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

Maarad: A Tale of Three Cities

An abandoned modernist fairground in Lebanon came to epitomise both the worst excesses of war and hopes of renewal afterwards.

This Robotic Claw Gently Captures Sea Life Without Harming Them

Cultivating jellyfish in labs is difficult, so scientists have searched for years for a way to collect deep sea samples without hurting them. This origami-like robot could be the eureka moment.

Up Close: Land of Nothingness

Belgian photographer Maroesjka Lavigne on the ghostly quality of a poignant, serendipitous shot in Namibia’s Etosha National Park.

Up Close: Boneyard

Photographer Greg White visits an airplane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona, and finds pathos in once-powerful birds of the sky now grounded from duty.

Up Close: Wall of Death

The stuntmen of Allahabad, north India, risk their lives daily by riding motorbikes around vertical walls made from salvaged wood. Defying gravity through sheer momentum, they create a vertiginous, noisy whirl of action to enthrall the crowds.

Up Close: Ice Fishers

Photographer Aleksey Kondratyev on the generations of Kazakh men who brave temperatures that often reach forty degrees below zero in the hope of catching fish beneath the ice.
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