The best books about circumnavigation

11 authors have picked their favorite books about circumnavigation and why they recommend each book.

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Sailing Alone Around the World

By Joshua Slocum,

Book cover of Sailing Alone Around the World

One of the great pure sailors of all time was Joshua Slocum. Born in 1844 in eastern Canada he remains one of the most renowned sailors of all time—deservedly, because he completed the first documented circumnavigation of the world alone in a sailboat. A severe-looking man in maturity with a completely bald head and a very full goatee. His four children were born at sea on his ships. And his adventures literally around the world are too numerous to enumerate here. Suffice to say, this was a man “rocked in the cradle of the deep,” with saltwater in his veins.

Toward the turn of the century, in his early fifties, he decided to build a small sailing vessel and sail alone around the world. It was the seminal moment in his life, and he’d describe it beautifully in this marvelous tale. Slocum faced all the perils one would expect: terrible…


Who am I?

I'm a retired 4-star Admiral who spent over forty years at sea, rising from Midshipman at the Naval Academy to Supreme Allied Commander at NATO. I studied literature and published eleven books, many dealing with the oceans. My PhD from Tufts University, where I served as Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, centered on the Law of the Sea Treaty. My father was a seagoing US Marine, my wife grew up in the Navy with a father who was a Navy pilot, and my daughter was a Navy nurse. Finally, my basset hound is named Penelope, after the wife of Ulysses who waited for her husband to return from ten years at sea.


I wrote...

The Sailor's Bookshelf: Fifty Books to Know the Sea

By James G. Stavridis,

Book cover of The Sailor's Bookshelf: Fifty Books to Know the Sea

What is my book about?

The oceans are vast, covering over 70% of the world but few of us know them well.  To create The Sailor’s Bookshelf, I selected the fifty books that formed the heart of my own voyage from Midshipman at Annapolis to 4-star Admiral, and provided a concise summary of each them, as well as weaving in my own experiences at sea. The books cover everything from the history of navigation to the adventures of the bravest seagoing explorers to the expansive fictional literature of the sea.  Let’s get underway!

1421

By Gavin Menzies,

Book cover of 1421: The Year China Discovered America

Long subject to debate due to its assertion that China discovered America, this book remains an astounding Ming dynasty source that should not be overlooked based on a single controversial claim. It has a decidedly maritime, diplomatic, and economic focus, offering a comprehensive – often technical – account of the 1421 Ming fleet’s expedition with attention to historical figures like Admiral Zheng He. It vividly paints Ming dynasty China as an economic might that traded extensively for various world products and received tributes and envoys from places as far as Malindi in southeast Africa. Published in 2002, the book has a certain prophetic quality: it highlights early Ming China’s trade dominance on the world stage as though Menzies sensed that history could repeat itself. Today, China is once again seen as an economic superpower.


Who am I?

I am an honours graduate in aerospace engineering and psychology and I have written five historical novels. My debut novel, The Ming Storytellers, is set during China’s Ming dynasty and was well-reviewed by the Historical Novel Society. To pen this 600-page saga, I spent six years researching the Ming dynasty while studying a year of mandarin. I have travelled to Beijing, along the Great Wall, and to China’s southwestern province of Yunnan. Being a descendant of the Vietnamese royal family gave me access to rich genealogical sources passed down from my scholarly ancestors. These stories of concubines, eunuchs, and mandarins made the past come alive, complementing my research with plausible drama.


I wrote...

The Ming Storytellers

By Laura Rahme,

Book cover of The Ming Storytellers

What is my book about?

Set against the backdrop of China’s sixth naval expedition in the early Ming dynasty, this is the story of an imperial concubine’s rise in the reign of the Yong Le emperor, and her forbidden relationship with one of China’s most illustrious figures, Admiral Zheng He. A complex tale of thwarted love, adventure, crime, and mystery, The Ming Storytellers brings a cast of fascinating supporting characters. We meet a mysterious storyteller on board Zheng He’s ship whose long winding tale will turn out to be more than it originally seemed. Also traveling with the Ming fleet and bound for her home in Zanzibar, the secretive Persian traveller, Shahrzad, watches Zheng He closely. But what does she seek? 

A rich story unfolding in Beijing, on the Ming ships, and in a mountainous village in Yunnan, The Ming Storytellers explores a distant world and brings to life key events in China’s history.

Eighty Days

By Matthew Goodman,

Book cover of Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

Eighty Days takes readers behind the scenes of the lives of Bly and Bisland, two successful women who made a name for themselves during the late 1800s. It reveals the private women behind the public personas during an era when women were expected to mind house and home.

