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Top travel literature titles of 2012

By admin   12 January 2013 4:50am Europe/London

Throughout 2012 Lonely Planet staff rated and reviewed the travel literature titles they had read. If you’re in search of some inspiration – or just some plane reading – here are the top-rated books of the past year.

The Man Within My Head by Pico Iyer

Rating: 5 out of 5
Reviewed by Steve Waters
I can remember picking up Pico Iyer’s first travel offering, Video Night in Kathmandu,  from a stall on Bangkok’s Khao San Road, back in the glory days of Asia’s Banana Pancake Trail. The book had generated a buzz amongst travellers who saw Iyer, rightly or wrongly, as one of their own, traipsing the same ground, living the same dream. I eagerly devoured the book as I bludgeoned my way north from Xishuangbanna to Beijing and the tattered copy changed hands numerous times.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

On the Up by Nikki and Rob Wilson

Rating: 5 out of 5
Reviewed by David Gorvett
Co-authors of On the Up, co-founders of their own social venture (READ International) and generally inspirational characters, Nikki and Rob Wilson embarked on a trip in 2011 that would take them through 11 countries as they travelled over 8000 miles from Cape Town to Cairo. Their mission? To put the spotlight on change-makers throughout Africa, highlighting some of the amazing things happening across the continent – a refreshing alternative to the bad press that Africa often receives in the Western media (famine, civil unrest, disease and political instability being a few of the common themes).

Read the rest of the review here.

 

The Wayfinders by Wade Davis

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reviewed by Danny Heap
Wade Davis, anthropologist and also the grandly named Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic, has dedicated his life to chronicling the lives and cultures of Aboriginal people across the world. In The Wayfinders, which is a labour of love as well as work of literature, he uses all that experience, knowledge and insight to make an impassioned plea to humanity not to lose the ‘old ways’ and also sets out to try and answer the question of what it means to be human.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

AA Gill Is Further Away by AA Gill

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reviewed by Ben Handicott
Calling AA Gill a travel writer seems somehow inadequate. His pieces are a million miles from the standard roll-out of ‘went there, did that’ stuff that litters so much of the travel media.
Why? His writing brings two things together particularly well – vivid descriptions of place, and a sense of the deep affection he feels for people. His unique ability to combine these two elements provides a sharp and powerful insight into the destinations he writes about. Of course, there’s also the sheer pleasure of reading his words, which flow as if the writing was easy, no matter how much labour went into it. He is a writer. People who love to travel should read him; people who love critical writing should make it a priority.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

Crazy River by Richard Grant

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reviewed by Steve Waters
‘Money changes all the iron rules into rubber bands’, observed the esteemed Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński. Though he was referring to Iran, it could easily apply to Africa, a continent he covered in intimate detail across decades of upheavals. In a new millennium, another journalist, Grant, discovers that ‘a $5 bribe will get you a long way in Africa‘ as he tries to put some distance between himself and the beggars, thieves and whores of Stone Town, Zanzibar. Befriended by a crazy former golf pro, he’s shown a life rarely glimpsed by tourists.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reviewed by Angela Tinson
David Grann’s The Lost City of Z is a fascinating account of both early 20th-century Amazonian exploration and early 21st-century investigative journalism — both intriguing exercises of obsession.
Grann’s subject, Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett — British artillery officer, member of the Royal Geographical Society, surveyor, spy and anthropologist — ‘was the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose’.
Fawcett spent more than 20 years exploring the Amazon, at a time when exploration parties were often decimated by disease or starvation if they were not abducted or killed by local tribes, some of whom were rumoured to practise cannibalism. Over this period, Fawcett became obsessed with the idea of a large, complex civillisation, like the mythical El Dorado, lost in the Amazon. He secretively named his goal ‘Z’, and was determined to find and reveal it to the world.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

Visit Sunny Chernobyl and other adventures in the world’s most polluted places by Andrew Blackwell

Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed by Anita Isalska
A quest to experience the world’s most polluted places isn’t the classic travel dream. But anyone who has felt a macabre pull to an off-beat destination can relate to the passion driving Andrew Blackwell to tour nuclear fallout zones and bob around on criminally polluted rivers. Rejecting the magnetism of pristine beaches and untouched forests, Blackwell looks instead to places where humankind’s footprint is unmistakeable — and often horrifying.
But this is far from ‘disaster tourism’: Blackwell goes much further than rubber-necking and there isn’t a shade of environmental hand-wringing in the book. Blackwell doesn’t skimp on ugly details, but he does temper every squeamish moment with piercing insights.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka & Steven Weinberg

