193 Incredible Travel Books Counting Countries.  The UN states that there are 193 countries in the world.  I am on a quest to travel to every country in the world.  You can see where I have been so far.  An important part of travel for me is reading.  I try to read one book (sometimes two if I am lucky) pertaining to each country I visit.  Reading a book can provide so much more context to your travels. 

During my first visit to Russia, I read Peter The Great, a fantastic biography of this historical leader.  When I visited St. Petersburg, the city came alive as I continually referenced his biography. 

And yes, this list is not literally a list of 193 books, but an ongoing series of great books I have read that have enriched my travels.  

Abkhazia

A Little War That Shook The World, Georgia, Russia and the Future of the World.  Abkhazia is a region of Georgia in the north-west on the Black Sea.  In 2008, Russia and Georgia entered into a brief war, with the result of two new de facto states being created, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Read the account from a US diplomat who witnessed the march to war.

Afghanistan

Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode To Victory in Afghanistan.  This true account reads better than any film.  Well, they actually made a movie about this amazing group of special forces soldiers who arrived in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11.  These soldiers teamed up with the Northern Alliance, rode horses, and called in close air support to defeat the Taliban.

The Bookseller of Kabul.  This is a story of real life meeting real life.  Shortly after 9/11 a Norwegian journalist embeds herself with an Afghan family.  The protagonist/antagonist is a prominent bookseller who has both prospered in Kabul as well as been jailed.  During my visit to Kabul, I went to the book store and met the main character, Sultan.

The Places In Between.  There are tourists, travelers, explorers, and then there is Rory Stewart.  Stewart walked across Afghanistan in 2002, surviving on his language skills and knowledge of Muslim culture.  Stewart overcomes everything from encounters with Taliban soldiers to hiking through snow covered mountains.  He is comforted and cared for by complete strangers and the culture of hospitality during his journey.

 

Algeria

Algeria: France’s Undeclared War (Making of the Modern World).  France invaded Algeria in 1830 and at one time had one million colonizers in its North African neighbor.  It was also a difficult and challenging relationship at best.  Outright and sustained conflict took place between 1954-1962, with Algerians eventually winning their freedom against the French.  At times, this can be a slow read but provides a comprehensive overview of a tragic relationship.

Armenia

My Brother’s Road: An American’s Fateful Journey to Armenia.  Monte Melkonian grew up playing baseball in California, but died in the battlefields in a distant war of freedom in Nagorno Karabakh.  NK was formally an enclave within Azerbaijan but has historically always been part of Armenia.  This book shares Monte’s fight for his historical homeland.

Angola

Angola: Promises and Laws.  This petro state is not high on the list for tourists.  Considered one of the most expensive countries in the world, limited tourist infrastructure, and a history of violence, turn off many travelers.  This book traces the brutal and long civil war that took place after Angola’s independence from Portugal.  Multiple players vow for power backed by a series of outside powers from the Soviet Union and the US to Cuba to South Africa.

Australia

The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding.  This book traces the founding of Australia when England transported 160,000 Brits during the 18th and 19th century.  Many of the original colonizers were convicts who were provided a second chance with their move to this foreign land.

Bangladesh

Banker to the Poor: Micro Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty.  Mohammed Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and author of this book describes his efforts and success of building Grameen Bank.  Grameen Bank innovated and specialized in micro-lending with a emphasis on lending and empowering women.  His efforts made a substantial impact on Bangladesh as well as the world.

 

Belize

The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird.  This is another  true story that reads better than any novel.  Sharon Matola, an American woman, ends up settling in Belize. She starts a zoo, caring for orphaned animals.  Big business comes to Belize in the form of building a dam that would flood the last nesting ground of the brilliant scarlet macaws of Belize.  This begins a multi-year, international fight, where Sharon and her allies, battle government forces and corporate giants who are intent on focusing on profits and not this precious natural resource.

Bhutan

Married to Bhutan.  A fish out of water story of a woman who moves to Bhutan, falls in love with a local, and gets married.  The author recounts the cultural nuances and differences of the different lifestyles of the American wife and Bhutanese husband.  She also weaves in interesting and novel Bhutanese history in this remote country.

