Reading List: Armchair Adventuring

From groundbreaking scientific discovery, swashbuckling on the high seas to the man who inspired James Bond, we handpick six books for armchair adventuring.

  • Words: Jolyon Webber

Explorations & Adventures in Equatorial Africa
by Paul B. du Chailu
The author travelled more than 6,000 miles, shot and stuffed over 2,000 birds and, in his own words, “suffered fifty attacks of the African fever… of famine, long-continued exposures to the tropical rains, and attacks of ferocious ants and venomous flies, it is not worth while to speak.”

Adventures of a Ballad Hunter
by John A. Lomax

Lomax is rightly thought of as one of America’s pre-eminent musicologists thanks to his life-long interest in the songs of the American folk tradition. His autobiography recounts the interesting incidents and memorable people he encountered when he traveled to collect folk music and ballads from local communities in the deep-South.

A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board His Majesty’s Ship Bounty
by William Bligh
This couldn’t resonate more with a spirit of colonial expansion and skulduggery. The story of Fletcher Christian’s mutinous commandeering of the ‘Bounty’, and the setting adrift of Bligh and his 18 loyal crewmen has become one of the most indelible stories of high seas adventure.

The Double Helix
by James D. Watson
One the most important scientific theses since Darwin’s theory of evolution, Watson and Crick’s explanation of the structure of DNA earned them both the 1962 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Watson’s 1968 memoir is all the more remarkable for the events occurring alongside its publication: political assassination and Black Power, to name a couple.

Eastward from Paris
by Edouard Herriot
The three-time French Prime Minister’s travels to Russia were certainly historic, paving the way for Soviet integration into the League of Nations in 1933. However, as The Spectator’s review from November 1934 puts it, this work doesn’t “deal with political issues [but] for anyone who can skip judiciously, the book offers many pleasant descriptions of men and things.”

The Paradise of Fools
by Michael Mason
As part of a group led by Bill Kennedy Shaw that crossed over 6,000 miles of desert, Mason recounts in detail a journey that took in regions of modern day Egypt and Libya. The author, who was recruited to Naval Intelligence by Ian Fleming, is said to have inspired James Bond.

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Further Reading

Where Are All The Female Grandmasters?

Girls play chess better than boys at primary school, so why do so few make it to the top? A look at how challenges facing female players have changed from the medieval era to the twenty-first century.

Pyrogeography

The opening of a major new centre for the study of wildfire in London this year is the latest admission of the impact it is having on society and the environment.

Cliff Diver: Blake Aldridge

‘You feel like superman. No matter what insecurities you have it makes you fulfilled for that short space of time.’ Former Olympian Blake Aldridge on forging a career jumping off cliffs.

Project Coldfeet

A highly risky operation by the CIA to get information from an abandoned Russian drift station in the Arctic involved a helium balloon, an aircraft with horns protruding from its nose, and a flying pig.

Up Close: The Floating Tongue

Scientists are explorers too, especially those that rely on remote fieldwork to bring back the data necessary to advance their research.

Castro, Cousteau and I

In 1985 Jacques Cousteau visited Cuba. He stepped off his legendary ship, Calypso, and into the welcoming arms of Fidel Castro. From the Plaza de la Revolución to the bottom of the sea, Paula DiPerna looks back on the months she spent with the unlikely pair.
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