Rating:  4 out of 5
Reviewed by Steve Waters
When I last passed through Tombouctou, several decades ago, there was sand in the bread, sand in the rice, sand in the coffee and sand in the beer. It was not an easy place to reach, and the rigours of the journey far surpassed any dubious delights attained on arrival. Refreshingly, in this world of constant change, it appears some things remain the same.
Like all good travel yarns, To Timbuktu reaches it goal somewhat obliquely, and we meet Casey and Steven, our two young, soon-to-be-love-struck, American language students, in a cafe in Morocco. Love blossoms and within a few pages they’re living the traveller dream, teaching English in Beijing. What follows is a fascinating first-hand account of the highs, lows and sometimes just plain weirdness of being foreign teachers inside the Chinese school system in one of the world’s most dynamically changing cities.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

Heart of Dankness by Mark Haskell

Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed by Chad Parkhill
Heart of Dankness is a travelogue only by necessity; if Mark Haskell Smith had his way, he wouldn’t need to leave his home state of California to experience the specialised highs promised by Amsterdam’s competitive Cannabis Cup. Nor would he want you to have to leave your home town (or even your couch) for a similar experience. Since marijuana possession remains illegal throughout most of the world, however, Haskell Smith needs to travel to get his toke on. This is just as well, because his quixotic search for ‘dankness’ becomes a fascinating travelogue populated by a large cast of larger-than-life eccentrics united by their love of good dope.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit

Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed by Steve Waters
I’m fond of a good walk, particularly an extended one somewhere pristinely wet and remote like South West Tasmania. Jagged peaks, clothes-shredding scrub, thigh-deep bog and lonely west-coast sunsets are just some of the attractions. I do it because I enjoy the wilderness, the struggle, the solitude (well, most of the time). But why do I enjoy it?
Enter activist, writer and polymath Rebecca Solnit with Wanderlust, a collection of essays exploring the history of ‘walking for leisure’. Philosophers, writers, artists, poets, adventurers, cranks and visionaries are Solnit’s companions on this TARDIS-esque voyage of ambulation across the centuries. Solnit draws heavily on literature as we move from Rousseau’s Paris and Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen through Wordsworth’s Lake District and Dickens’ London to arrive at Wojnarowicz’s New York.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

In Praise of Savagery by Warwick Cairns

Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed by Jani Patokallio
In 1933, Wilfred Thesiger became the first white man to explore the legendary Sultanate of Aussa in what is today Ethiopia and live to tell the tale. Sixty years later, Warwick Cairns in In Praise of Savagery sets off in the same direction. Those are some mighty big boots to fill, and most attempts in this genre, where a travel writer traces the footsteps of an earlier, celebrated explorer or author while attempting to draw some pithy lessons out of it all, fall flat. Can he pull it off?

Read the rest of the review here.

 

Lessons From the Monk I Married by Katherine Jenkins

Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed by Claire Beyer
The ‘find yourself’ memoir/travelogue is not new to literature and has been accomplished very well by some and not so well by others. Katherine Jenkins’ story in Lessons From the Monk I Married is an honest and thoughtful memoir and although it traverses some of the clichés often found in this type of genre, it is ultimately an interesting and well-written tale.
Jenkins’ path gestates from a seemingly inconsequential exchange with a fellow worker at the Seattle gym where she works. The friend is leaving their workplace to follow her boyfriend to SeoulSouth Korea, where he has accepted a position teaching English. The seed is planted and Jenkins cannot remove South Korea from her mind.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

Brave Dragons by Jim Yardley

Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed by David Gorvett
Penned by Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Yardley, Brave Dragons is an original and insightful tale of the meeting of two very different cultures: East meets West, through the medium of basketball. Yardley’s own background and experience position him perfectly to act as observer and narrator of the experiment going on in one of the Chinese Basketball Association’s (CBA) floundering teams. As an American living in China for more than seven years, most of which was spent heading up the Beijing bureau of the New York Times, and a keen follower both of the basketball leagues in the States growing up and of the CBA since arriving in Beijing, Yardley was intrigued when he first heard that one of the CBA’s worst-performing teams was importing a former NBA coach to try and help turn things around, and attached himself to the team. He goes on the road with them, garners interviews with the eccentric owner (Boss Wang), league officials, interpreters and, of course, with Bob Weiss, the former NBA coach turned Head Coach of the Shanxi Brave Dragons. The result is a well-written and in-depth look at one of the most quickly developing of the BRIC nations, and a revealing analysis of the differences between the most powerful democracy in the world, and its Communist counterpart.

Read the rest of the review here.

Our list of top-rated books of 2011

And here you’ll find all of our book reviews online.