Without Ever Reaching the Summit, by Paolo Cognetti, Harvill Secker, RRP£10.99, 160 pages
A breath of fresh air for mountain-lovers currently in confinement, this slim, elegant account follows Cognetti’s trek through the remote Dolpo region of northwestern Nepal. It’s a travel journal, a literary homage to Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, and a eulogy to the purity of life at high altitude. The sparse, graceful prose (translated from Italian by Stash Luczkiw) reflects the barren landscape and the author’s joy in paring back the distractions of modern life.
A Tomb with a View: The Stories and Glories of Graveyards, by Peter Ross, Headline, RRP£20, 368 pages
It might seem crass to call this book timely but in recent lockdowns many of us have enjoyed strolling in a local cemetery, finding fresh air, solitude and, in Ross’s words “a vaccine against the gloom; exposure to a particle of darkness means one does not sicken with it”. He explores graveyards across Britain, Ireland and in Flanders, finding them “treasure-houses of stories”. The pages burst with life and anecdote while also examining our relationship with remembrance.
The Museum of Whales You Will Never See: Travels Among the Collectors of Iceland, by A Kendra Greene, Granta, RRP£14.99, 272 pages
Iceland has just 357,000 people but 265 museums. Although the country’s ice caps and thermal baths get all the attention, many visitors will have found themselves whiling away a wet afternoon in front of an esoteric collection, be it devoted to herring, punk rock or phallology. Greene’s quirky narrative style won’t be to all tastes, but her museum tour captures the magical charm of this wild, idiosyncratic country.
Cathedrals of Steam: How London’s Great Stations Were Built — and How They Transformed the City, by Christian Wolmar, Atlantic Books, RRP£25, 352 pages
In just four decades in the middle of the 19th century, a dozen major railway terminuses were built in London — more than any other city — by rival rail companies racing to get as near as possible to the centre of the capital. The creation of those stations shaped the city, and nearly all survive today. Wolmar’s history will delight train spotters but is also fascinating for the passengers who often pass through these great transport temples without a second thought.
Tell us what you think
What are your favourites from this list — and what books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below
Antarctic Atlas: New Maps and Graphics That Tell the Story of A Continent, by Peter Fretwell, Particular Books, RRP£35, 208 pages
A cartographer and scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, Fretwell has created 70 new maps each revealing different aspects of the icy continent. We learn the locations of the “pole of ignorance”, the world’s driest place, and the largest penguin colonies, but also about the human history and politics of the region and — alarmingly — what Antarctica might look like once all the ice is gone.
Tom Robbins is the FT’s travel editor
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