An Appendix – noteworthy books on travel and cultures

This is a very small selection of our books, covering some particular high points. Books marked with (*) are exceptional to us; some of the books are old and perhaps valuable, hard to buy but perhaps found in libraries. The publishers and years of publication are easy to dig up.


Great travel books, not guides but stellar stories

(*) The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russell Wallace – incredible and difficult adventures across Malaysia and Indonesia in the mid-1800s, in search of patterns of life, which led to the theory of evolution

Neither Here nor There; In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson – travel in Australia, with humor ranging from dry to scathing, and hilariously self-deprecating

(*) Ring of Fire, by Lawrence Blair with Lorne Blair – travels on a shoestring to make documentaries of the cultures in Indonesia, to the outermost islands

(*) Archipelago, Gavin Daws and Marty Fujita – the most beautiful images and storytelling about the places traversed by Alfred Russell Wallace in the mid-1850s

Mountain Light, by Galen Rowell – narrative of travel in Tibet, with exceptional images and cultural stories

China, by Alison Bailey et al. (DK, NY – so you can find it among many similarly titled books) – telling images

Strong Brown God: The Story of the Niger River, by Sanche Gramont – ancient kingdoms, explorers intrepid or foolish

(*) The Centre: the Natural History of Australia’s Desert Regions – the exotic nature comes through in great writing and imagery; it makes one want to go there tomorrow; alas, we never got there when we were in Australia six times

First Contact, by Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson – the first Europeans meet the people of Papua New Guinea in the 1930s!

Brazilian Adventure, by Ian Fleming – yes, Fleming; stories of the search for Col. Fawcett, lost while seeking a legendary city in the Amazon

(*) In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson – an eclectic, idiosyncratic book, with laugh-out-loud pieces, a loving picture of Australia

(*) Neither Here nor There, by Bill Bryson – a similarly engaging and often hilarious book about making his way in Europe with no “support”

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby – only a month or so, but evocative of the most trying kinds of camping, mixed with deep sections on cultures and political geography

(*) West with the Night,by Beryl Markham – the musings, adventures, and spirit of a pioneering woman pilot in Kenya (who also was the first person to solo across the Atlantic east to west!).  Her closeness to nature and to the people of Kenya, native and white, is ever-present.  And writing that humbled Hemingway – he said so himself


Great nature books – stories, guidebooks

A Natural History of Australia, by Tim M. Berra

Last Chance to See, by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine -the surrealist author and friend see some of the last wild creatures alive

(*) The Variety of Life, by Colin Tudge – it’s deeply scientific while covering the evolution of every kind of organism in a vast story of how we are all related, through some very long chains, on figures that fold out in series

Wild Animals of the World, by Mary Baker and William Bridges – a very old book (1948) that ignited my passion to see the wild animals of Africa; I read it about 500 times

(*) Colors of the Deep, by Jeffrey L. Rotman – coral reef life up close and out of this world (unfortunately nearly so)

(*) Coral Kingdoms, by Carl Roessler – a kindred book

(*) Chameleons, by James Martin and Art Wolfe – a panoply of colors, of course, and a lot of natural history

(*) The Ancestor’s Tale, by Richard Dawkins – not images or natural history of today’s life, but the deep stories of our relatedness, told in the form of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

(*) On Human Nature, by Edward O. Wilson – an explanation of who and what we are, derived from an incredible depth of natural history and evolution; upsetting to those who put us apart from nature and deny our family tree going back to bacteria

Krakatoa 1883, the Volcanic Eruption and its Effects, by Tom Simkin and Richard S. Fiske- need we say more? It’s a hefty, large-format paperback

(*) Hummingbirds of the Caribbean, by Quesada Tyrrell and Robert A. Tyrrell – photos of unbelievable beauty, accompanied by text packed with great information about natural history to physiology to feeding to ecology


Great books about cultures, old and new

The Rediscovery of Ancient Egypt, by Peter A. Clayton – reproductions of classic, dreamworthy watercolors imbedded in a story line

Mysteries of Ancient Egypt, by Lorna Oakes and Lucia Gahlin – there are many coffee table books about Egypt; this one is so well done, with writing in depth

The Lost Cities of Africa, by Basil Davidson – noble and sad stories

The Flame Trees of Thika, by Elspeth Huxley – a culturally sensitive set of stories by a young English girl in colonial Kenya; made into a BBC TV series worth watching on DVDs

Royal Art of Benin, by the Metropolitan Museum of Art – bronze castings of exquisite form, culturally charged

(*) The Dance, Art and Ritual of Africa, by Michel Muet – eye-popping color imagery from the intact village life

(*) Africa Adorned, by Angel Fisher -jewelry and clothing to leave you in awe

(*) Ndebele, by Margaret Courtney-Clarke – the vivid decorations in primary colors of this marginalized people of South Africa

I, the Aboriginal, by Douglas Lockwood and Ainslee Roberts – the whole story of an original Australian who joined the white culture but kept his own

Sacred Places in Australia, by James Cowan and Colin Beard – a bit too missionary, but presenting the ancient art and practice held in stone

Monuments of the Incas, by John Hemming and Edward Ramsey – Machu Picchu, and far more, with fine B&W photos and deep historical detail

(*) The Trans-Australian Wonderland, by A. G. Bolan – a railroad stationmaster in isolated Ooldea along the Sydney to Perth railroad, with natural history and very empathetic recounting of the Aboriginal people around him

Ethnic Minorities in Vietnam, by Dang Nghiem Van, Chu Thai Son, and Luu Hung – there are 51 minorities with fascinating stories, customs, and dress; we had rewarding homestays with 5

(*) A Proper Woman, by Thavry Than – survival and triumph in the chaotic and vicious days of the Khmer Rouge and US invasion

(*) Les Papous, by Malcolm Kirk – the amazing body decorations of the New Guinea Highlanders; we bought a ceremonial slate axe from the man whom we later found on page 54!

