The 100 Most Celebrated Travel Books of All Time: The Fine Print

Travel Books: The semi-scientific making of our list, explained

06.15.10 | 8:45 AM ET

Like most travel publications, we’ve published our picks for the top travel books of all time. But our list, like all the others, represents only one point of view. So, we wondered, how could we be more comprehensive? We decided to do something different, to offer a wider look at the most popular, most critically acclaimed, most enduring—in other words, to honor the world’s 100 most celebrated travel narratives.

MORE: The 100 Most Celebrated Travel Books of All Time: The List | Mapped | By the Numbers | Five Great Covers

We started by digging up every “best travel books” list we could find, including everyone from glossy print mags to independent bloggers. We tallied the votes from the source lists, and pruned a few entries that didn’t qualify as “travel books” for our purposes—atlases, guidebooks or other reference books, and works of fiction or poetry. We cut multi-author anthologies, and we also made a distinction between two types of single-author essay collections: Those made up of essays written separately, over time, like Jan Morris’s “The World,” and those written as a set, like Pico Iyer’s “Video Night in Kathmandu.” The former we cut, and the latter we kept.

Every book with multiple votes—67 in all—made the list. That left more than 150 books with a single vote each, and 33 slots left in our top 100. We made our final selections using three criteria:

1) Did a single author have multiple titles with a single vote each? Freya Stark, for instance, had five books represented—tying Paul Theroux, Norman Lewis and Jonathan Raban for the most entries—but none of them garnered multiple votes. We figured she warranted inclusion, and the bulk of the remaining spots on our list were filled up using this sort of calculation.

2) Was the book a bestseller? Call it readers voting with their wallets. A few of the highest-selling travel books of all time—among them, Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”—made the list this way.

3) For the final few spots, we used a combination of gut instinct, unscience and editorial magic.

The end result of all this? A pretty-darn-comprehensive look at the travel books that travel writers, editors, bloggers and readers love best. Did your favorites make it in? Beg to differ about the geographical placement of a particular title on our map? Appalled—appalled!—that we didn’t include “On the Road”? Browse the map, check out our favorite book covers and dive into this by-the-numbers breakdown of the final list, and then get back to us in the comments.

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