The FULL Travel library is available here

Part I: Colorado, France, Haiti, New Mexico and Vietnam available 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.

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.

This is an attempt at “crowd-sourcing” a broad diversity of opinion and input on books about place.  So please feel free to join in and offer up your suggestions!

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

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Finland

A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940 by William Trotter

It is hard to spend much time in Finland without hearing this or that about the Winter War of 1939-1940, when this little country, a new and somewhat troubled democracy fought off the monster that was Stalin’s Soviet Union with little or no foreign help. Although the Soviet Union (and Russia itself) has faded as an issue of Finland’s national security, it is hard to truly understand Finland from since World War II without knowing the near mythical fight against the USSR. Trotter’s work is outstanding.

Notes for the Aurora Society by Jim O’Donnell

I’m going to go full-on self promotion here and categorically state that my 2009 book about the Finnish relationship to the natural environment is key in understanding how this country clicks. For five months I walked 1500 miles across Finland exploring that relationship both from a historical perspective as well as a modern understanding.

Sibelius: A Composer’s Life and the Awakening of Finland by Glenda Dawn Goss

This is a fabulous read! Not only does Goss deliver a powerful biography of a brilliant musician but, setting the book against the backdrop of the rise of Finnish nationalism, the reader gains a great insight into the making of modern Finland.

Japan

A Traveller’s History of Japan by Richard Tames

This is the only book I’ve ever read about Japan. Japan is one of those places that has slowly but steadily risen on my bucket list. This is the kind of book that will make you want to go. Although a little hard to connect with at first (pre-history is never easy to write about in an engaging manner) this history is scholarly enough and yet still engaging and gives the traveler a good idea about how Japan came to be. One thing that drove me nuts however is that, while mentioning historical landmarks, the author does not tell you how to get there. For most people reading this sort of book, visiting the site with ease would be nice.

Mexico

The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz

You want to get at the Mexican psyche? In my opinion, this is the place to begin. This Nobel-Prize winning author explores what it means to be Mexican by diving into the troubled waters of political power in post-Conquest Mexico. This book pissed off the elite and earned Paz alot of trouble.For me, this is proof of its power.

Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans by Alan Riding

Mexico is one of those places I have visited again and again over the past twenty years. Living in the Southwestern USA, I was never far from the border and the rippling effects of its troubles. And yet Mexico is a mystery in so many ways. Most Americans have little to know understanding of Mexico beyond tacos, tourist resorts and immigration difficulties. This book, albeit twenty years old, is a good place to start understanding.

Turkey

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

Istanbul is one of the greatest cities I’ve been lucky enough to visit. It holds a special place in my heart and I can’t wait for a chance to return. This is an lovely and intimate portrait of a melancholic life in a 4000-year old city of fading glory – the ancient meeting place of East and West. Prepare for a little sorrow.

Egypt

When I chose Egypt for this week’s installment I thought: “oh, I’ve read tons about Egypt, that should be an easy one to start out” and then I realized I couldn’t think of a single book – especially about modern Egypt. So, where do we begin with this one?

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