Who am I?

I have loved writing since I was in grade school and after graduating university with a degree in International Affairs I became a journalist. I’ve written six non-fiction books and also teach Journalism at SUNY Purchase.  I’ve always been fascinated about the way one person’s life or one seemingly small episode in history allows us a way to examine the larger picture: whether it was how Fanny Bullock Workman showed what it meant to be a woman in a predominantly male world of mountain climbing or how the deliberate sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in the closing days of WWII showed that war is never black and white, that there are layers to people and stories and events that we should always try to consider.


I wrote...

Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman

By Cathryn J. Prince,

Book cover of Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman

What is my book about?

Fanny Bullock Workman was a complicated and restless woman who defied the rigid Victorian morals she found as restrictive as a corset. With her frizzy brown hair tucked under a topee, Workman was a force on the mountain and off. Instrumental in breaking the British stranglehold on Himalayan mountain climbing, this American woman climbed more peaks than any of her peers and became the first woman to map the far reaches of the Himalayas.

Author and journalist Cathryn J. Prince brings Fanny Bullock Workman to life and deftly shows how she negotiated the male-dominated world of alpine clubs and adventure societies as nimbly as she negotiated the deep crevasses and icy granite walls of the Himalayas. It's the story of the role one woman played in science and exploration, in breaking boundaries and frontiers for women everywhere.

Around the World in Eighty Days

By Jules Verne,

Book cover of Around the World in Eighty Days

A classic. A roadmap for anyone who wants to pack up and take on the world. It has everything: planes and ships and elephants, a hot air balloon, an eccentric Englishman with a valet and top hat! Also, it made me laugh, and gave me courage on my own adventures; if Phileas Fogg can escape enraged priests, storms, robbers, Sioux Indians...nothing that happens to me can be as bad as all that.

Who am I?

When I was a child, every year, for Christmas, I would wish for wings, pixie dust, a flying carpet… anything that would make me fly. I will never forget the first time I did: my grandfather and mother took me with them on a trip to Brussels when I was about four. That blue, those clouds, that lightness… I have never stopped chasing them since.

I wrote...

No Land to Light On: A Novel

By Yara Zgheib,

Book cover of No Land to Light On: A Novel

What is my book about?

Hadi and Sama are a young Syrian couple flying high on a whirlwind love, dreaming up a life in the country that brought them together. She had come to Boston years before, chasing dreams of a bigger life; he’d landed there as a sponsored refugee from a bloody civil war. Now, they are giddily awaiting the birth of their son, a boy whose native language would be freedom and belonging. When Sama is five months pregnant, Hadi’s father dies suddenly abroad. Hadi must fly back for the funeral. He leaves America, promising his wife that he’ll only be gone for a few days. On the day of his return, Sama is waiting for him at Boston airport.

His plane lands, but Hadi never walks out of the Arrivals gate. He has been stopped, detained, and deported from the United States. Separated by the travel ban, trapped in a timeless, nightmarish limbo on either side of the world, Sama and Hadi must fight for a way back to each other, and to the life they’d dreamed of together. But does that life exist anymore, or was it only an illusion? 

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World

By Marjorie Priceman,

Book cover of How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World

How To Make an Apple Pie and See The World is a whimsical book that starts by asserting that making apple pie is the easiest thing in the world. All you do is get the ingredients at the market then mix, bake, and serve… But what if the market is closed? In that case, adventure ensues! One travels the world to procure the ingredients—Italy, France, Sri Lanka, England, Jamaica, Vermont—and then you mix, bake, and serve.

The last spread of this wonderful picturebook features a round table and a gathering of friends eating apple pie—is there anything better?


Who am I?

I am a children’s author who loves to eat and bake and cook and gather with others around a table. My writing somehow always has details about people coming together around favorite foods and drinks, enjoying the company of family and friends. Is it any wonder these are the sorts of books I love to read, as well?

I wrote...

Around the Table That Grandad Built

By Melanie Heuiser Hill, Jaime Kim (illustrator),

Book cover of Around the Table That Grandad Built

What is my book about?

In a unique take on the cumulative classic This Is the House That Jack Built, a family gathers with friends and neighbors to share a meal around a table that brims with associations: napkins sewn by Mom, glasses from Mom and Dad’s wedding, silverware gifted to Dad by his grandma long ago. Not to mention the squash from the garden, the bread baked by Gran, and the pies made by the young narrator (with a little help). Serving up a diverse array of dishes and faces, this warm and welcoming story is poised to become a savored part of Thanksgiving traditions to come.

A beautifully illustrated celebration of bounty and gratitude, family and friendship, perfect for the holidays and every day.

