My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering a Life of Adventure, by Alastair Humphreys, William Collins, RRP£14.99/$26.99
Proof that adventure isn’t something restricted to lavishly funded world-first expeditions. Feeling trapped in London, with a young family and accountant partner (“ambition glowered at the pram in the hall”), Humphreys jumps on a Ryanair flight to Spain. There he sets out in the footsteps of Laurie Lee, hoping to support himself for a month solely by busking with a violin he can barely play.
Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells, by Pico Iyer, Bloomsbury Circus, RRP£20/Knopf, RRP$25.95
In 1987 Iyer gave up his busy life in Manhattan, where he worked for Time, and moved to Japan, falling in love and setting up home in a small flat in Nara, a minor city near Osaka. Three decades on, the death of his father-in-law prompts this memoir about transience, decline and his simple life among the ping-pong playing pensioners in Nara. Autumn, he writes, “poses the question we all have to live with: how to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying”.
Pravda Ha Ha: True Travels to the Ends of Europe, by Rory Maclean, Bloomsbury, RRP£20
Amid the joy and optimism of 1989, Maclean travelled from Berlin to Moscow in a Trabant, writing the surreal, comic travelogue Stalin’s Nose on his return. Now he retraces his steps, in reverse, in what is a timely but far bleaker book, highlighting the rise of fake news and xenophobia, and the “collapse of the European dream”.
On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Road Trip, by Paul Theroux, Hamish Hamilton, RRP£20/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, RRP$30
Now 78, the great traveller might be forgiven for choosing a relaxing cruise or a nice spin through Tuscany. Instead, his latest work sees him driving a second-hand Buick for thousands of miles along the US-Mexican border and down to the southern state of Chiapas on a mission to better understand the migrant crisis. En route he is extorted by a corrupt policeman and finds himself addressing a meeting of far-left militants, the journey adding up to “one of the greatest adventures of my travelling life”.
Alpenglow: The Finest Climbs on the 4000m Peaks of the Alps, by Ben Tibbetts, Ben Tibbetts, RRP£65
If, rather than a tweedy plodder, Alfred Wainwright had been a cutting-edge alpinist, his books might look something like this. Alpenglow — a large-format guidebook to all 82 Alpine peaks above 4,000m — has been a decade-long labour of love for Tibbetts. As well as making all the climbs described, he illustrates the self-published book with his own photography and drawings.
Tom Robbins is the FT’s travel editor
Books of the Year 2019
FT commentators, critics and guests select the titles of the year that you need to read. Explore the series here.
What are your favourites from this list — and what books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below.
Join our online book group on Facebook at FTBooksCafe. You can listen to acclaimed novelist Ben Lerner discuss his newest book, The Topeka School, on the FT’s culture podcast Culture Call. Find it on the FT, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Get alerts on Travel books when a new story is published