Reading the World, books for travelers

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“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page”. – St. Augustine

Reading can take you around the world from the comfort of your living room. For the traveler, books can give you an insight into the history and culture of a location before you visit.

Our travel plans inspire ambitious reading lists. I’m a fiction reader first, but try to balance my reading with nonfiction, memoirs and history.

The titles below are a good place to start your reading.

We only recommend books we have read, and felt enhanced our travel.

Note: Many of these books are available in Kindle versions. I will link to the Kindle eBook IF it’s available at a good price.  

(book synopsis from the publisher unless otherwise noted)

Books recommended for an African Safari

Books recommended for travel to Egypt and Jordan

Books recommended for travel to the U.S.

Books recommended for travel to Hawaii

Books for Travel to Europe

African Safari – favorite books

MEMOIR: South Africa Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
The world has lost a great man in Nelson Mandela, but his strength, principles, and sense of humor are captured in this autobiography.
FICTION – literature Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
The deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.  – from the Publisher
Kindle copy available
NONFICTION: South Africa
loved this book!
The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony
In 1998, Anthony purchased Thula Thula, “5,000 acres of pristine bush in the heart of Zululand, South Africa,” transforming a rundown hunters’ camp into a wild animal preserve and a center for eco-tourism. In 1999, Anthony agreed to take in a herd of “troubled” wild elephants, the first seen in the area in more than a century. Winning their trust, becoming deeply attached, and even learning how they communicate, Anthony took enormous risks in the form of enraged elephants, distrustful neighbors, and poachers. – Publishers Weekly
Kindle copy available
NONFICTION: Botswana The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Thomas was nineteen when her father took his family to live among the Bushmen of the Kalahari. Fifty years later Thomas returns to her experiences with the Bushmen, one of the last hunter-gatherer societies on earth, and discovers among them an essential link to the origins of all human society. – from the Publisher
Kindle copy available 
MEMOIR: Kenya Unbowed by Wangari Maathai
Unbowed is the moving and inspirational memoir of the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Unbowed charts Maathai’s development from a young girl in British Kenya to a divorced mother of three fighting to save her country from a dictator and his corruption.- from the Publisher
Audible copy available (free with trial)
MEMOIR: South Africa
Fun read to prepare for a safari!
The Wilderness Family by Kobie Kruger
Excellent memoir of a South African game warden family. You’ll laugh, cry and long for an African experience like Kruger’s.

NONFICTION: Zimbabwe When the Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin
Peter Godwin, a renowned journalist, grew up in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), the son of a doctor and policeman. In this book he presents the tragic decline of his home country under Mugabe’s dictatorship paralleling the decline of his parents as they age.

Guidebook Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair – a lightweight guide for most of the birds in Southern Africa.There were birding books at most of the game lodges but I was happy to have this book for my own notes and records.

Egypt & Jordan – favorite books

MYSTERY – easy read He Shall Thunder in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters
An easy introduction to Egypt starring the ever-popularAmelia Peabody in a pre-WW2 mystery.
Kindle copy available | Audible copy available
FICTION – literature Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
Family saga set in Cairo during the British occupation. [Mahfouz was the winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature.]

MEMOIR Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff  by Rosemary Mahoney
“Mahoney, who has been rowing for 10 year, brilliantly juxtaposes an account of her own palm-blistering hours on the Nile….with the diary entries of two Victorian travelers-Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale.”–Lisa Fugard, New York Times Book Review

FICTION – easy read The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran
This fictional account of the life of Nefertari and Ramesses the Great is an easy introduction to the time of the pharaohs
NONFICTION The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels by Janet Martin Soskice
Identical twin sisters, Agnes and Margaret Smith, travel extensively through parts of the world no “ladies” were expected to go and make one of the most important discoveries of modern time. The strength and intellect of these woman and the path that takes them towards their discovery make for an amazing read.
Kindle copy available
MEMOIR Leap of Faith by Queen Noor of Jordan
Queen Noor, the former Lisa Halabi, left the US and all she’d known to marry King Hussein of Jordan. Her story, and in particular, her perspective on the issues in the Middle East make this a must read book for anyone traveling to Jordan.