Bolivia

Travels on the Road of Death and Other Adventures of a Yankee in Bolivia.  The title sums up the book quite aptly.  An American spends time traveling through Bolivia learning and encountering the peculiarities and culture of Bolivia.  The author eats at Nazi Klaus Barbie’s favorite restaurant, spends time exploring dark and dank mines, learns about the 19th century war with Chile, partakes in Carnival and of course much more. A very readable travelogue of his adventures in landlocked Bolivia.

Bulgaria

Two Seasons In The Bubble: Living and Coaching Basketball in Bulgaria  This falls squarely in the genre of “fish out of water”.  A Midwestern American travels to Sofia for his first time to coach and teach at the American high school.  The author shares his trials and tribulations as he attempts to understand the unique psyche of the average Bulgarian.  The book is filled with humor, sadness, and hope. I caught myself laughing out loud numerous time as the author tries to navigate and understand the high school players on his basketball team.  The author also weaves in the history of this country on the edge of Europe.  This book is a must read for anyone visiting Bulgaria.

Cambodia

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers This is a first person account of a young girl’s experience growing up under the Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge vicious regime in Cambodia. At the age of five she is cleaved from her family and begins her horrific existence under this genocidal regime. This non-fiction account is a testament to the immense courage in the face of horrific brutality. This genocide touched every single family in Cambodia and will engender greater respect and understanding during your visit.

Central Asia

Does It Yurt? Travels in Central Asia or How I Came to Love the Stans.  The author provides a humorous  and illuminating account of his travels in Central Asia.  He shares with us amusing and frustrating accounts one comes to expect when exploring in Central Asia.  This is a great first hand account and introduction to the Stans.

Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia.  Things changed dramatically as five new countries were born after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan gained their independence in 1991.  And over time Russia, China, and the USA began a dance of influence and power over these five states.  This book provides an over view of the last two decades of a very complicated and nuanced geopolitical struggle.

Chile

The Statues That Walked I have been fascinated with Easter Island, the remote Pacific island which is part of Chile, since I was a kid.  The island is populated with stone Moai statues.  The book analyzes the competing theories of how the islanders came to populate the island and how the Moai were constructed.

China

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China A three generation account of 20th century life in China proves once again that true life is grander than fiction. The author begins with her grandmother whose feet were bound as a child, and who was sold as a concubine to a warlord. Her mother lived through Mao’s revolution and was later denounced during the Cultural Revolution. This book traces the jarring vicissitudes of China during the last century prior to launching their economic rocket ship. Reading this book prior to your  trip, you will appreciate the magnitude of changes through the eyes of the author.

Riding The Iron Rooster: By Train Through China Travel writing legend, Paul Theroux, takes the reader through the four corners of China via train. The books take place during 1988 between the threshold of communist Mao and burgeoning capitalism under Deng Xiaoping. For those visiting megalopolises such as Beijing and Shanghai, you will be shocked at the dichotomy depicted between present day China and that of China depicted in the book. Theroux’s unique voice and sense of humor will propel the reader on the iron rooster.

Congo, Democratic Republic

Dancing In The Glory Of Monsters: The Collapse Of The Congo And The Great War Of Africa.  Over 80 million people live in the DRC, formally known as Zaire.  The country is a smorgasbord of ethnicities, religions and languages.  It is a country of amazing natural beauty but unfortunately poverty, war, and violence.  The author attempts to explain it all in this daunting tomb.  This is a bit of a slog to get through, trying to keep all the names and places straight, but a fantastic overview of the country.

Cuba

Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause.  Through Bacardi, the bat-famous rum, serves as a lens to trace the volatile Cuban history.  The multi-generation Bacardi family has its hand in many aspects of Cuban history.  Spanish colonization.  The fight for freedom.  US influence.  Castro’s revolution.  And life in exile.  A great overview and introduction into Cuba’s amazing history and culture.

  

Denmark (Greenland)

Frozen In Time:  An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II.  Greenland is part of Denmark and is not an officially recognized country by the UN, hence the categorization under Denmark.  The author share with us a true account of an air force plane that crashes in icy, formidable Greenland.  This is an epic tale of survival, and an intense display of courage by the rescuers.

El Salvador

The Massacre At El Mozote.  This is another one of those ugly wars fought in Central America.  El Salvador was part of the great game of democracy verse communism.  US trained, El Salvadoran troops stormed into the village of El Mozote, hundreds of locals were brutally wiped out.

