My 2015 New Year’s resolution was to read more, and I can say, for the first time in my life, that I kept that resolution (I swear, next year, I will go to the gym more!). I’ve read over 80 books this year on topics ranging from travel to business to history to self-improvement, as well as biographies!
I’ve fallen in love with reading all over again. Growing up I was an avid reader (not many 15-year-olds read the unabridged Les Misérables for fun), but in the last few years, I focused more on Netflix than books. I’m glad I started reading again. I forgot how wonderful it is to learn, understand, and explore the worlds of others — to see life through their eyes and be inspired to go new places and live better.
And so, with another year coming to an end, I wanted to share the books that inspired wanderlust in me the most:
1. The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton
A reader recommendation that made my must-read list a few months back, this book examines the why of travel. What compels us to see the world? From the anticipation of a trip to the act of getting there, being there, and the return, Alain de Botton discusses it all. It was the most thought-provoking travel book I’ve read all year. It really made me think about why I travel and what I want to get out of it. The author’s incredibly sophisticated and vivid use of language and imagery sucks you in, and his discussions of beauty, travel, and the mundane are all equally engaging and thought provoking.
2. Turn Right at Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams
This book recounts Mark Adams’s tale of roughing it through Peru in search of little-visited Inca ruins and ancient cities while following archaeologist Hiram Bingham’s original route. In a country filled with Inca ruins, many are still unexcavated and see few tourists. The book taught me a lot about Peru, and I am inspired to visit a lot of the sites Adams explored on my trip there next year. Like him, I fully plan to turn right. It was the best travelogue I’ve read in the past year and has inspired me to visit a lot of the places he did in the book. Further reading: Check out my interview with Mark from earlier in the year.
3. The Lost City of Z, by David Grann
Another book about another South American explorer, this book seeks to find out what happened to explorer Percy Fawcett when he trekked through the Amazon jungle in search of the fabled lost city of Z. Blending history, biography, and travelogue, author David Grann intermingles information about Percy’s life and expeditions with the science behind the myth of Z and the possibility that there could have been vast advanced civilizations in the Amazon. The book reminded me of Turn Right at Machu Picchu: modern writer follows fabled explorer through the jungle. And it was equally good. I learned a lot about the region and the history of the cultures and civilizations that inhabited the land long before Westerners came stomping about killing people.
4. Marching Powder, by Rusty Young
This book by Rusty Young tells the true story of Thomas McFadden, an English drug trafficker who ended up in Bolivia’s San Pedro prison after an official double-crossed him. While it wasn’t the most well-written book I’ve read, the story sucks you in and is a page-turner. You learn about life in a prison, where inmates bought their own cells (which created a huge class system), made their own drugs (to be sold on the streets), bribed cops, and developed an economy filled with shops, elected officials, and neighborhoods. This is not a story of redemption. It’s one about life in one of the most corrupt prisons in the world…and the weird tourist attraction it and the prisoners came to be.
5. Cockpit Confidential, by Patrick Smith
Flying gives me a lot of anxiety. I white-knuckle the armrest for at least half my flight, so when I came across the book, I got excited. A book by a pilot that explains how planes work and what all those sounds I’m hearing are? YES! I devoured this book in three days (it’s an easy read). Patrick Smith’s book (written in Q&A) takes a lot of the mystery out of flying and what life as a pilot is like. Throughout the book I kept saying to myself “Oh, that’s what that movement/sound/smell/turn means.” It eased many of my flying fears and provided such a better understanding of how planes work.
6. Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, by Russell Shorto
Written by Russell Shorto, one of my favorite writers, this book covers one of my favorite cities in the world. Shorto moved to Amsterdam with his wife and children and — as he did in his book on Manhattan — has written a phenomenal tale of the city’s history, starting from its founding until modern times. I’ve read a lot of books about Amsterdam, and this book is by far one of the best, providing a wonderful overview of the city and its culture as told through the stories of its famous and not-so-famous residents.
7. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
This book by Paulo Coelho is always on my best-reads list. I picked it back up after a friend’s passing, as it was his favorite book and I hadn’t read it in awhile. The story follows a young shepherd boy traveling from Spain to Egypt after a dream tells him he needs to get to Egypt. Along the way, he meets interesting people, learns to follow his heart, go with the flow, and discovers love and the meaning of life. Lots of people roll their eyes when people mention it as their favorite, but if you get past the hype, this book is truly inspiring, filled with wonderful quotes. My favorite is, “If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man…Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.”
8. Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. One Step at a Time., by Ed Stafford
OK, to be honest, I didn’t find this to be a well-written book. Ed Stafford isn’t a natural writer, and it took me a few chapters before I got into the book. However, what compelled me to power through this is the story — what a story! This guy walked from the Pacific to the Atlantic, from Peru to Brazil, all the way across the Amazon jungle! He was the first person to do this, cutting his way through jungle, sleeping in the trees, and almost starving a few times. I was impressed by the tenacity he displayed during the trip and how he plows on despite a constant barrage of stresses and troubles. I won’t spoil the book for you, but will say this kind of travel story is what inspires people to go out and do something wonderful and life changing. Read this for the story, not the prose.
9. A Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost, by Rachel Friedman
This book is everything I wish Eat, Pray, Love would have been. It was riveting, exciting, and less self indulgent. Rachel begins the book describing her sheltered childhood and her decision to spend just a few months in Ireland. There she meets a wild-child Australian who becomes her best friend and inspires her to travel and live in Australia and South America. Along the way Rachel grows and developed as a person. Most of us will relate to this book – the desire to break out of our shell, our fear of the unknown, getting more comfortable in our own skin, and growing as travel makes us more independent. Well-written, funny, and a bit self-deprecating, this book made me smile all the way through.
10. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Forgetting the hype of the book (and the subsequent movie), I really did like this book. Cheryl Strayed’s book is about her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail when she was 26. She sets off in hopes of finding herself and coming to grips with the death of her mother, break-up of her marriage, and drug use. She’s looking for a fresh start. Along the way, she encounters kindness, happy fellow hikers, and a deep sense of belong. Filled with wonderful prose, I found this book deeply moving. It’s easy to see why the book became such a hit.
11. How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, by me!
OK, I had to sneak this one in there! The best book I read all year on travel planning (not that I’m biased!), this how to guide will help you plan your trip from A to Z, save money in regions around the world, and become the best budget traveler in the world. This book was three month New York Times best seller and has helped a lot of people plan and save for a better trip. It contains a lot of information not found on this blog, especially when it comes to the destination sections! Plus, it makes for a great Christmas gift so if anyone knows someone who is thinking of heading out on the road, you should get this book! I’m just saying! 🙂
Here are a few more books from throughout the year that I also enjoyed:
- Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., by Ron Chernow
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Steven R. Covey
- Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, by Adam Alter
- My ’Dam Life: Three Years in Holland, by Sean Condon
- Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story, by J. Maarten Troost
- The House of Rothschild, Volume 1: Money’s Prophets, 1798–1848, by Niall Ferguson
So there are my top books for 2015! If you have any suggestions for books, leave them in the comment section.
And if you are looking to get even more suggestions, I started a community book club earlier in the year. Once a month you’ll get a list of suggested books based on what I read and loved that month.
I’m looking forward to another year of being a reading machine, and I hope to pick up the pace even more. I brought six books with me to Southeast Asia, and I finished all of them last week. I don’t think (most of us) spend enough time reading about the places we visit (and, if you’re an armchair traveler, a great way to learn about places you can’t get to).