The full library is available here

Part II is here

You already know we’re book hounds here at Around the World in Eighty Years.   Heck, the name itself is an ode to the literature of travel.Photo: Evan Bench

I never go anywhere without a stack of books.

Wherever I go, I’m obsessed with knowing as much as I can about a place.  How did the environment evolve?  How did that influence and impact the different cultures that moved into the area? Why did they come? Whey did they go? Who were they?  I want to know about the politics, the art, the literature, the wars, the agriculture, the food…..anything and everything.

Knowing as much as I can about a place before I go – and learning more while I’m there – greatly enhances the quality of my experience.

Over the remainder of the year, Around the World in Eighty Years will, with your help, build out the ULTIMATE Travel Library.  This wont be a library of travel literature per se but rather an evolving collection of the top books vital to understanding a new place – or an old place for that matter.  We never stop learning.

Right now, I’m aiming for a minimum of ten books per location.  This week we will start out with NEW MEXICO and COLORADO in the USA, FRANCE, VIETNAM and HAITI.

I’ve started filling in below but I’d like to get a broad diversity of opinion and input.

Please chime in below in the comments section and offer up your suggestion for one or more of the locations for this week. I’ll be sure to HT you and give credit for the suggestion.

As this will be a work in progress, be sure to check back.



Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range by William DeBuys

A fabulously rich and complete natural and cultural history account of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico – my home and a region utterly unique in its tremendous ecological and cultural diversity.

The Orphaned Land: New Mexico’s Environment Since the Manhattan Project by VB Price

An exploration of the impacts of the of the poisoning of New Mexico’s environment and the terrible consequences that has had for much of our state. Price, one of my professors from the University of New Mexico covers everything from contaminated dust from Los Alamos National Laboratory to Superfund sites in Albuquerque’s Hispanic communities to the legacy of uranium mining and processing in “Indian Country” to the current impacts of oil and gas development on the environment and communities of eastern New Mexico.

The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition by Chris Wilson

The City of Santa Fe, New Mexico is a world class destination. Why? Most visitors would say it is the authentic culture to be found in the “city different”. But how authentic is that culture? In fact there is a widly fascinating story behind the romantic adobe facades and mass marketing Hispanic and Indian stereotypes. The city’s image was consciously manufactured by Anglo-American businessmen in the years prior to World War II.

Great River: the Rio Grande in North American History: Indians and Spain; Mexico and the United States (2 Volumes) by Paul Horgan

Although some of the language and stereotypes in this tome will seem dated to the modern reader, the essential story of this great work – the life and times of the Rio Grande and its peoples – remains true. The scholarly work and accessible, literary writing style make this one of the great historical works of all time.

Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides

An extraordinary look at the history of the American conquest of the West via the life of New Mexico-based Kit Carson – the legendary trapper, scout, and soldier, hero and villain. A man who embodies all the contradictions of the -Euro-American invasion, conquest and experience of what we know as the American West.


Easy to use and fun to read! This is the perfect book to take on a road trip in this widly diverse state. Complete with photographs and diagrams and history from the Precambrian to the Quarternary, you can dive deep into the geology of the area you’re visiting or just check out what type of rock is in your hand.
(Hat tip: Maria)

The Place Names of New Mexico by Robert Julvan

Simple, fun read. There is so much to learn when you ask…why did it get this name?
(Hat tip: Maria)


Roadside Geology of Colorado (Roadside Geology Series)

Amazon says: “The rocks and landforms have not changed much since the publication of the first edition of the Roadside Geology of Colorado in 1980, but our understanding of them has. With expanded coverage, updated maps, new photographs, and the latest geologic interpretations, this nontechnical guide introduces you to the tumultuous geological history of Colorado s mountains, plateaus, and plains. The second edition includes tours of Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve, Mesa Verde National Park, and Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.” (Hat tip: Maria)

Utes: The Mountain People by Jan Pettit

Ouray: Chief of the Utes by P. David Smith

It takes at least these two books to understand the original inhabitants of Colorado and the genocide that befell them at the hands of the Euro-Americans. The Mountain People reaches far back laying a rich history of the Ute people dating from the distant past to modern Ute culture. The book is chock full of rare and photographs and information on tepee culture, art, oral tradition, music and songs, dances, hunting, religion and more. Ouray tells the sad tale of the last leader of the free Utes. A brilliant man trying to navigate the brutal tides of history.


