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12 Books that Will Inspire Travel in A Historical Context

Discover the best books to read that will inspire travel in a historical context. Explore the history of the many places you've traveled or would like to travel. Learn about history-focused travel books to read at home for the armchair traveler.
What are the best books to read if you love to travel and need to stay home? Travel-focused books can take many forms. 

In an earlier post in this series, we focused on books that inspire travel adventures. Now we return with another list of great reads inspired by history. 

This list covers history in many forms including scientific achievement plus inspiring and incredible stories of life under unimaginable circumstances. 

There is also some history that we must read to make sure the memories live on and we aren't destined to repeat past mistakes. 

Books about history can be difficult and often emotional to read but we owe it to ourselves to do so.

Books that Inspire Travel History: Map and Compass

I have compiled a list of my favorite travel books with a history theme. I've personally read all the books on this list and recommend each one for armchair travelers. Each book inspires travel or invokes a strong sense of place that you can revisit and see for yourself on a future trip when we travel again after the current crisis passes.

1. Sun Dancing: A Vision of Medieval Ireland by Geoffrey Moorhouse

Part historical fiction, part history lesson, Sun Dancing imagines the story of the monks who made a home on Skellig Michael, a windswept island off the coast of the Ring of Kerry in Ireland for hundreds of years. How did they get there? How did they live? Why did they leave? Skellig Michael has become famous of late as a Star Wars set, but what better way to experience these islands that have captured the public's imagination than by taking a trip back in time to this Medieval monastic outpost.

2. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

Transatlantic weaves a tale of historical fiction spanning two centuries. The story begins with the daring non-stop transatlantic flight in the early 20th century in an open-air cockpit leaving from Canada and arriving in Connemara, Ireland. This story is interlaced with Frederick Douglas and the abolitionist's tour of Dublin and Cork to speak and fund-raise for the anti-slavery cause in the mid-18th century. If that weren't enough, McCann brings in a third story: George Mitchell's negotiation of the peace process in Northern Ireland. This is an epic historical novel rich in Irish history.

3. The Lost Executioner: The Story of Comrade Duch and the Khmer Rouge by Nic Dunlop

The Cambodian genocide executed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge is one of the most heartbreaking stories I have encountered in my travels. Up to 2 million people died and at least 20,000 of those were at the hand of Comrade Duch. Somehow, Comrade Duch managed to slip away and escape persecution until an Irish journalist went on a mission and found him. The Lost Executioner is an impressive piece of journalism albeit heartbreaking to read.

4. First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

I practically cried from start to finish when reading First They Killed My Father. While The Lost Executioner focused on bringing a high ranking member of the Khmer Rouge to justice, this story is one of family uprooted, disrupted, and forever changed by the Cambodian Genocide. Written by survivor Loung Ung, this is a story that is difficult to read but must be read.

5. King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild

King Leopold of Belgium wreaked terror on the Congo in Sub-Saharan Africa in the late 19th and early 20th century. This work of historical non-fiction uncovers the darkest side of colonialism as King Leopold exploited the vast ivory and rubber resources of the Congo for the gain of himself and his empire.

6. A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable by John Steele Gordon

Moving on to a more uplifting story, A Thread Across the Ocean covers the scientific innovation and sheer will required to lay the world's first transatlantic cable and connect Europe and North America. Today, our phone lines and internet work like magic, but without these physical cables much of what we take for granted would be an impossibility. While this is a work of historical non-fiction, it reads like a novel. By the end, you'll be cheering for the heroes at sea who made this giant leap forward in the speed of communication possible in the mid-19th century.

7. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

 A Passage to India is considered to be one of the greatest books of all time. This novel takes places in the 1920s and sets a series of well-drawn characters against the backdrop of the British Colonial empire, racial tensions, and the India independence movement. Not only is this a great story but a great history lesson.

8. Breaking the Tongue: A Novel by Vyvyane Loh

I still remember the sheer melancholy of reading Breaking the Tongue. Set in Singapore during World War II, we find Claude Lim, a youth of Chinese heritage being tortured by the Japanese. Experience Southeast Asia and the upheaval wrought by its role as a wartime battleground.

9. Bound Feet and Western Dress by Pang-Mei Chang

Written in the voices of two generations, tradition and modernity collide against a backdrop of Chinese culture in the 20th century. What fascinated me the most were the descriptions and pictures of traditional foot binding practices that put women through unbelievable torture to achieve a delicate and tiny ideal.

10. Batavia's Graveyard by Mike Dash

I picked up Batavia's Graveyard at the Western Australia Maritime Museum near Perth. Mike Dash weaves a story that reads like a fictional thriller but is actually historical non-fiction. Batavia's Graveyard recounts the voyage, shipwreck, and marooning of the crew on a small island off the coast of Australia. If that fortune weren't grave enough, add a murderous captain into the mix and you've got a story that you won't be able to put down. 

11. Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder

Transport yourself to Gold Rush era California and imagine the SS Central America loaded with riches and passengers returning home after striking it rich in the 19th century. Imagine when disaster struck and the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean. Fast forward to the late 20th century when a dive team set out determined to set up an operation to find and recover the sunken treasure. This is a fascinating work of non-fiction that captures the imagination with a mix of history and scientific ingenuity. 

12. Evolution's Captain: NF abt Capt. FitzRoy and Chas Darwin by Peter Nichols

I absolutely loved Evolution's Captain. The world knows Charles Darwin, but Captain Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle is less well-known. This is his story. Explore new worlds and meet native populations along the Strait of Magellan in South America. Read about Captain Fitzroy's descent into madness as the journey progressed. While Darwin is not the central character, you'll see the evidence that he used to propose and support his theory of evolution.  

There you have it, 12 books that inspire travel and that have been inspired by our travels with a focus on history. Did you enjoy this post? Sharing is caring...   

Books that will inspire travel in a historical contextBooks for travel and history lovers


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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 12 Books that Will Inspire Travel in A Historical Context
12 Books that Will Inspire Travel in A Historical Context
Discover the best books to read that will inspire travel in a historical context. Explore the history of the many places you've traveled or would like to travel. Learn about history-focused travel books to read at home for the armchair traveler.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog
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