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Paul Theroux's Top Book Recommendations

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


An Area of Darkness

A classic of modern travel writing, An Area of Darkness is Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul’s profound reckoning with his ancestral homeland and an extraordinarily perceptive chronicle of his first encounter with India.
Traveling from the bureaucratic morass of Bombay to the ethereal beauty of Kashmir, from a sacred ice cave in the Himalayas to an abandoned temple near Madras, Naipaul encounters a dizzying cross-section of humanity: browbeaten government workers and imperious servants, a suavely self-serving holy man and a deluded American religious seeker. An Area of...
Recommended by Paul Theroux, and 1 others.

Paul TherouxI read this before I met VS Naipaul, in East Africa. I have known him very well over the years, as you might know from my book Sir Vidia’s Shadow. This book really impressed me, and meeting him I then saw how he travelled – how he provoked people into saying things. His manner of travel was to put someone on the back foot, to ask questions like “Why do you do this?” and demand answers. He was... (Source)

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The West Indies and the Spanish Main

Coping with ill-iced claret, rotten walnuts, and withered apples, British Postal Service employee and successful Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope sailed aboard the Atrato from the English port of Southampton to Kingston, Jamaica, in November, 1858 to survey land and conclude treaties in the West Indies and Central America for the English government. In the course of his extended sojourn, he also wrote a book -- not about official business but rather about the islands he visited and the people he met; about breathtaking landscapes, exotic foods, the tropical climate, earthquakes, Panamanian... more
Recommended by Paul Theroux, and 1 others.

Paul TherouxBut he’s funny about it. Did you notice the common denominator in my book choices? Three of them – Naipaul, Trollope and Twain – are novelists. That is first of all because I am. A novelist should be a good traveller. And second because the ability to write fiction – to describe someone, to write dialogue – is helpful to someone writing a travel book. (Source)

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Mark Twain toured the British Empire in 1895, during which time he began concocting a travelogue about the experience that was published in 1897. Twain's narrative spans the globe, from Australia to Hawaii. Full of tall-tales and real-life criticisms of imperialist arrogance, "Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World" is written with Twain's characteristic wit and enthusiasm for a good, entertaining story. less
Recommended by Paul Theroux, and 1 others.

Paul TherouxAll of these books that I have chosen helped me on my way, and made me want to write a book myself. These are books that inspire writing. Mark Twain is always taught as the man who wrote Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, not the man who wrote Following the Equator. It’s the book of a man who loves to travel and loves meeting people. His is an enormous trip. He travels all around the world by... (Source)

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The Worst Journey In The World

In his introduction to the harrowing story of the Scott expedition to the South Pole, Apsley Cherry-Garrard states that 'Polar Exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised.' The Worst Journey in the World is his gripping account of an expedition gone disastrously wrong. One of the youngest members of Scott's team, the author was later part of the rescue party that eventually found the frozen bodies of Scott and three men who had accompanied him on the final push to the Pole. Prior to this sad denouement, Cherry-Garrard's account is... more
Recommended by Paul Theroux, Sara Wheeler, and 2 others.

Paul TherouxThe worst journey in the world which he describes isn’t Scott’s race to the pole, it’s Cherry-Garrard’s trip with two other men to find the emperor penguins. The book is framed by Scott’s expedition, but the quest for the penguins is the centre of it. (Source)

Sara WheelerIt is ostensibly the story of Captain Scott’s 1912 expedition to the Antarctic, but it’s really about all places in all times and is possibly the best book ever written. (Source)

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Christ Stopped at Eboli

'We're not Christians, Christ stopped short of here, at Eboli.' Exiled to a remote and barren corner of Italy for his opposition to Mussolini, Carlo Levi entered a world cut off from history and the state, hedged in by custom and sorrow, without comfort or solace, where, eternally patient, the peasants lived in an age-old stillness and in the presence of death - for Christ did stop at Eboli. less
Recommended by Paul Theroux, Paula Fredriksen, and 2 others.

Paul TherouxI chose this book because not many people know it – it’s hardly on every bookshelf. Carlo Levi was an Italian Jew from Florence, banished in the 1930s by the Mussolini government for criticising the war in Ethiopia. He is sent to the ends of the earth, and it happens that the ends of the earth in Italy is southern Italy. (Source)

Paula FredriksenThis is such a beautiful memoir. Levi was in political exile for a year under Mussolini, sent to a very impoverished town in the south of Italy. Levi himself is from Turin – aristocratic, well educated, left-leaning politically, very urban and urbane. This tiny dusty town shocks him, both its poverty and its class structure. (Source)

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