Pico Iyer on World Hum’s Top 30 Travel Books

Travel Blog  •  Rolf Potts  •  06.22.06 | 2:07 PM ET

imageLast month, we posted our list of the Top 30 Travel Books of all time, to which I contributed a number of reviews. After the dust settled and dozens of readers weighed in with their own recommendations, it occurred to me that I correspond with a number of the authors who made the list. What, I thought, would Pico Iyer or Peter Hessler or Tony Horwitz or Tim Cahill or Jeffrey Tayler think of the selections? Curious, I queried these five writers, all of whom gave me thoughtful replies. I’ll share comments from each of these writers in coming days, starting today with Pico Iyer, whose “Video Night in Kathmandu” weighed in at number 8 on the list.

Pico replies:

It’s a highly, highly quirky list—Shiva Naipaul right up there and V.S. Naipaul for his most laughable book at the bottom!—but I’m flattered to be in such company, and anyone who loves The Golden Earth is automatically a hero in my book (also very strongly weighted towards the contemporary, though I’m very glad to see Peter Hessler so highly recommended). I thought last night of a few of the travel-books that I would always keep close and put on any list of inspirations:

Colossus of Maroussi , by Henry MIller
The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald
The Inland Sea, by Donald Richie
The Gentleman in the Parlour: A Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong, by Somerset Maugham

All of those books would be in my Top 15 to Top 20 list. Additionally, I highly recommend:

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard
Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer
Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen
Hindoo Holiday: An Indian Journal , by J.R. Ackerley
Watermark, by Joseph Brodsky
Istanbul: Memories and the City (a recent entry), by Orhan Pamuk
Westward Ha!, by S.J. Perelman
Sea and Sardinia, by D.H. Lawrence

...and, I think, lots of others that I’m not remembering right now.

Thanks again, so much, for sending me this fun and fascinating list.

Rolf Potts is a frequent contributor to World Hum.



5 Comments for Pico Iyer on World Hum’s Top 30 Travel Books

mae sander 06.27.06 | 11:24 AM ET

Alexandra David-Neel, Magic and Mystery in Tibet or My Journey to Lahsa should be on one of these lists.

Dane 08.24.06 | 1:36 AM ET

This is an interesting list. Travel writing can succeed on many levels and what appeals to the reader is very subjective. It depends on the reader’s viewpoint, interest and mood among other things and how well the author elicits an emotional response.

Among the travel books I have greatly enjoyed and didn’t make the list are:

Throwim’ Way Leg, by Tim Flannery
Far Away and Long Ago, by William Hudson
India: No Full Stops, by Mark Tully
Slow Boats to China, by Gavin Young
Fruit Palace, by Charles Nicholls
Calcutta, by Geoffrey Moorehouse.

I would also second Pico Iyer’s recommendations of a Hindoo Holiday by J R Ackerly and Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrier.

To these I would add anything written by Jim Corbett (largely forgotten gems) and if I may, throw in Eric Newby’s Love and War in the Appenines - for me this is his best, though not travel writing in the usual sense.

Annapurna by Maurice Herzog is an honourable mention.

Jeff 02.23.07 | 1:39 AM ET

One travel book I would have liked to be on that list is G.K. Chesterton’s “What I saw in America”.  For an early 20th century writer, the travel philosophy and politics he supports were remarkably forward thinking. 


Darrel Schoeling 03.06.07 | 2:21 PM ET

We provide recommended reading for travelers and, naturally, here at Longitude Books we are in awe of Pico Iyer. I thought we’d weigh in with our own top books, rather skewed to advanture.


K Sigurjonsson 12.05.07 | 7:43 AM ET

I missed not seeing at least two other titles by the grumpy, great writer Paul Theroux; “The Pillars of Hercules” and “The Happy Isles of Oceania”.

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