Eritrea

I Didn’t Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation.  There is not a vast choice of books in regard to Eritrea, but this book provides a highly readable account of Eritrea.  Eritrea rests on the Red Sea next to Ethiopia and just gained its independence in the early 1990s.  The book recounts a long and brutal history of wars, colonization, civil wars, and now a one-party dictatorship.  Its nickname today is the “North Korea of Africa”.

Ethiopia

The Emperor: Downfall Of an Autocrat.  Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, was a larger than life figure who ruled this East African country for 44 years.  He was finally deposed in 1974 in a coup.  Read this book to get a sense of this unique country.

Fiji

Dodging Machetes: How I Survived Forbidden Love, Bad Behavior, and the Peace Corps in Fiji.  The author, Will Lutwick, is plopped down in Fiji in the late 1960s while Fiji is preparing for independence and America is in the throes of the Vietnam War.  Luttwick a Peace Corp Volunteer falls in love with a local Indian girl and clashes with the forces of the island’s conservatism.  Light and interesting read to prepare you for Fiji.

Georgia

Young Stalin.  Stalin one of history’s most reviled characters was born in Georgia (the country, not the state) in the late 19th century.  Before becoming the leader of the Soviet Union, Stalin was trained as a priest, became a revolutionary, and reveled in being a bank robber in Tbilisi.  Stalin takes a long and winding path before ending up in Moscow.

 

Guatemala

Jungle of Stone: The Extraordinary Journey of John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya.  This is an incredible account of two adventurers with a passion for exploration.  Rumors of ancient ruins had been circulating in the western world.  The two set off from NYC in 1839 to discover the lost Mayan civilizations throughout Central America.  These two encountered unbelievable challenges from debilitating sickness,  inclement weather, and avoiding the violence of war.  Despite these obstacles, Stephens and Catherwood made amazing discoveries on behalf of all mankind.

Hungary

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts What are the odds that a third string professional hockey player and part time Transylvanian pelt smuggler would become one of the most wanted criminals in all of Europe? Get lost as you watch anti-hero, Attila, transition from the hardest working goalie to gentlemen bank robber. Your visit to Budapest will not be the same after you read this book. It is near impossible to believe that this is a true story.

Ghana

Homecoming: A Novel. This highly readable novel traces some families in Ghana and the US over several centuries and the brutal and horrific impact of slavery.  Read this book to feel the impact when visiting the Cape Coast Castle.

India

Shantaram This book will either unnerve you from any future travels to India or inspire you to board the next plane to the subcontinent to absorb the incredible mosaics and layers of this country. This mostly fiction but somewhat based on the author’s life takes place in Bombay in the 1980s. This nearly 1000 page tomb will consume you whole. The book will have you craving for the long promised sequel.

The Mountain Shadow  Is the incredibly long anticipated sequel to the above Shantaram which has finally been publishedAuthor, Gregory David Roberts, continues to chronicle protagonist, Lin, in the multi-layered city of Bombay.  As you read The Mountain Shadow, you yearn to sip a beer with Lin and his friends in their favorite watering hole, Leopolds.  You are beguiled by the introduction of new characters and enthralled to see former friends from Shantaram.  The stories grasp and absorb you.  It is difficult to put this book down, and I am already hoping for a trilogy.

Indonesia

In The Time Of Madness: Indonesia On The Edge Of Chaos.  Indonesia is a sprawling nation comprised of over 13,000 islands.  Suharto ruled the nation for 31 years starting in 1967.  The author, foreign correspondent, Richard Lloyd Parry, chronicles the unraveling of the nation.  He describes the violence that touched the nation for several years until some stability gains hold.

Iran

All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup And The Roots Of The Middle East Terror.  The US and Iran have a difficult relationship, and that is a mild understatement.  The CIA engineered a coup of the democratically elected prime minister.  This set the table for generations of hostility from the American hostage crisis, to the rise of the Ayatollah, to the current hostility between Iran and the US today.  Sit back and take this in before any visit to Iran.

Italy

Venice: A New History.  Today, Venice embodies the magnificence of a living museum.  And this book traces Venice’s rise as a merchant superpower and race to incredible wealth.  Read this book, how Venice transitions from a swampy refuge to a powerful city-state for 1000 years.

Japan

Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times And Hard Life Of An American Gangster In Japan.  File this under non-fiction that reads better than a novel.  The focus of this book is WWII veteran Nick Zappetti, who remains in Tokyo after Japan’s surrender when the country was in near collapse with rampant poverty and lack of food.  Zappetti opens a restaurant, which is the gateway for his next incarnation to become both a gangster and a millionaire.  This book traces his rise as well as Japans in the post WWII environment.

