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Colin Thubron's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Colin Thubron recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Colin Thubron's favorite book recommendations of all time.


Invisible Cities

"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of... more
Recommended by Colin Thubron, James Meek, and 2 others.

Colin ThubronOh God. Well, officially it’s Marco Polo describing the cities of his travels to Kublai Khan. It’s been opined that every city he describes is a version of Venice, but I think that doesn’t really work. They seem to me to be marvellous imaginative fantasies, which sometimes reproduce states of mind. There are 40 or so cities described, all entirely imaginary I think, and that’s what’s so magical... (Source)

James MeekIt has different layers. The set-up is that Kublai Khan has conquered this vast empire; an empire so large that he, sitting at the centre of it, cannot know all the many parts of it. He can’t visit them, he can’t see them, and if he goes to one part all the other parts have changed. So he sits there at the centre of his empire and Marco Polo travels around and visits the various cities and comes... (Source)

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The Road to Oxiana

In 1933 the delightfully eccentric Robert Byron set out on a journey through the Middle East via Beirut, Jerusalem, Baghdad and Teheran to Oxiana -the country of the Oxus, the ancient name for the river Amu Darya which forms part of the border between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. His arrival at his destination, the legendary tower of Qabus, although a wonder in itself, it not nearly so amazing as the thoroughly captivating, at times zany, record of his adventures.

In addition to its entertainment value, The Road to Oxiana also serves as a rare account of the architectural...

Nicholas ShakespeareByron was Chatwin’s first conscious model. The book is a candid account of a journey made in 1933 in search of Seljuk tombs. (Source)

Colin ThubronOxiana is a coinage of his, and it doesn’t geographically specifically exist. It was a way of saying Persia (as it was to him) and Afghanistan. Byron’s journey starts in Venice and ends in what is now Pakistan. He went there in 1933-34, not long before he died in World War II, drowned when his ship was torpedoed. Although the book is terrifically chauvinistic – he’s appalling when he writes about... (Source)

Tim Mackintosh-SmithI recently wrote about this book and hooked what I wrote on what Chatwin said about it – that it was a sacred text – and what Wilfred Thesiger said, which was that it was a lot of nonsense. I think you can reconcile these views. It’s actually why I like the book. It’s sacred nonsense, or Robert Byron is a holy fool, if that makes sense. It’s nonsense because he sort of explodes the usual... (Source)

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The Way of the World

In 1953, twenty-four-year old Nicolas Bouvier and his artist friend Thierry Vernet set out to make their way overland from their native Geneva to the Khyber Pass. They had a rattletrap Fiat and a little money, but above all they were equipped with the certainty that by hook or by crook they would reach their destination, and that there would be unanticipated adventures, curious companionship, and sudden illumination along the way. The Way of the World, which Bouvier fashioned over the course of many years from his journals, is an entrancing story of adventure, an extraordinary work of... more
Recommended by Colin Thubron, Roy Moxham, and 2 others.

Colin ThubronBouvier never wrote another book comparable to this one. I loved it for its humanity, for its footloose feeling. (Source)

Roy MoxhamThese friends try to go to India in a tiny battered Fiat and it takes them several years, it probably describes the attraction of travel better than any book I’ve ever read. (Source)

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In Patagonia

An exhilarating look at a place that still retains the exotic mystery of a far-off, unseen land, Bruce Chatwin’s exquisite account of his journey through Patagonia teems with evocative descriptions, remarkable bits of history, and unforgettable anecdotes. Fueled by an unmistakable lust for life and adventure and a singular gift for storytelling, Chatwin treks through “the uttermost part of the earth”— that stretch of land at the southern tip of South America, where bandits were once made welcome—in search of almost forgotten legends, the descendants of Welsh immigrants, and the log cabin... more
Recommended by Richard Branson, Colin Thubron, and 2 others.

Richard BransonToday is World Book Day, a wonderful opportunity to address this #ChallengeRichard sent in by Mike Gonzalez of New Jersey: Make a list of your top 65 books to read in a lifetime. (Source)

Colin ThubronThis struck me as a rather different way of travel writing. It is very individual, with stark, short passages….His research isn’t a history of that area, it’s all about the strange inhabitants of it, and the weird leftovers. Anything that was incongruous he loved – a Welsh community in southern Argentina, that sort of thing. It was a world of oddities, of leftovers, of communities that had been... (Source)

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A Time of Gifts

In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on an extraordinary journey by foot - from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. A Time of Gifts is the first volume in a trilogy recounting the trip, and takes the reader with him as far as Hungary. It is a book of compelling glimpses - not only of the events which were curdling Europe at that time, but also of its resplendent domes and monasteries, its great rivers, the sun on the Bavarian snow, the storks and frogs, the hospitable burgomasters who welcomed him, and that world's grandeurs and courtesies. His powers of... more
Recommended by Colin Thubron, Quentin Hardy, and 2 others.

Colin ThubronThis is the first volume of his journey in 1933-34 from the Hook of Holland, as he called it, to what he insisted on calling Constantinople (Istanbul). It was to be in three volumes. This one takes him beyond Vienna. The second volume, Between the Woods and the Water, takes him through Hungary to the Balkans. The third volume was going to get him across Romania to Istanbul, but he never wrote it.... (Source)

Quentin Hardy@parul_sehgal @DwightGarner @jenszalai Excellent list. "This Boy's Life" pairs well with "The Duke of Deception," brother Geoffrey Wolff's boyhood with their con man father. Also "A Time of Gifts" is a memoir as well as a great travel book, particularly when the way it came about becomes part of the tale. (Source)

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