The Best Travel Books of 2010

Travel Books: Frank Bures surveys the year's most intriguing titles and offers a few gift ideas

12.09.10 | 12:10 PM ET

Until last spring, when the unpronounceable volcano (Eyjafjallajökull) exploded in Iceland, it seemed like we’d almost forgotten that we are a world on the move. But with airspace over parts of Europe shut down for nearly a month, we were reminded of just how much travel has become a part of modern life, how much we depend on planes, trains and automobiles to get us from one place to another. Similarly, some writers still remind us there is magic in travel. Here are some of the books from 2010 that do that best.

Country Driving by Peter Hessler

Several in this year’s literary travel highlights were road books. Peter Hessler’s “Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory” is a brilliant evocation of modern China and its conundrum, as Hessler drives far into the now-emptied empire. (Related: World Hum interview with Hessler and book excerpt.)

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier

A bit to the north, humorist Ian Frazier takes us along on several forays into the Russian hinterlands in “Travels in Siberia,” a masterpiece of humor and exploration, with Frazier serving as the best possible companion.

The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman

Carl Hoffman’s fate-tempting title, “The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World Via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes,” is not the “Jackass” knockoff it sounds like, but rather a thoughtful look at the lengths average people go to simply to get around. (Related: World Hum interview with Hoffman and book excerpt.)

Boozehound by Jason Wilson

Travel writers, like the rest of the world, are also becoming more aware of what they put in their mouth, and several of this year’s best offerings reflect that. In “Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits,” Jason Wilson searches the world for the secrets behind old, regal liquors, lambasts the “vodkatini,” champions Chartreuse, and provides recipes for his favorite cocktails.

A Moveable Feast, edited by Don George

Meanwhile, in the non-Hemingway category, the venerable travel editor and writer Don George has collected tales of food and travel in his new anthology, “A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Adventures Around the World.” The collection features everyone from celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain to World Hum coeditor Jim Benning and contributors Pico Iyer, Doug Mack, Larry Habegger and Elizabeth Eaves.

What I Eat by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio

But perhaps the most interesting food-travel book is neither of those, exactly. Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio’s “What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets” is a brilliant look at what and how the world eats. The two traveled to about 30 countries, photographed 80 people and had them lay out all the food they eat in a typical day: pickled cabbage in China, cornmeal porridge in Kenya, seal meat in Greenland. Besides the centerpiece shots of the people and their meals, there are lush daily-life photos, as well as essays by Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan and others throughout the book.

The Travel Book, edited by Roz Hopkins

A few other good gift books for the traveler—armchair or otherwise—are the Lonely Planet’s bigger and better edition of “The Travel Book,” a giant slab of wanderlust-inducing photos that takes you through every country in the world by way of a two-page spread and a bullet-pointed list of things there to see, books to read, when to go, etc.

The Best Art You’ve Never Seen by Julian Spalding

Also in the vein, and probably one of the most fascinating and important of such books, is Julian Spalding’s “The Best Art You’ve Never Seen,” which lists works of genius such as the Jean-Baptiste Pigalle sculpture “Voltaire Naked,” the John Singer Sargent painting “Gassed,” or the Chinese “Mogao Caves,” and other “hidden gems” that few people venture off the trail to see.

The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Jennifer Steil

Meanwhile, in the fish-out-of-water department, Jennifer Steil’s “The Woman Who Fell From the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen” is an entertaining and insightful look at her year spent working at the Yemen Observer amid the Danish cartoon scandal, which her paper published.

The Wave by Susan Casey

For the more science-minded traveler, Susan Casey’s “The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean” takes readers on a high-octane trip in search of the world’s giant waves, while also unpacking the fascinating mysteries behind them.

Book Lust to Go by Nancy Pearl

But if these aren’t enough, this year even the Nation’s librarian, Nancy Pearl, has gotten the travel bug, and has come out with a book just for traveling readers: “Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers,” which has recommendations for travel books to read for just about every place on Earth, so no matter where you go, you’ll have pages of travel before you.


Frank Bures is a contributing editor at World Hum, where his stories have won several awards. More of his work can be found at frankbures.com.


10 Comments for The Best Travel Books of 2010

Suzanne 12.10.10 | 4:38 AM ET

Thanks Frank!  I loved reading “Country Driving” and all the rest are now on my “must have” list.  You found so many I hadn’t known about so thanks again!

Desiree 12.11.10 | 9:44 PM ET

I would love to read Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia. Seems to be an interesting book to read on my free time

santafetraveler 12.19.10 | 7:35 PM ET

Thanks for sharing your travel book list. Some interesting books I’ll have to check out.

Michael Kerr 12.23.10 | 12:33 PM ET

Not a bad list, but more of a US Hum than a World Hum.
  No room for Jonathan Raban, that British resident of Seattle, and his wonderful collection of essays, Driving Home?
  Or for Ian Sinclair’s The Dead Yard, a gritty look at modern Jamaica? See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/artsandculture/travelbooks/7881055/The-Dead-Yard-wins-Dolman-Book-Award.html

Frank Bures 12.23.10 | 1:38 PM ET

Good point, Michael. The Dead Yard looks excellent, but doesn’t come out in the US (where I’m based) until 2011. Driving home was published here in 2005.  That said, it’s hard to keep track of all the new travel titles in the US, let alone the UK/World. Often I can’t get publishers overseas to send me review copies, like Wilfred Thesiger in Africa, and Paul Bowles’’ Travel Writing, which I would have loved to see this year.

Alison C 12.26.10 | 8:08 AM ET

This selection of books is especially usefuls for those looking to begin a career in travel writing.  It is becoming more and more difficult to get noticed as the popularity of travel blogs grows.  Here is a site I set up to give writers a place where newcomers can have their guest travel articles published.

Andy Davies 12.28.10 | 3:59 PM ET

Now that I’ve completed Around The World In 18 Days, I have one goal: to do it again! I’m already planning my next round the world itinerary for late 2011. My first round the world trip might well be called a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but since I started blogging this trip, editing the copy and adding more and more pictures, I’ve relived the experience again and again, and the final result is this beautiful book for iPad, which gets better every time I look at it.

It’s about the experience, the joy, and the love of travel, of taking in every moment of the trip and trying to capture the way I felt about each moment. The trip and the book have inspired me to reach out and find other like-minded travelers, and try to be helpful with reviews and tips at every step of the way. I hope it inspires you to travel, too. Thank you again for visiting, and I hope you’ll take the time to check out my book, it’s available now on the App Store for only $2.99. Cheers, and happy travels!

harris david 12.30.10 | 12:48 AM ET

This is good lists Frank. The Travel Book published by Lonely Planet Publications gives better information about world travel. This is a striking book. From India to China, itís a traditional coffee table book, best perused on a rainy afternoon.

Michelle 01.23.11 | 4:35 PM ET

I love travel books. Thanks for this list!

Emy @ Karnataka Tourism 01.29.11 | 2:02 AM ET

I love traveling and travel books. John Lister-Kaye’s At The Water’s Edge and Fiona Capp’s My Blood’s Country also good books to read. Thank you for sharing such a nice collection.

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