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.

Flows: Chinese Garden

Shot over the course of five months in and around Tulum, in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Flows leads viewers on a journey never before taken.

Living Free

When Devi Asmadiredja arrived off the bus in Georgia’s Pankisi valley, she had never travelled, spoke no Georgian or Chechen, and knew no one. Living among the locals, she soon began spending weeks walking alone in the mountains.

‘We’re on the Road Eternally’

The writer, thinker, and former politician Michael Ignatieff talks about going night-fishing on Tito’s yacht, his friendship with Bruce Chatwin, and the challenges of fighting for democratic freedom in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary.

Archive Letter: Steve McQueen’s Great Escape Annotations

A request for more ‘importance’ is just one of Steve McQueen’s scribbled demands from producers in the script that went on to seal his reputation.

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.
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