If you’ve ever wanted to try and get some understanding of the whole “Middle East situation” as it particularly pertains to Israel, there is no better place to start than Gordis’s superb historical narrative Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn.
Indonesia, Etc. is an intelligently written travelogue doused in sociological observations gathered from 13 months' travelling through the sprawling archipelago and islands of the world's fourth most populous country. Able to also draw on extensive periods of time previously spent living in the country, Pisani showcases the history and people's of this extremely diverse and complex country, and goes some way to explaining how this kaleidoscopic nation has been able to remain united for so long.
At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: A Riotous Journey into the Heart of Paraguay is an extremely comprehensive and wry look at more than 500 years of Paraguayan history. In what was Gimlette's first travel literature book, he has shown a wonderful eye for the absurd and fascinating and put together what in all likelihood is the best all round book on Paraguay's unique history that exists today.
The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War is a remarkable historical travelogue that blends the life of Gavrilo Princep, the man who shot dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand Karl Ludwig Josef von Habsburg-Lothringen in 1914, thereby setting in motion events that started the First World War, with that of the author's own experiences and memories from time spent reporting on the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995. Delivering a lively history lesson that reaches far beyond a simple retelling of the assassination, The Trigger is essential reading for anyone interested in Balkan and World War I history.
Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka is an unforgettable travelogue centred around a wide range of vignettes assembled by Gimlette as he travels around the country formerly known as Ceylon. Providing a wealth of information on the country's ancient history, colonial era and most especially its civil war, this book provides a great primer for anyone looking to visit the country and understand why it is indeed, paradise damaged.
The Dead Yard ain't no usual travel book, oh no, but I love it. Part social commentary, travelogue and historical account of the Jamaica that exists behind the sand, sun and sex that most tourists only ever experience, this is an impressively comprehensive and accessible narrative of a country still struggling to break free of the slavery shackles binding Jamaicans today via its class and racial divides.
New Europe by Michael Palin is the companion book to the TV-series of the same name which was filmed in 2006 and early 2007. As the name suggests, Palin visits those countries in what used to be called Eastern Europe, as they look increasingly to the west and inclusion within the European Union. Told with Palin's usual witty style, this is an enjoyable whirlwind tour that takes you through 20 countries that once were on the other side of the iron curtain.
From the Holy Mountain is a superb travelogue of Dalrymple’s 1994 journey in the present day Middle East, as he frequents places visited in the late 6th century by the medieval Monk, John Moschos in what was then the Byzantine Empire. Delivering a splendid account of how Christian communities have been impacted over time as Islam has ascended to become the predominant religion, Dalrymple’s story is a reminder of the importance that Christianity used to play in this region and that is in danger of being completely erased from this part of the world.
Where Soldiers Fear to Tread is an extremely interesting and frightening account of Burnett's time working for the United Nations during the 1998 flood relief operations in Somalia. Whilst mostly a first person story about the difficulties and experiences he endures, Burnett also provides an indictment on how the UN treats those in the field, as well as the issue of Western aid that is sure to have you questioning the role of foreign intervention in third world countries.
In Xanadu is a superb first travelogue by William Dalrymple, which describes his 1986 retracing of Marco Polo's journey from Jerusalem to Inner Mongolia in present day China. Dalrymple's amazingly ambitious journey via the Silk Road is a sheer delight to read and provides a wealth of historical information and no small amount of humour for us to enjoy along the way.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time is a perfect blend of the author’s personal travelogue from trips taken in 2009 and historical information of the “discovery” of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham III. Written with a keen eye for detail and in humourous fashion, this is must read for anybody considering hiking the Inca Trail or visiting Machu Picchu, as it also provides a wealth of information not just on Machu Picchu itself but also on other surrounding archaeological sites and trails.
If you don't know your Baltics from from your Balkans, then Balkan Ghosts is the book for you. Well known travel journalist Robert D. Kaplan wrote this, his third book, from his travels and experiences across the Balkan Peninsula in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and immediately prior to the Yugoslav Wars that began in 1991.
Preston writes an amazing story of the history and archaeological discovery of the White City (La Ciudad Blanca) situated deep within the Honduran jungle. Since the earliest day of Hernan Cortes in the early 16th century, there has always circulated rumours of a hidden city nicknamed the Lost City of the Monkey God which would bestow wealth beyond all imagination for anyone who could find it. Preston’s story provides the long history of those who have sought their fortune trying to find this fabled city along with his own search in this inhospitable and dangerous part of the world.
Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea is not, as the title might suggest, a travel book, but rather a geopolitical discourse on a a crucial period in the Horn of Africa's history. At its heart this is predominantly a story of the modern history of Ethiopia between 1984 and 1987 during which the western media beamed in images of a drought-scarred landscape and heart-rending famine scenes that led to the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert which I can still recall some thirty years later.