Tim Mackintosh-Smith's Top Book Recommendations

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

Spanning the fifth to sixteenth centuries and societies that range from Afghanistan to Spain, this anthology is a testament to the astonishing grandeur and variety of classical Arabic literature. Here are excerpts from dozens of works–both renowned (The Qur’an, The Thousand and One Nights) and esoteric (Ibn Washshiyya’s “Book of Poisons”; a 10th-century poem in praise of asparagus)–all accompanied by Robert Irwin’s erudite commentaries that illuminate readers on the vanished world in which they were written.

In Night & Horses & the Desert we encounter the...
Recommended by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, and 1 others.

Tim Mackintosh-SmithIt’s been said before by others, but I think reading is travel and travel is reading. As a travel writer I’m very conscious that they are twins or different sides of the same coin. In Arabic, the word for travelling is safar and from the same Arabic root you get the word sifr, meaning an old-fashioned volume of a book or a scroll. The reason they come from the same root is because when you... (Source)

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The Sindbad Voyage

Perhaps the greatest fictional sailor of them all. But could his amazing voyages, recounted in the The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, be recreated in the modern world? Or were they just the stuff of legend? Tim Severin was determined to find out. After three years of research, he created a precise replica of an early Arab trading ship. Not a single nail was used in her construction - her planks were held together with 400 miles of coconut cord. With a crew of twenty, including eight Omani sailors, his ship Sohar (named after the town said to have been Sindbad’s birthplace) completed a... more
Recommended by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, and 1 others.

Tim Mackintosh-SmithI chose it because it’s got boys’ stuff in it and I’m quite into boys’ stuff. It’s about how you put things together, how you build things. It’s about this journey from Muscat [in Oman] to Guangzhou or Canton in China. A substantial part of the book is about his research of how you make a sewn boat or ship, which is what his boat was. Not that the boat was made of cloth, but the planks, rather... (Source)

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Recommended by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, and 1 others.

Tim Mackintosh-SmithIt’s a good book to segue on to after Byron as they both visit Persia. But Byron is most of all into looking and Browne is most of all into ideas. He considers ideas in a huge way. It’s a book that’s very much an anthology of ideas. (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 Travels of Ibn Battutah

Ibn Battutah was just 21 when he set out in 1325 from his native Tangier on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He did not return to Morocco for another 29 years, traveling instead through more than 40 countries on the modern map, covering 75,000 miles and getting as far north as the Volga, as far east as China, and as far south as Tanzania. He wrote of his travels, and comes across as a superb ethnographer, biographer, anecdotal historian, and occasional botanist and gastronome. With this edition by Mackintosh-Smith, Battuta's Travels takes its place alongside other indestructible masterpieces of... more

Tim Mackintosh-SmithIf you read this book, it seems quite chaotic, but there is an underlying structure to it. I think there are two elements to this structure. (Source)

Ziauddin SardarTravel is both a physical and a mental exercise – it is about immersing yourself in another culture. Travelling is the process of letting go of yourself and immersing yourself into different ways of knowing and seeing. If you cannot do this, you haven’t travelled. It’s certainly not a holiday – travelling is not staying in five-star hotels.   (Source)

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