Where do we begin?


The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family by Duong Va Mai Elliot

Amazon says: “Based on family papers, dozens of interviews, and a wealth of other research, this is not only a memorable family saga, but a record of how the Vietnamese themselves have experienced their times. At times haunting, at times heartbreaking–it is always mesmerizing–The Sacred Willow will forever change how we view the history of Vietnam and our own role in it.”
(Hat Tip Pacabook)


Rainy Season: Haiti-Then and Now by Amy Wilenz

Why is Haiti like it is? One of the most incredible travel writers around tackles just that questions in this highly acclaimed and vivid portrait of Haiti in the years before the earthquake. Tough, violent, touching, inspiring and depressing. A must read for understanding Haiti.

The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer

You want the truth about Haiti? Its not a comfortable thing to hear – particularly for Americans.

Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

I guess there is little out there about Haiti that is not heartbreaking. Here are nine short stories, all beautifully told, that touch on the realities that real Haitians – real human beings – face on a daily basis.

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat

About a prison guard during the brutal dictatorship of voodoo physician Francois ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier.

Amazon says: “We meet him late in life: a quiet man, a good father and husband, a fixture in his Brooklyn neighborhood, a landlord and barber with a terrifying scar across his face. As the book unfolds, moving seamlessly between Haiti in the 1960s and New York City today, we enter the lives of those around him, and learn that he has also kept a vital, dangerous secret.”
(Hat Tip Pacabook)

Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren

Although written in the 1950s, this work is useful for it’s look at where and how the religion most closely associated with Haiti came to be. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the book. Its more of a metaphysical, religious, philosophical & anthropological study of Voodoun than a “how to” guide. This is an artists take on the religion not an anthropologists – and that may make it even more valuable.
(Hat tip Stuart Wilde)


Next up? Scandanavia and North Africa….


  1. Comment by John Mata

    John Mata Reply February 29, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    This is a cool idea. I'll be checking back in to see how the progress goes.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply February 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm

      Yes do! I'm getting suggestions on twitter and FB. Thought people would post here but its ok. I'll update with the new suggestions tonight.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply March 2, 2012 at 5:04 am

      Updated with suggestions thus far. Do you have any thoughts on layout, etc? Just curious.

    • Comment by John Mata

      John Mata Reply March 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      Jim O'Donnell, this is an excellent turn out. What a cool idea, and implemented well.

    • Comment by John Mata

      John Mata Reply June 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      it would be cool to see the cover images to each of these books next to the corresponding plug.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply June 9, 2012 at 9:42 pm

      Agreed. Im actually working on just that but the formatting seems a little more challenging than I thought. I've actually had to fiddle with the code a bit so….getting there.

  2. Comment by Maria

    Maria Reply February 29, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    the roadside geology books are always great, inc New Mexico and Colorado
    also, the book on place names in NM is a fun read

    • Comment by Jim

      Jim Reply February 29, 2012 at 10:33 pm

      Great ideas! They are really worthwhile those books. Thanks!

  3. Comment by packabook

    packabook Reply March 1, 2012 at 10:24 am

    For Haiti – 'The Dew Breaker' a novel by Edwidge Danticat about a prison guard during the brutal dictatorship of voodoo physician Francois ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier. For Vietnam – The Sacred Willow, a memoir/family biography which covers four generations by Duong Van Mai Elliot comes highly recommended. And for France? Oh so many…you may have to look at some of my suggestions on the Packabook website – I can't possibly choose!

    • Comment by Jim

      Jim Reply March 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      Great! Thank you for the help! I will look at packabook. Its funny, having been to France so many times and having lived there at one point I cant think of a single book that I could put on that list for France!

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply March 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      Great! Thank you for the help! I will look at packabook. Its funny, having been to France so many times and having lived there at one point I cant think of a single book that I could put on that list for France!

