USA: travel books to read before you go


This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s USA guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

Democracy in AmericaThe American travelogue is its own literary genre. One could argue that the first (and still the best) is Democracy in America (1835), by Alexis de Tocqueville, who wandered around talking to folks, then in pithy fashion distilled the philosophical underpinnings of the then-new American experiment.

Ilf and Petrovs American Road TripAmerica is often most vividly described by non-Americans: two Russian satirists road-tripped during the Great Depression searching for the ‘real America’ (doesn’t everyone?), and their Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip (1935) is a comic masterpiece laced with pungent critiques.

The Air-Conditioned NightmareThose who prefer their commentary and humor, like their coffee, bitter and black should stuff The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945) by Henry Miller in their backpack, written while the irascible and notoriously obscene writer canvassed America during WWII.

Coast to CoastCelebrated travel writer and historian Jan Morris was clearly smitten with the country in Coast to Coast (1956), originally titled As I Saw the USA; it’s crisp, elegant and poignant, particularly her experience in the pre-Civil Rights–era South.

On the RoadPerhaps the most famous American travelogue is Jack Kerouac’s headlong On the Road (1957), a Beat Generation classic that’s full of hot jazz, poetry and drugs in post-WWII America.

Travels with CharleyJohn Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley (1962), about the novelist’s trek across America with his poodle for company, takes a critical look at how technology, tradition and prejudice have shaped the regional character of this country.

Blue HighwaysWritten during a crossroads in midlife, William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways (1982) is a moving pastiche of ‘average Americans’ as it follows one man’s attempt to find himself by losing himself on the road.

On the RezNot strictly a travelogue, On the Rez (2000), by Ian Frazier, provides a good taste of contemporary life on Native American reservations. It’s a journey of history and heart that goes into America, rather than across it.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.