Italy  |  The Netherlands  |  Portugal |  Spain  |  Turkey

Turkey – our favorite books

FICTION -literature  Snow by Orhan Pamuk
A Turkish poet who spent 12 years as a political exile in Germany witnesses firsthand the clash between radical Islam and Western ideals in this enigmatically beautiful novel. – Publishers Weekly
NONFICTION Midnight at the Pera Palace by Charles King
 Istanbul sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and has been witness to remarkable history. In this book, Charles King brings to life the story of this city as it moved into the modern world. Written as a microhistory with the Pera Palace as its subject, this book is less about the elegant hotel than the city itself.
FICTION – literature Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières
In the small village of Eskibahçe everyone speaks Turkish, though they write it in Greek letters. De Bernières fills this weighty novel with intriguing characters – Armenians, Muslims, and Christians –  all ultimately effected by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
FICTION – easy read The Bastard of Istanbul  by Elif Shafak
Turkish novelist Shafak tackles Turkish national identity and the Armenian “question” in her signature style. The novel focuses on Kazanci women – Asya and her mother, Zeliha. The men of the Kazanci family either die young or disappear like Mustafa, Zeliha’s brother who emigrated to America. When Mustafa’s Armenian-American stepdaughter, Armanoush, who grew up on her family’s stories of the 1915 genocide, shows up in Istanbul  the Kazanci women lament her family’s suffering, but have no sense of Turkish responsibility for it… – Publishers Weekly
FICTION The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Set in the heart of the exotic Ottoman Empire during the first years of its chaotic decline, Michael David Lukas’ elegantly crafted, utterly enchanting debut novel follows a gifted young girl who dares to charm a sultan—and change the course of history, for the empire and the world
Kindle copy available

The Netherlands

MEMOIR The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
[The Diary of a Young Girl] is a record of a sensitive girl’s tragic experience during one of the worst periods in human history. This diary is so powerful that it leaves a deep impact on the mind of its readers.
Kindle copy available $0.99 !
a very scholarly book, not light reading
Van Gogh: a life by Steven Naifeh
Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith have written another tour de force—an exquisitely detailed, compellingly readable portrait of Vincent van Gogh. Working with the full cooperation of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Naifeh and Smith have accessed a wealth of previously untapped materials to bring a crucial understanding to the larger-than-life mythology of this great artist.
NONFICTION In the City of Bikes: the story of the Amsterdam cyclist by Peter Jordan
Pete Jordan is back with a memoir that tells the story of his love affair with Amsterdam, the city of bikes, all the while unfolding an unknown history of the city’s cycling, from the craze of the 1890s, through the Nazi occupation, to the bike-centric culture adored by the world today.
FICTION The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. Nella’s life unexpectedly changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish it, she engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie ways.
FICTION The Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
“Chevalier brings the real artist Vermeer and a fictional muse to life in a jewel of a novel.” 
—Time Magazine


BIOGRAPHY Michelangelo: a life in six masterpieces by Miles J. Unger
“Part biography, part art analysis and thoroughly tantalizing. By focusing on six works, presented in chronological order, Unger presents a portrait of the artist that gives a panoramic view of Michelangelo’s life but also focuses keenly on putting the artwork itself in context, giving readers the whys and wherefores that provide a rich, provocative understanding.” –Catherine Mallette The Star-Telegram 
BIOGRAPHY Bernini by Howard Hibbard
FICTION – easy read The Confessor by Daniel Silva
In Munich, a Jewish scholar is assassinated.  In Venice, Mossad agent and art restorer Gabriel Allon receives the news, puts down his brushes, and leaves immediately.  And at the Vatican, the new pope vows to uncover the truth about the church’s response to the Holocaust-while a powerful cardinal plots his next move.
FICTION – easy read Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
The explosive Robert Langdon thriller from Dan Brown…Embarking on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and the most secretive vault on earth, Professor Langdon and Scientist Vetra follow a 400-year-old trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome toward the long-forgotten Illuminati lair…a clandestine location that contains the only hope for Vatican salvation.
Kindle copy available | Audible copy available (free with trial)
FICTION – easy read The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell “Spectacular . . . Caldwell knows his Vatican, and in his detailed descriptions of hidden gardens, underground car parks, piazzas, dark lanes, tunnels and corridors, conjures up a strange and alien realm where hierarchy is all, secrets fester and multiply, deals are spun behind closed doors, and a murderer may be on the loose. . . . This superb Rubik’s Cube of a novel is the best of its kind, right up until the final shock and the pope’s dying wish. . . . Deliciously labyrinthine.” —Providence Journal
Kindle copy available | Audible copy available (free with trial)