Girl on a Motorcycle

By Amy Novesky, Julie Morstad (illustrator),

Book cover of Girl on a Motorcycle

I relished this chic, wondrous, adventuresome story of journalist and author Anne-France Dautheville's solo motorcycle ride around the world in the 1970s. As a longtime fan of Amy Novesky’s work, I learned about the project as Amy was developing it, and waited years for the book, which did not disappoint. Amy’s spare, inventive, and poetic prose takes readers on a vivid journey, with distinct, cinematic scenes that make you feel like you’ve taken the trip with Anne-France. 

As creators, we must sometimes seek to know the world in deeper, more intimate ways. My girls were, interestingly, shocked and amazed at Anne-France’s boldness. Although fifty years have passed, Anne-France’s trip seems as intrepid as ever.


Who am I?

I am an award-winning author who grew up in a family of painters, poets, sculptors, and novelists; people who designed their lives around, and dedicated their lives to, artistic expression. I knew I wanted to be a writer at age three when I began dictating a poem every day to my mom. I first fell in love with Jane Austen as a student at Oxford, where I read my favorite of her novels, Persuasion.


I wrote...

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

By Jasmine A. Stirling, Vesper Stamper (illustrator),

Book cover of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

What is my book about?

A Most Clever Girl tells the story of the world’s most beloved novelist, Jane Austen, and how she found her singularly witty, mischievous, and rebellious voice as a writer, despite losses that left her financially devastated, emotionally adrift, and unable to write for nearly a decade. 

I wrote this book to help my children, and all children, better understand the creative process—its fits and starts, its moments of exhilaration and frustration, and how it must be nurtured and tended to fully develop. I also enjoyed debunking the image of Jane as a dull spinster. Quite the contrary—Jane was a savage wit and proud rebel, who didn’t hesitate to put mighty men in their place with a few well-placed words. The book’s illustrator, also a devoted Janeite, visited all of the locations in the manuscript to create the artwork, which is lush and pitch perfect, making this book heirloom quality.

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret

By Glynis Ridley,

Book cover of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe

Another engrossing book that I’ve read several times, by a professor of English at the University of Louisville. Ridley relates the amazing true – but little knownstory of Jeanne Baret, the first woman to sail around the world. She did it disguised as a man in order to accompany her lover, a botanist called Philibert Commerson on a plant collecting expedition back in the 18th century. When they got to Brazil, Baret discovered the vine bougainvillea, which the pair named after the expedition leader, Count de Bougainville (with Commerson, of course, taking all the credit) and she endured incredible hardships keeping her identity secret from the male crew during the arduous voyage. Dried specimens of her finds can still be seen today at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.


Who am I?

During two decades as a gardening columnist for the Toronto Star, I wrote about hundreds of different plants. I also penned, for various publishers, over half a dozen books with titles ranging from Incredible Edibles: 40 Fun Things to Grow in the City and The Untamed Garden: A Revealing Look at our Love Affair with Plants. And in doing so, I got hooked. Even if you aren’t interested in gardening, the botanical world is chock-a-block with terrific stories. My new novel, for instance, published in 2022, begins with an extraordinary tale about a plant called The Corpse Flower which bloomed for the first time in 70 years at Brooklyn Botanical Garden.


I wrote...

The Mexico Lunch Party -- A Sisters of the Soil Novel. With Recipes

By Sonia Day,

Book cover of The Mexico Lunch Party -- A Sisters of the Soil Novel. With Recipes

What is my book about?

Four older women, all passionate gardeners from Great Britain, the U.S., Canada, and Colombia, meet up in Mexico for fun times and good food. They plan a spectacular meal together with each of them contributing an unusual dish. But things get off to an awkward start when the sex-mad younger sister of one of the women insists on tagging along. They get even crazier after a strange, unwelcome guest shows up for the party. The consequences are a shock to them all.

This is a lighthearted read with -I hope -strong, believable characters and lots of fascinating stuff about plants thrown in. Also some yummy recipes.

Dove

By Robin L. Graham,

Book cover of Dove

Dove chronicles the story of a 16-year-old who sets off around the world on a tiny sailboat. For 5 years, while also covered by National Geographic, Robin tells his story of fighting storms, discovering new lands, and finding love. It’s an ultimate coming-of-age manifesto, full of inspiration and guts.


Who am I?

I am Zoltan Istvan, often considered one of the world’s most visible transhumanists. I began my career at National Geographic, but then turned towards leading the radical science movement forward that is now called transhumanism. We want to upgrade the human being with radical technology and overcome biological death. But all great movements need journies, and leaders of them need personal journies to be inspired by. These 5 books were the ones that inspired me the most!