Splendors of Imperial Japan, by Joe Earle – art of all kinds, depicted elegantly

(*) Ethnic Jewelry, by Michel Butor and Pierre-Alain Ferrazzini – a jaw-dropping large-format book

Oriental Treasures in the Mediterranean, by Henri Stierlin – Islamic architecture is unmatched

(*) The Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant – an incomparable book, weaving together the story of guerilla environmentalism, the culture of the people of Haida Gwaii, European traders, and mega-corporations

Stolen Continents, by Ronald Wright – yep, our North America all the way to South America

(*) Ancient Lands, Ancestral Places, by Paul Logsdon – photos, many aerial, of the ancient Pueblo sites, evocative of the way of life and the swirling changes engulfing the people

Japan Design, eds. Tanaka Ikko and Koike Kazuke – modern Japanese work, from practical to artistic, or, really, both

(*) The Scrutable East, by Robert Trumbull – had political leaders in the US and Europe understood what this journalist found in his life in Asia everyone would have been spared the immense trauma of 20th-century wars in Asia

Head Hunting in the Solomon Islands, by Caroline Mytinger – a woman watercolorist and friend range far and wide to capture portraits

All of the Culture Shock X books, such as Culture Shock France – how to be there and not be embarrassed

Aboriginal Art, by Wally Caruna – contemporary creations from an ancient culture

(*) Ichikawa Ennosuke IV, by Nagatsuka Seishi – photos of a famed kabuki actor in many roles and costumes. In Japanese. We bought it in Tokyo at the kabuki theater. ISBN 978-4-7562-4740-7

(*) Kabuki: A Guide to the Kabuki Costumes, by the Shochiku Kabuki Division – Fantastic images of costumes and sets. If only I could find an ISBN number! It’s in both Japanese and English. NII Bibliography ID (NCID) BB22912399. Available from booksellers online.

(*) Made in Japan, by Shinya Maezaki and Masako Yamamoto – a wealth of detail on ancient crafts still practiced in Japan, with beautiful pictures and engaging explanations of the processes


Great guide books

East Africa: A Travel Guide, by Alan Magary and Kerstin Fraser Magary – outdated, 1975, but this lit our fire to be there

… and almost any guidebook on Kenya, a country to immerse yourself in

(*) Tropical Plants of Costa Rica, by Willow Zuchowski – never have we seen a book filled with such incredible information and fine color photos

(*) Ancient Angkor, by Michael Freeman and Clause Jacques – we bought this from a poor vendor at Angkor; the images burn themselves into your mind

(*) Atlas Obscura, by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton – about 1,000 offbeat places around the world; we must go offbeat a lot, as we have been to 113 of them

(*) Sulawesi, Island Crossroads of Indonesia, eds. Toby Alice Volkman and Ian Caldwell – people, landscapes, fauna and flora in beguiling images and text

(*) Cameroon Today, by Anne Debel – dated, now, but it inspired us to go to Cameroon in 1980; the pictures are just like what we saw, and far more

All the Lonely Planet guidebooks


Great books of several other types

(*) Science and Scientists in the Netherlands Easts Indies, eds. Pieter Honig and Frans Verdoorn – incredible depth of work, evocative of the conditions of Indonesia

(*) Australia the Untamed Land, by Richard Waldendorp – Spectacular pictures, many aerial, giving an overwhelming sense of the vastness of wild land and sea

(*) The Times Atlas of the World, by the London Times – a huge book to lose oneself in for hours

Perfect Spy, by Larry Berman – the story of Pham Xuan An, hired by the US but a singularly effective spy for the Vietnamese, respected by friend and foe alike

Album Mondial de al Peinture Naïve, by Max Fourny – naïve paintings to make one dream

(*) Bill Reid, by Doris Shadbolt – stunning works of Haida-style art by a man who rediscovered his heritage, with both stories intertwined

(*) Susan Point, Coast Salish Artist, ed. Gary Wyatt, by Michael Kew et al. – never have we seen work in so many media that take your breath away

Northern Images, by Gunther Deichmann and Tim Cope – the landscapes, the people, the wild elements of the Top End of Australia

(*) Earth From Above, 365 Days, by Jan Aarhus-Bertrand, one of several in a series – aerial imagery around the world, with biting commentary on human activities harming the planet

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, ed. Lorna Price, photos by Kaz Tsuruta – excellent photos and illuminating text, on art from the Near East to Japan