of our own lives and into settings, situations, and perspectives we may never experience. What better way to understand how other people live and move and think and feel? Fiction is fine, but a unique true story hooks me from start to finish. 

Marilyn's book list on memoirs to take you on wild adventures

Marilyn Kriete Why did Marilyn love this book?

I discovered this book years ago on a discount table, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorites, a memoir I’ve reread several times and loaned to friends.

Gilman and her college friend—someone she knows, but not reallybackpack through China in 1986, right after it’s been opened to travelers after the Cultural Revolution.

Two naive Americans, in way over their heads as things grow stranger and stranger. Described as “a modern heart of darkness filled with Communist operatives, backpackers, and pancakes,” her story is guaranteed to shock and surprise even the most seasoned traveler.

Great title, great writing, and an absolute page-turner.

By Susan Jane Gilman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1986, Susie and her friend Chloe, fresh-faced graduates from Brown University, were inspired by a placemat entitled "Pancakes of Many Nations" to depart on an epic trip around the world, starting with Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China, then only recently opened to the rest of the world. As the two ventured into what turned out to be a strange and alien land, they encountered places far different from anything they had ever experienced, from the horrors of an open-ditch toilet in the back of a weird hybrid tenement hotel, to a magical boat ride through a…


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