 

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter On The Police Beat In Japan.  This book hits its mark twice.  First for its fish-out-of-water theme.  American journalist moves to Japan learns the language, adopts the culture, and becomes the first reporter to be admitted to the elite Metropolitan Police Press Club.  Second, this book is an excellent thrillers as the reporter tackles extortion, murder, and of course the Yakuza.  A great read!

 

Kazakhstan

Starman, The Truth About The Legend Of Yuri Gagarin.  You can debate whether to place this book under Kazakhstan or Russia.  Starman is the story of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.  Gagarin blasted off into space in 1961 from the Russian space port at Baikonur which is located in current day Kazakhstan.  Gagarin stunned and fascinated the world with his accomplishment.

VANISHED KHANS AND EMPTY STEPPES A HISTORY OF KAZAKHSTAN: From Pre-History to Post-Independence.  I was expecting a dry text book read of Kazakhstan’s history.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to read the account of this giant, landlocked country.  It traces its history of nomadic people on the steppes, to Russian interference, to its incorporation into the Soviet Union, and finally its independence.

Kyrgyzstan

Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder, and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia.  Another country that was born into existence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kyrgyzstan is also landlocked and populated by people with nomadic roots and love of the horse.  This account focuses on the post Soviet history with a book that reads like a novel.  Too-good to be true characters jump of the page in twisting plots.

Maldives

Gatecrashing Paradise: Misadventures in the Real Maldives.  People all know the Maldives from their over-the-top water villas and dream like sunsets.  But this book overviews the country’s interesting history.  Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there are over 1200 islands with 200 inhabited by the locals and 100 developed with high end resorts.   The writer travels the islands with a present day account and touching on the island’s history.

Mali

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts.  How is that for a title?  That alone is enough to read this non-fiction account.  Mali and the region is rich in historical documents from Islamic scholars.  Abdel Kader Haidara spends years discovering and collecting the historical gems for a library to hold these treasures.   The real story begins when he must save these priceless artifacts from Al Qaeda who overtakes the north of Mali.

Mauritania

Impossible Journey, Two Against The Sahara.  This is one of those real world quests, that read better than any novel.  The author, Michael Asher and his wife attempt to cross the Sahara, over 4000 km on camels.  The protagonists fight the incredibly harsh desert environment, stubborn camels, and come across nomads and Bedouins as they start in Mauritania and make their way east.

Mexico

The Last Narco: Inside The Hunt For El Chapo, The World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord.  El Chapo, a notorious, drug king from Mexico, found himself on the top of many lists; from the Forbes billionaire list to the FBI’s most wanted.  This book traces the rise of El Chapo from a poor farmer family in Sinaloa to one of the world’s richest men.

Moldova

Playing The Moldovans At Tennis  There is not a lot of literature on this anonymous-like Eastern European country.   But this book is an excellent and humorous introduction to Moldova.  British comedian, Tony Hawks, makes a wager in a pub that is both improbable and incredibly creative.  Watch as the author jumps into the deep end of the pool, attempting to win the bet at all cost.  He needs to play and beat all of the players of the national Moldovan football team at tennis.

Mongolia

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World Genghis Khan is known worldwide as a savage warrior who ruled an empire that ranged from Hungary to Siberia, more land than the Romans managed to capture over 400 years. But his genius lay beyond his superlative war skills, his real acumen was to be witnessed as a statesman. Khan melded disparate lands and cultures. Khan instituted the rule of law, established public schools, encouraged religious freedom, and established free trade. These trade routes also allowed for the free flow of ideas ranging from technology to the first international paper currency to a postal system.  visiting Mongolia, you can follow his footsteps in the glorious, green steppes.

Myanmar (Burma)

The Glass Palace (A Novel).  This book is set in Burma during the British invasion of 1885.  The British arrive in Mandalay and eject the last king and his royal family into exile to India.  The novel then follows the family over the next 100 years.

 

Nepal

Travelers’ Tales Nepal: True Stories Of Life On The Road.  This primer for Nepal presents a series of short stories from multiple travelers.  My favorite tale, is of the living goddess of Kathmandu, the Royal Kumari.  She is ordained as a toddler and placed in a home in the capital.  Visitors can wait in the courtyard to catch a glimpse of her.