I wrote...

The Transhumanist Wager

By Zoltan Istvan,

Book cover of The Transhumanist Wager

What is my book about?

Scorned by over 500 publishers and literary agents around the world, his philosophical thriller has been called "revolutionary" and "socially dangerous" by readers, scholars, and religious authorities. The novel debuts a challenging original philosophy, which rebuffs modern civilization by inviting the end of the human species—and declaring the onset of something greater. The novel tells the story of transhumanist Jethro Knights and his unwavering quest for immortality via science and technology. Fighting against him are fanatical religious groups, economically depressed governments, and mystic Zoe Bach: a dazzling trauma surgeon and the love of his life, whose belief in spirituality and the afterlife are absolute. Exiled from America and reeling from personal tragedy, Knights forges a new nation of willing scientists on the world's largest seasteading project, Transhumania.

Through Sand & Snow

By Charlie Walker,

Book cover of Through Sand & Snow: a man, a bicycle, and a 43,000-mile journey to adulthood via the ends of the Earth

Also very well written. Charlie chooses the roads less travelled and he meanders for nearly 4 years from the UK to Singapore then back and down through Africa to Cape Town before turning around and cycling back up Africa to the UK. He got arrested in Tibet. Had a pony stolen in Mongolia and nearly got killed by a drunken mob in Ethiopia. Gripping throughout.


Who am I?

Sean Conway is a record-breaking endurance cyclist who has cycled over 100,000 miles in the last decade including cycling around the world, LEJOG twice, and the world record for the fastest person to cycle across Europe.


I wrote...

Big Mile Cycling: Ten Years. 60000 Miles. One Dream

By Sean Conway,

Book cover of Big Mile Cycling: Ten Years. 60000 Miles. One Dream

What is my book about?

In 2008 Sean Conway set off on a 1000 mile bike ride that would shape the next 10 years of his life as he became obsessed with the idea of becoming a real ultra-cyclist. This is his story, how he tried, and failled many times, to break a cycling world record, and the story about his final world record attempt, cycling 4000 miles across Europe. Sean nearly gave up on his dream after tragically losing two of his ultra-cycling friends, but decided to continue in their honour with his quest to chase big miles on two wheels. Sean looks back at some of his cycling heroes, heroines, and the boom in ultra-cycling over the last decade.

Nala's World

By Dean Nicholson, Garry Jenkins,

Book cover of Nala's World: One Man, His Rescue Cat, and a Bike Ride Around the Globe

Nala's adventure shows how the love of an animal can change the trajectory of a man's life. Dean set out to explore the world on his bike. Along the way he met and fell head over wheels (!) with a kitten, whom he named Nala. Something about the piercing eyes and plaintive meowing of the bedraggled little cat proved irresistible. He couldn't leave her to her fate, so he put her on his bike and then, with the help of local vets, nursed her back to health. Soon on his travels, they forged an unbreakable bond -- both curious, independent, resilient and adventurous.


Who am I?

Dion Leonard is an Australian/British ultra runner who competes around the globe in endurance ultra running events ranging from 100 miles to over 240 miles in some of the most extreme conditions known to man. He has numerous top 10 finishes in some of the toughest races on the planet. An international bestselling author with 5 books in over 21 languages; Dion’s story has been featured on CNN, NBC Today Show, Good Morning Britain, CBS, CNBC, ABC America, Associated Press, ESPN, Pickler and Ben, CCTV, BBC, and many others. Dion is an inspirational speaker, animal welfare advocate and raises money and awareness for animals in need.


I wrote...

Finding Gobi: A Little Dog with a Very Big Heart

By Dion Leonard,

Book cover of Finding Gobi: A Little Dog with a Very Big Heart

What is my book about?

Finding Gobi is the miraculous tale of Dion Leonard, an ultramarathon runner who crosses paths with a stray dog while competing in a 155-mile race through the Gobi Desert in China. The lovable pup, who would later earn the name Gobi, proved that what she lacked in size, she more than made up for in heart, as she went step for step with Dion keeping pace with him for 77 miles. As Dion witnessed the incredible determination and heart of this small animal, he found his own heart undergoing a change as well. Whereas in the past these races were all about winning and being the best, his goal now was to make sure he and Gobi's friendship continued well after the finish line. However, before he could take her home, Gobi went missing in the sprawling Chinese city where she was being kept. Dion, with the help of strangers and a viral outpouring of assistance on the internet, set out to track her down, and reunite forever with the amazing animal that changed his life and proved to him and the world that miracles are possible.

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