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The ULTIMATE Travel Resource Library – Part I:New Mexico, Colorado, France, Vietnam and Haiti

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….

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