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

Erling Kagge

The Norwegian polar explorer, author, publisher and father of three talks to Avaunt about the motives behind his expeditions and the value of silence and solitude in the modern age.

Art in the Wilderness

Wildlife artists Olly and Suzi have travelled to the high Arctic, desert and jungle to push themselves and their art to the limit. The difficulties they have encountered have become intrinsic to their work.

Graf Zeppelin

Remembering the last blast of the Jazz Age: an epic round-the-world journey for the German airship, Graf Zeppelin, packed with adventurers, an actress, caviar, booze, jazz and even a cat.

Skateistan

It has become part of skateboard lore that once upon a time a man called Oliver Percovich travelled to Afghanistan to continue his career as a research scientist but found his hobby could be put to better use.

The Politics of Map Projections

Most journeys start with a map. Yet creating a map is far from an exact science. Here we look at both the historic and modern calculations made by cartographers trying to render the world flat.

Archive Letter: Going All Gonzo

Hunter S. Thompson dedicated his life to pushing things to the limit. In this letter to an editor at Playboy, he reflects on the style of an epic biographical feature he was working on.
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