Netherlands

Amsterdam: A History Of The World’s Most Liberal City.  Amsterdam, one of tourists’ most popular stops, is well known for its red light district and pot bars.  This book traces Amsterdam’s centuries long struggle of sea verse land, and how it shapes the city’s outlook.   The book touches on how free thought and free love touch the residents and city.

North Korea

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite.  There is no smoking gun or explosive reveal in this true account of a reporter who goes undercover to teach at an elite school in Pyongyang.  Yet, the book showcases the paranoia, deception, and confusion that permeates life in North Korea.    

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West.  This is the unbelievable account of a North Korean man who is born into captivity.  When imprisoned in North Korea, one person’s crimes will result in three generations being imprisoned in the prison camps.  The prisoner in this true account grew up believing the world was flat and that every person in the world either lived in prison or was a guard a prison.  He knew nothing else.  This book is a horrific account of life within the Hermit Kingdom.    

Norway

Peace, They Say: A History Of The Nobel Peace Prize, The Most Famous And Controversial Prize In The World.  One of my favorite stops in Oslo, was the Nobel Peace Prize museum and the City Hall where the medal is awarded.  This book makes these sites come alive when you visit.  Trace some of the more controversial winners over the years.

Pakistan

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.  The book traces the fraught history between Pakistan and United States since Pakistan gained its independence in 1947.  It is a story of misaligned expectations and temporary alliances.  Both sides made multiple mistakes and miscues over the past decades.

Panama

The Path Between The Seas: The Creation Of The Panama Canal, 1870-1914. This is one of those true accounts of a tale that reads better than any novel.  This is the account of one of man’s most dauting and impressive engineering feats, carving a canal in the middle of a jungle.  Read about the characters that bring this feat to realization and amaze at their resiliance and celebrate their tribulations.

Papua New Guinea

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II. A US military plane crashes into the jungle of New Guinea in World War II. Despite the crash site being only dozens of miles from the US base where the plane departed, it takes months for the military to devise a rescue plan to help the survivors. The survivors interact with the indigenous tribes while they wait for their rescue. These tribes are seeing non-natives for their first time in their lives and are living in the same manner as their ancestors did for countless centuries.

Paraguay

At The Tomb Of The Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay. There are not a lot of reading options when it comes to this South American land-locked back water.  Thankfully, the author provides a humor-filled account of Paraguay’s unique and quirky history with a overview of some tragic and fascinating past leaders.

Peru

Last Days of the Incas An improbable non-fiction account that reads like a novel. The author details how Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his 167 men defeated the Incas in 1532. In an epic battle where the Spaniards were outnumbered 200 to 1, horses and steel proved to be a decisive factor. A real life Guns Germs and Steel. Soon after the conquistadors seized Cuzco and present day Peru became a Spanish colony. This rag tag force became wealthy beyond their wildest dreams in the process. Today, you can stroll the streets of the historic city of Cuzco.

Philippines

America’s Boy: A Century of United States Colonialism in the Philippines.  Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos dominated the Philippines for 21 years as the leader of the country.  The book also traces 100 years of American colonialism and domination over this South East Asian country.

 

Poland

Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw.  Poland was the proverbial hot potato between the Germans and Russians during WWII.  Polish insurgents (the underground) battled the German army for two viscous months that left the city devastated.  The Soviets callously stood by, not assisting the Poles.  This is an incredible and inspiring account of these brave people who fought for their freedom.

 

Portugal

Lisbon: War In The Shadows Of The City Of Light, 1939-45  I think we have all read a book or two on WWII.  Of course, most of those books will be on epic events like D-Day or the fall of Berlin.  But this intriguing book focuses on the side story of Portugal’s role in the war.  Here you can read the stories of the spies, the royals, and the refugees as the spend time in Portugal, a country that was neutral during this war.

Russia

Peter the Great: His Life and World Read as Peter the Great propels medieval Russia into the modern world. Transport yourself back to the late 17th and early 18th century and watch as Peter the Great wills the new capital of Russia, the captivating St. Petersburg. The book details the equally fascinating Charles XII of Sweden as he battles Russia in a multi-year war. Dozens and dozens  of landmarks still exist today in St. Petersburg and will complement any walking tour.