    • Comment by Kate Nivison

      Kate Nivison Reply March 3, 2012 at 9:17 am

      Well that's weird, Jim, neither could I, and we had a cottage in Normandy for 8 years and love the place. Written about it a lot too. Must have a think. Best thing I've seen on France lately is by Jonathan Meades, (has he reached you over there yet?) whose persona is that of a stuffy intellectual be-suited Brit but he's so slyly witty and downright erudite – a real one-off. It was a BBC4 TV series, but there will be a book, I'm sure.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply March 13, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Kate Nivison is he the one that wrote incest and morris dancing? That was hilarious. I havent seen anything from him on France however.

  4. Comment by Monika Fuchs

    Monika Fuchs Reply March 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    This is exactly how I like to travel also. The more you know about a place the more rewarding a trip will be. And it will keep you coming back, because you want to find out even more … I like your book recommendations for New Mexico and will definitely look into them.

  5. Comment by Garth Moore

    Garth Moore Reply March 2, 2012 at 4:13 am

    Well, any NM book by Paul Horgan is good (e.g. Lamy of Santa Fe). I also like William Keleher books, but he's hard to find. Violence in Lincoln County and Maxwell Land Grants are great reads. I also keep a copy of New Mexico: An Interpretive History by Marc Simmons.

    Good list thus far, Jim.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply March 2, 2012 at 4:30 am

      Great suggestions. Some I've read and others not but will put them up. Thanks G!

  6. Comment by Kate Nivison

    Kate Nivison Reply March 2, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    For Vietnam, a novel by Christopher J. Koch, 1997, 'Highways to a War', from the viewpoint of an Australian guy who goes looking for his friend who's gone missing as a war correspondent in Vietnam. Absolutely gripping. I woke up one night after reading it in bed, in a warm sweat thinking I was up to my waist in a paddi field. And that was before I visited Vietnam and did the VC tunnels. It has wonderful background to that time, using his friend's diaries and notes to great effect – and the end – aargh!
    'The Quiet American', Graham Greene of course. So clinical a dissection of the politics that it almost hurts.
    Christopher J. Koch also wrote 'The Year of Living Dangerously', made into one of my all-time favourite swoony-movies with Mel Gibson as the rookie correspondent when he was at his considerable best and before he lost the plot. That one is set in Jakarta and was filmed mainly in Thailand, which is cheating a bit. But 'Highways to a War' is real Boys' Own read from a writer who was definitely not just passing through.

  7. Comment by John Rimel

    John Rimel Reply March 5, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Mountain Press, who publishes the Roadside Geology series, also publishes the Roadside History series. In addition, we also distribute books for a couple other small presses who also have books that may be of interest, particularly for New Mexico and Colorado titles. I'll put a catalog in the mail to you today. Great listing! I'll be interested to see it develop as a resource. I too tend to buy books and read as much as I can before taking off.

    • Comment by Linda Tiley Stark

      Linda Tiley Stark Reply March 5, 2012 at 7:26 pm

      You are always are resident historian on our little sojourns.

      • Comment by Jim

        Jim Reply March 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm

        They have great stuff indeed.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply March 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      Excellent! Thank you. I will update the list tonight. Please, do send along the catalog!

  8. Comment by Linda Stark

    Linda Stark Reply March 5, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    New Mexico – What is New Mexico without its artists. Mabel Dodge Luhan: “New Woman, New Worlds” or “Winter in Taos”. And Cather’s Death Comes For the Archbishop.

    Colorado – James Galvin’s “The Meadow” an extraordinary book that’s a mixture of natural history and memoir that takes place in NE Colorado. Absolute beauty.

    • Comment by Jim

      Jim Reply March 5, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      Thank you so much. I’ve read the Luhan books but never Galvin. I’ll update the list tonight.

  9. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply March 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Over at Goodreads, John suggested:

    For Vietnam, I'll thrown in "Destination Saigon", written by a westerner fluent in the language – they don't grow on trees! The book covers much of the country, not just Saigon, by any means.

    And, for Haiti on your current list: "Bonjour Blanc".

    They look interesting. Has anyone read them?

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