United States

Hawaii  |  Massachusetts and New England  |  National Parks

Massachusetts & New England

NONFICTION Bunker Hill: a city, a siege, a revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick
The bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea, Valiant Ambition, and In the Hurricane’s Eye tells the story of the Boston battle that ignited the American Revolution, in this “masterpiece of narrative and perspective.” –Boston Globe
NONFICTION John Adams by David McCullough
The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling biography of America’s founding father and second president that was the basis for the acclaimed HBO series, brilliantly told by master historian David McCullough.
NONFICTION Dark Tide by Stephen Puleo
 In January, 1919, a fifty-foot tank filled with molasses exploded, sending waves of viscous goo through waterfront Boston and killing twenty-one people. Were Italian anarchists to blame or was it negligence by the tank’s owner, the United States Industrial Alcohol company? – The New Yorker
Kindle copy available | Audible copy available
FICTION The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
Set in Boston during and after WWI, this engrossing epic brings alive a pivotal period in our cultural maturation through a pulsing narrative that exposes social turmoil, political chicanery and racial prejudice, and encompasses the Spanish flu pandemic, the Boston police strike of 1919 and red-baiting and anti-union violence. – Publishers Weekly
Kindle copy available | Audible copy available (free with trial)
A personal favorite!
The Outermost House by Henry Beston
A chronicle of a solitary year spent on a Cape Cod beach, The Outermost House has long been recognized as a classic of American nature writing. Kindle copy available | Audible copy available (free with trial)
FICTION Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The classic novel follows the lives of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March—detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood, and is loosely based on the author and her three sisters. It has been read as a family drama that validates virtue over wealth, but also as a means of escaping that life by women who knew its gender constraints only too well. – Amazon
NONFICTION Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick
Mayflower rethinks the events and players that gave rise to a national mythology about Pilgrims living harmoniously with their Indian neighbors. Instead, Philbrick tells a story of ethnic cleansing, bloody wars, environmental ruin, and the deterioration of English-Indian relations.  Mayflower provides a harrowing account of survival and, despite its grim themes, a celebration of courage. – Bookmarks Magazine


NONFICTION Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen by Liliuokalani
The Hawaiian kingdom’s last monarch wrote her biography in 1897, the year before the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands by the United States. Her story covers six decades of island history told from the viewpoint of a major historical figure.Kindle copy available $0.99 !!
Very readable!
The Last Aloha by Gaelien Quinn
How did Hawaii become part of America? n 1886, Laura Jennings travels to Hawaii to live with missionary relatives. When she arrives in Honolulu, she’s surprised to find her relatives are among the wealthy elite plotting to overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy. The last Queen, Lili-uokalani, wages a tragic struggle to save the Kingdom.
Kindle copy available
FICTION Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i.
Kindle copy available | Audible copy available (free with trial)
FICTION Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport
Beginning with the fateful meeting of a nineteenth-century Yankee sailor and the runaway daughter of a Tahitian chief, and sweeping over a century and a half of passionate, turbulent Hawaiian history, Shark Dialogues takes its place as the first novel to do justice to the rich heritage and cruel conflicts of the beautiful and beleaguered islands and their people. At its center are Pono, the magnificent pure-blooded matriarch and seer, and her four mixed-blood granddaughters seeking to come to terms with the contradictions of their ancestries and the hungers of their hearts.
Kindle copy available
FICTION Hawaii by James A Michener
Pulitzer Prize–winning author James A. Michener brings Hawaii’s epic history vividly to life in a classic saga that has captivated readers since its initial publication in 1959.

U.S. National Parks

MEMOIR/ TRAVELOGUE Lassoing the Sun by Mark Woods “In this remarkable journey, Mark Woods captures the essence of our National Parks: their serenity and majesty, complexity and vitality–and their power to heal.” –Ken Burns
TRAVELOGUE Dear Bob and Sue by Matt and Karen Smith “The story of our (Matt and Karen Smith) journey to all 59 U.S. National Parks. We wrote the book as a series of emails to our friends, Bob and Sue, in which we share our humorous and quirky observations. …We did not intend for this book to be a travel guide nor a recommendation for how to visit all 59 of the U.S. National Parks… Rather, it is our story about how we did it.” Kindle copy available FREE with Prime membership.

Recommended Links for Traveling Readers

My Travel Bookshelf on GoodReads

Around the World in 80 Books by Shelbi Westcott

Taleaway by Ash – wonderful reading suggestions for many countries

A Year of Reading the World by Ann Morgan

Reading the World, fiction and nonfiction for travelers and those just dreaming of travelingBooks set in destinations around the world. Titles only recommended if they enhanced our travel experience.

This article may contain referral links. Read our DISCLOSURE.

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