Young Stalin Before he was one of history’s biggest mass murderers and prolific butcher of Nazis, he was known as Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in Georgia, a mesmerizing country in the Caucasus. His early youth is varied, as he spends time as a bank robber, seminary student, and statutory rapist. He eventually rises to become a member of the inner circle during the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Visiting the country you can spend time meandering down Stalin Avenue in Gori, Stalin’s birthplace.

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice is a riveting non-fiction account of an American investment banker who enters Russia as the tip of the spear as it transitions to capitalism.  It is the wild west., where fortunes are made and lost.  This too could to be true account traces his story as he creates the largest foreign fund investing in Russia.  But Russia, the bear, rears its head in the form of superlative corruption that results in the banker’s lawyer.  Then follow him as he extracts his pound of flesh from Russia in a fight for justice.  Could not put the book down.

Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia is an account of years of reporting by Russian speaking author, Anne Garrels.  Russians often say there are two Russias.  Moscow and the rest of the country.  Garrels realizing this spends over two decades visiting Chelyabinsk.  Chelyabinsk is in the hear of Russia, a former closed off military city.  She traces its recent history as its transitions from communism, democracy/capitalism, and then Putin’s corrupt kleptocracy.  She converses with ex-con taxi drivers, a mafia strong man, professors, and entrepreneur funeral directors to gain insights of life in this rust-belt city.  The optimism and hope of the early 1990s transitions to fear and indifference as Putin increases his stranglehold over everyone’s daily life.

Rwanda

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda.  Many people are aware of the horrific genocide that took place in Rwanda in the mid-90s.  Author, Gourevitch, shares with the reader the effects of colonialism on the two main ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis.  The book traces the macro happenings of the genocide as well as sharing stories of how neighbors killed neighbors.  He then explains the tragic aftermath which creates a refugee crisis and the aftermath of how a nation attempts to heal.

Sierra Leone

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.  In this book, we meet future child soldier, Beah, who is swept up in the civil war of Sierra Leone.  The story traces this 12 year old as he transitions from normal pre-teen to cocaine fueled murderer.  The true story has a happy ending as the UN, finds and frees him and eventually rehabilitates him.

 

South Africa

The Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography Of Nelson Mandela.  This pick is quite obvious, but an essential read for any visitor to South Africa.  Nelson Mandela is a tremendously pivotal figure in South Africa as well as the world.  This autobiography goes into great detail tracing Mandela’s entire life.

Spain

The Spanish Civil War.  The book follows the election of a Republic Government and the following coup of General Franco and Spain’s path to fascism prior to the start of WWII.  Franco was supported by both Hitler and Mussolini.

 

Sri Lanka

Tea Time with Terrorists: A Motorcycle Journey into the Heart of Sri Lanka’s Civil War.  The author gets a bike and decides to understand Sri Lanka’s civil war by driving through the heart of it.  Throwing caution to the wind, he spends time with terrorists, drug dealers, criminals, and ordinary people who are all part of this 30 year civil war.

Thailand

Jasmine Fever Thailand has it all; dream-like islands, mountains dotted with hill tribes, and a bustling cosmopolitan capital, Bangkok. Many visitors are enthralled with their stays in this kingdom. And many opt to stay for the long haul. But brush past the surface of your ten day trip and scratch at the unique culture and people of Thailand. The author, American Frank Visakay, is a long term resident of Thailand who shares with the reader a series of highly entertaining vignettes, many detailing the intersection of farangs and Thai bar girls.  This book is not winning any Pultizers but it is an interesting, light read.

Taiwan

Chiang Kai Shek: China’s Generalissimo And The Nation He Lost.  Chiang Kai Shek was the nationalist leader of China in the 1920s, but was under tremendous pressure, from the Japanese and the Chines communists. Eventually Chiang Kai Shek and the nationalists are driven out of China by Mao, where they decamp to the nearby island of Taiwan to create a separate country.

UAE

City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism A near incredulous transformation of a village without electricity and legal slavery in the 1960s to an innovative city state. Today, Dubai is an amalgamation of superlatives and unique one-offs. Under the stewardship of the Maktoum family, Dubai is propelled into the 21st century. As a visitor you will be astonished at the transformation of present day Dubai from its recent historical roots.

Uganda

The Teeth May Smile But The Heart Does Not Forget: Murder And Memory In Uganda.   A story heard often throughout Africa, a country is birthed after a long history of colonialism and usually it is a difficult birthing.  Uganda unfortunately fell into this category of chaos, death and civil war.  In 1972, Eliphaz Laki, a government official disappears under the brutal regime of Idi Amin.  Laki’s son over the years finds his father’s grave and tracks down his killers.  The author weaves in Uganda’s history while detailing a son’s journey to learn about his father’s death.

