Vicarious Travel: ten of my favourite books

When choosing a book to read, I tend to start in the non-fiction aisle. I then browse through the history and travel sections, looking for somewhere to “travel” to. And most of the time I gravitate towards something focused on the regions of Central or South Asia.

I am not an expert on this part of the world by any means, but I have read a number of books on these regions. Here is a list of ten of my favourites, in no particular order:

Note: Click on the pictures to see the books on Amazon.co.uk

1. The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia by Peter Hopkirk. This is one of my all-time favourites. I first read it as a teenager. It was one of the first books I ever read on the region and it has captured my imagination ever since. It is easy to read and often feels more like a novel than a work of non-fiction. It helps to give an understanding of the region and how it was shaped by the struggle between the British and Russian empires.

2. Images of Afghanistan by Josette McMichael. This is a broad collection of works of Afghan culture, including literature, music and art. This is a beautiful book that gives insight into the country of Afghanistan as shown by indigenous cultural expression. This is valuable as so many other works about the country give only the perspectives of outsiders.

3. Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World by Christina Lamb. Christina Lamb has made many trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout many different periods of history. The network of relationships she built and the stories she tells gives her writing a unique insight into a very complicated but important political situation.

4. Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan by William Dalrymple. I love William Dalrymple’s writing, and could have included any of his books (most of which are about India) on this list. I chose this one because it tells the story of British intervention in Afghanistan in the 1800s and draws eerie parallels with subsequent interventions there.  This is not the first book to tell this story, but Dalrymple’s masterful storytelling and use of Afghan accounts of the conflict make it stand out.

5. Afghan Modern by Robert D. Crews. This book is a little bit different than other books I’ve come across on Afghanistan, and its unique perspective makes it well worth a read. The book is based on the idea that Afghanistan is and has always been shaped by globalisation and international connections. To view it as an isolated time-capsule strangely trapped in time would be a mistake, even though this is what many who write about the country do.

6.  by Melinda J. Lewis. This is the account of an American doctor and his family living in Afghanistan. It is honest and gripping, humorous and heartbreaking. Unlike the other books on my list which explore broader historical and political themes, this book tells the stories of real, “ordinary” people.

7. The Baburnama in English Memoirs of Babur. This is not exactly a page-turner, but if you love history as I do, you may find it an interesting read. An autobiography by the Moghul Emperor Babur, the Baburnama gives fascinating insights into the history of the region and is surprisingly candid, honest and human.

8. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. This is not a light read by any means as its coverage of world history is expansive. What makes it unique is that it is written from a very different perspective than the Euro-centric history that westerners are generally exposed to and familiar with. Rather than Greece and Rome, it places Iran at the centre of the world and explores the events in the world’s history from this angle.

9. Walking the Himalayas by Levison Wood. This is much lighter than many of the history books that I tend to read, but I loved it. Travel writer Levison Wood gives the account of his walk from Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor through Northern Pakistan, India, Nepal  and finally Bhutan. For those of us who can’t do a trip like this ourselves but wish they could, it is a great read!

10. On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope. Reading this book was another vicarious journey for me. I was absolutely blown away by the audacity and courage of this young Australian who rode on horseback from Eastern Mongolia all the way to Hungary in a journey that took over three years. One of the best travel/explorer books I have ever read.

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29 thoughts on “Vicarious Travel: ten of my favourite books

  1. Very interesting collection! I have read a couple of them, though I am not a pure history buff, preferring historical fiction. Have you read Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush? I remember reading it years ago, it had me rolling on the floor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually haven’t read it but have had it recommended to me before. I’ll have to put it on my “to read” list 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion.

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      1. I’m currently reading books set around India. The goal is one from each of the 29 states and 7 union territories. Your blog post fits perfectly into the kind of “travel” reading I do – bookmarked it for now. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Really an interesting list. Who would have thought so many English sounding authors are writing about Afghanistan… past and present.
    I think James A Michener’s Caravans was about Afghanistan… I read that, many years ago. I don’t remember the book… but I do remember the soundtrack to the movie… I still listen to it on occasion!
    I will have to read some of these… thanks for enlightening us! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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