Friday, July 27, 2012


Sara reading her kindle in Turkey

Reading books about the places we visit is one of my favorite parts of traveling -- it brings both the book and the place to life!  I have been collecting recommendations for years and have done my best to read a book about all of the countries we have visited.  Below is a list of the books I have read on the trip.  I already have a list of more than twenty other books about these countries that I am excited to read when I get home.  If you can't be in the country the next best thing is reading about it!  


Australia - In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson:  Australia is home to more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, even riptides and deserts.  Bryson did a great job of walking the reader through the many sides of Australia and Australians and of never letting you forget how close you are to something that could kill you!  Although he can be a bit long-winded at times, Bryson so frequently described the exact places that we were visiting that I couldn’t put the book down.

ThailandBangkok 8 by John Burdett:  This was a murder mystery and a very quick read.  The story itself was good, but it was the detailed descriptions of life in Bangkok that were my favorite part.

VietnamDerailed in Uncle Ho's Victory Garden by Tim Page:  Page was a photographer during the Vietnam War.  Twenty years after the end of the war, Page returned to the country to document the changes while recounting his experiences during the war.  Page traveled throughout Vietnam and I found myself in many of the same cities he visited.  Not the most well-written book, but still an eye-opening read.

Cambodia - First they Killed my Father by Loung Ung:  Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five. Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city, forcing Ung's family to flee and eventually to disperse. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans. Her siblings were sent to labor camps, and those who survived the horrors would not be reunited until the Khmer Rouge was destroyed.  An unbelievably heart-wrenching book, but I am so glad I read it.

Sri LankaSiddhartha by Herman Hesse:  I had read this years before in school, but as we traveled to the Buddhist country of Sri Lanka I thought it would be a good book to refresh me on some aspects of the religion.  I really enjoyed it!

IndiaShantaram by Gregory David Roberts:  A true story, Shantaram is narrated by Roberts, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees a maximum security prison in Australia for Mumbai, India.  Robert lives amongst Bombay's hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries.  Although we didn’t travel to Mumbai on this trip, the book gave me wonderful insights into India and its people. A must-read whether you are traveling to India or not!

NepalInto Thin Air by Jon Krakauer:  I remember reading this book and absolutely loving it when I was younger.  In fact, I loved it so much that I proceeded to read the rest of Krakauer’s books.  This book tells the story of Krakauer’s Everest climb, which coincided with the 1996 Everest tragedy.  The book describes in detail the tragic events from his perspective.  While it is an excellent book, as I read it for the second time I realized that it isn’t inspiring at all.  While I did enjoy reading it on the mountain, my other Everest read (No Shortcuts to the Top) was by far my favorite.

NepalNo Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs:  Awesome book!  Viesturs is inspiring, and his story of climbing the world’s 14 highest peaks is amazing.  He does an excellent job of going into detail about his experiences and in doing so, makes you feel like you could almost be right there with him.  Learning about the nitty-gritty (i.e. how do they go to the bathroom at 27,000 ft.) is so interesting.  Read it!

ChinaDreams of Joy by Lisa See:  A fictional story set during Mao’s Red China and Cultural Revolution.  Although the characters aren’t real, See did extensive research about this period in China and paints a very detailed portrait of what the country was like.  Visiting the Propaganda Poster Art Centre in Shanghai after reading this book was really memorable.

Russia - Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie:  The story of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov and their five children as Imperial Russia fell.  Massie’s writing is backed up by years and years of research, and this book really gives you a glimpse of life in Russia at the turn of the century.  If you like stories about royal families you will love this book!

Russia - The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie:  After publishing  Nicholas and Alexandra additional information came out about the death of the Romanovs.  In this book Massie lays out all of the evidence, discusses the many conspiracies about the Royal family, and brings everything to an excellent ending point.  If you like Nicholas and Alexandra, this is a great follow-up.

TurkeyBirds without Wings by Louis de Bernieres:  Often called the War and Peace of Turkey, this is a wonderful book that combines a fictional story about life in Turkey with factual information about the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900’s. 

Botswana and Namibia - The Old Way: A Story of the First People by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas:  A fantastic book!  In the 1950's Marshall and her family became some of the first Westerners to live with the Bushmen.  In this book Marshall looks closely at the skills and customs of the hunter-gatherer Bushmen.  She points out the ways in which some of the skills (like hunting) still manifest themselves today, while others (like understanding the use of plants) is fading.

South Africa - Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela:  A long but very worthwhile read.  In prison Mandela began recording the story of his life, but it wasn't until 1994 that it was finally published.  The book provides a glimpse into the life of Mandela as well as the long and unbelievably  difficult fight to end apartheid.

Jordan - Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldersman:  Very insteresting book!  The story of a New Zealand woman who traveled to Petra in 1978 and met and married a local Bedouin.  They had three children and lived together in a Petra Cave until the 1990's.  Their life was full of adventure and she helps you imagine what it would be like to live in the midst of the Petra ruins.   


  1. I love this post because I do the same thing! If you're looking for books about New Zealand, consider the Bone People, Once Were Warriors or the Happy Isles of Oceania.

    And if you have any suggestions for my upcoming trip to Croatia, I'd love to hear them!!

    1. Thanks for these NZ recommendations!! I am going to take a look at each of them and read one of them for my next book. I don't have a Croatia recommendation, but will let you know if I hear of a good one.