Ukraine

The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine.  From the 1929-1932 the Soviet Union began a process of collectivization while deporting millions of peasants. The results were tragic.  Following this process, the Soviets set impossible to meet grain quotas and confiscated most food from the peasants.  It is estimated that over 14 million died during these times.

 

Uzbekistan

A Carpet Ride To Khiva: Seven Years On The Silk Road.  I love these stories, a fish out of water.  A Brit moves to the UNESCO town of Khiva in Uzbekistan for a volunteer position.  He ends up developing a silk weaving business employing the economically challenged.  He traces the challenge of moving to a foreign country and tracing all of the subtle and giant culture differences during his journey.

 

Vanuatu

The Coconut War: Vanuatu and the Struggle for Independence.  In this corner of the Pacific in 1980, Jimmy Stephens and his band of indigenous locals grabbed their bows and arrows and overthrew their British and French overlords.  An interesting historical footnote in this remote land.    

Vietnam

When Heaven and Earth Changed Places If you wish to begin to understand the horrors that befell the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, you need to check out this memoir. Through the eyes of the author, you will witness the war as the pre-teen suffers through starvation, torture, rape, imprisonment, and death of her loved ones. You will be moved by the authors fortitude and courage and give you a new appreciation of this country’s people.

Zambia and Zimbabwe

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone  David Livingstone intrepid Scottish explorer traipsed for months through Africa attempting to find the source of the Nile and along the way “discovering” Victoria Falls, which visits both Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Don’t be surprised if you can not put this book down.  This 19th century explorer being followed by Henry Morton Stanley throughout Africa surprised the reader page after page.

Yemen

Motoring With Mohammed: Journeys To Yemen And The Red Sea.  In the late 1970s, the author found himself shipwrecked in the Red Sea of Yemen.  Eventually, he was rescued and brought to Yemen, but not before he buried seven years of travel journals on the island.  Ten years later he returns to explore and attempt to fund his buried journals.

Books For People Chasing 193

The Curious Case of William Baekeland  Author (and friend), Harry Mitsidis details the amazing and fascinating account of extreme traveler William Baekeland.  In this true account, Baekeland who presents himself as the heir to a billionaire ingratiates himself to the travel community.  Then (allegedly) money deposited for future trips with Baekeland begins to go missing.  Mitsidis starts researching this mysterious 20 something year old to find the truth.

Chasing 193  There are many clubs to choose from around the world, and they range from the pedestrian to the exclusive. One of these elite fraternities is the 536 people from 38 countries who have traveled to space as defined by the FAI.  Another club with only a handful of members are the individuals who have traveled to every country on earth. The UN recognizes 193 countries. According to the authors of this book, Chasing 193, the club numbers less than 100 participants. So imagine that, more people have traveled to outer space than have traveled to this list of 193 countries.

The authors, Ryan Trapp and Henrik Jeppesen, spent time interviewing 20 members of this club. You will witness their motivations and the risks they taken to achieve this goal. Adventures have ranged from being jailed in countries you did not know existed, being felled by an unbearable case of food sickness, or being stranded on a remote Pacific Island. Some members have accomplished this goal while working full time with a modest salary and limited holidays. Others have been more fortunate with greater funds and ample free time. Whether you have never left your living room or you are on a similar quest, there are many lessons to learn from these dauntless explorers.

General

WAR: The Afterparty.  The author takes a global tour of countries who have at one time or another have been to subject to the largesse of military action in the name of freedom and democracy.  He spends time in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans and Central America.  He spends time with the locals and networking learning about the effects of US military action and after the party, what are the effects.  Enjoy the interactions with the locals and the telling anecdotes. 

Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind.  Simply put, this is an incredible read.  The author takes the complexity of our world, and explains the history of man in a logical yet elegant manner.  Questions such as why did Europe rule the world instead of the Chinese or the Arab world are rationally explained.  He explains how the cognitive revolution helped sapiens dominate their peers over one hundred thousand years ago.  A must-read.

Disclaimer: I receive a miniscule revenue share from Amazon if you purchase one of these books.  So go ahead buy a bunch!

193 Incredible Travel Books Counting Countries. 

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