World Hum: Top 30 Travel Books


Don’t you just love World Hum? From their engaging stories and informative interviews with travel writers, World Hum stands for more than the journey in travel and travel writing, but the quirks, twists, and turns along the way. And if that wasn’t enough, this month, in celebration of their five year anniversary, they’re reviewing the top 30 travel books of all time. In typical World Hum fashion, they’ve recruited some of the top travel writers and editors — Thomas Swick, Michael Shapiro, and Rolf Potts to name a few — to add their contributions. The list has sent me back to my bookshelves and to the nearest bookstore. But, more importantly, renewed my love for travel, self-discovery, and poignant writing.

Highlights from the list:

Number 13: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
Review by Michael Yessis

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Some readers may question the inclusion of John Steinbeck’s best-known work of nonfiction, Travels with Charley, in our list of the top travel books. It is, after all, about a man driving across the United States in a camper named after Don Quixote’s horse in the company of a poodle named Charley. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound like a work to be taken seriously. But “Travels with Charley” is no Marley & Me. The dog, for the most part, remains in the background, and the Salinas, California-bred Steinbeck trains his Nobel Prize-winning eye—he was awarded the Literature Prize the same year “Charley” was released—on what he believed to be a decaying America. (World Hum link)


Number 28: Facing the Congo by Jeffrey Tayler
Review by Rolf Potts

Though “adventure” travel writing has come to the point where it often blurs with extreme sports coverage, Tayler’s chronicle of his 1995 pirogue trip down the Congo River proves that the most engrossing adventure tales don’t involve corporate sponsors and television crews. Frustrated with a dead-end life as a Moscow-based expatriate, the author travels to what was then Zaire to re-create British explorer Henry Stanley’s trip down the legendary Central African river in a dugout canoe. Tayler’s underlying impetus for the journey is to find meaning in his life by testing its limits—which proves to be no problem, as the author continually faces smothering heat, corrupt soldiers, lawlessness, hunger, swarms of insects, and a creeping sense of fear. (World Hum link)

Missed a day? Read the complete list, with excerpts and full reviews here. Favorite book left off the list? Or feel a certain book should be higher? I hear, they’re creating a forum to discuss the selected choices.