A well-told lie

13 August 2011
The Cat’s Table Michael Ondaatje

Cape, pp.265, £16.99

Autobiography provides a sound foundation for a work mainly of fiction. A voyage in an ocean liner provides a sound framework of time and place. Michael Ondaatje was born in… Read more

Heroes of the Ice Age

13 August 2011
An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science Edward J. Larson

Yale University Press, pp.326, £18.99

In Shackleton’s Footsteps: A Return to the Heart of the Antarctic Henry Worsley

Virgin Books (Random House), pp.260, £18.99

Race for the South Pole: The Expedition Diaries of Scott and Amundsen Roland Huntford

Continuum, pp.330, £10.99

The Quest for Frank Wild Angie Butler

Jackleberry Press, pp.213, £25

In the early 20th century, explorers were goaded and galvanised by the blanks on the maps — the North and South Poles, and the mist-draped floes and glaciers around them.… Read more


Junk, day and night

6 August 2011
Litter: How Other People's Rubbish Shapes Our Lives Theodore Dalrymple

Gibson Square, pp.159, 9.99

Travelling the 400 miles from Glasgow to London recently, Theodore Dalrymple noticed that the roadside was littered with food and drink packaging, flapping in the wind like Buddhist prayer flags.… Read more

Don’t blur the lines

30 July 2011
Walk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground Mark Mason

Random House, pp.376, 12.99

Did you know that on the Central Line’s maiden journey to Shepherd’s Bush, one of the passengers was Mark Twain? Or that The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Sign… Read more

The last place on earth

23 July 2011
White Fever: A Journey to the Frozen Heart of Siberia Jacek Hugo-Bader, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Portobello Books, pp.323, 16.99

Colin Thubron has called Siberia ‘the ultimate unearthly abroad’, the ‘place from which you will not return’. Colin Thubron has called Siberia ‘the ultimate unearthly abroad’, the ‘place from which… Read more


Talking about regeneration

23 July 2011
Ghost Milk Iain Sinclair

416, pp.20, 9780241144350

Iain Sinclair, the London novelist and poet, is always on the move. From the industrial sumplands of Woolwich to the jagged riversides of Gravesend, he rakes unfrequented zones for literary… Read more

Wool of bat and lizard leg

16 July 2011
Thin Paths Julia Blackburn

Cape, pp.250, 17.99

When Julia Blackburn and her Dutch husband Herman move into an old village house perched on a cliff high above the Italian Ligurian Riviera they become part of a dwindling… Read more


Good companions

16 July 2011
Seen in the Yemen: Travelling with Freya Stark and Others Hugh Leach

Arabian Publishing, pp.308, 45

‘Choose your companions’, says an early Arab proverb, ‘thereafter your road.’ In the 1970s, Hugh Leach’s companion on his travels to Northern Yemen was Freya Stark, and she has become… Read more

The other man’s grass . . .

9 July 2011
The Art of Camping Matthew de Abaitua

Hamish Hamilton, pp.240, 14.99

Hundreds of thousands of hardy souls are preparing for a few nights under canvas this summer, often facing sunburn or trench foot while giddily jumping up and down in a… Read more

Ways of escape

9 July 2011
The Tao of Travel Paul Theroux

Hamish Hamilton, pp.275, 16.99

When I compiled a list of the top dozen travel writers of the past century for an American magazine the other day, it required some effort not to come up… Read more


Bella vistas

9 July 2011
The Best Gardens in Italy: A Traveller’s Guide by Kirsty Mcleod, photographs by Primrose Bell

Frances Lincoln, pp.262, 30

Great Gardens of Italy Monty Don and Derry Moore

Quadrille, pp.224, 25

Many moons ago when I went to Sissinghurst to ask Nigel Nicolson (late of this parish) if I could write about his mother, Vita Sackville-West, he raised his hands, and… Read more


Relics of old Castile

11 June 2011
A Pilgrim in Spain Christopher Howse

Continuum, pp.214, 16.99

Christopher Howse describes Spain as ‘the strangest place with which Westerners can easily identify’. Christopher Howse describes Spain as ‘the strangest place with which Westerners can easily identify’. He has… Read more


Elegy for wild Wales

4 June 2011
Three Journeys Byron Rogers

Gomer, pp.268, 16.99

If you drive West out of Carmarthen on the A40, you pass through a landscape of dimpled hills and lonely chapels and little rivers full of salmon trout. This is… Read more


Deep, dark mysteries

4 June 2011
London Under Peter Ackroyd

Chatto, pp.192, 12.99

The Stones of London: A History of Twelve Buildings Leo Hollis

Weidenfeld, pp.456, 25

For Peter Ackroyd, the subterranean world holds a potent allure. London Under, his brief account of the capital’s catacombs and other murky zones, manages to radiate a dark mystery and… Read more

Very drôle

28 May 2011
Paris Revealed Stephen Clarke

Bantam, pp.278, 10.99

It’s nice to know that the trees lining the roads in Paris have microchips embedded in their trunks, that the city council is controlling the pigeon population by shaking the… Read more

Enchanting waters

14 May 2011
To the River Olivia Laing

Canongate, pp.283, 16.99

This is a book which is sometimes so private that reading it seems very nearly like an act of invasiveness. There is nothing salacious or rude in it, but its… Read more


Wheels of fortune

14 May 2011
Pedalare! Pedalare!: A History of Italian Cycling John Foot

Bloomsbury, pp.316, 14.99

The Bicycle Book Bella Bathurst

Harper Press, pp.306, 16.99

There are among us a churlish few who consider the term ‘sports personality’ to be an oxymoron. There are among us a churlish few who consider the term ‘sports personality’… Read more


The trail goes cold

2 April 2011
Venetian Navigators: The Voyages of the Zen Brothers to the Far North Andrea di Robilant

Faber, pp.244, £14.99

For centuries, the history of the far North was a tapestry of controversies and mis- understandings, misspellings, dubious arrivals and equally dubious departures. Pytheas the Greek sailed north from Britain… Read more

Glutton for punishment

26 March 2011

With its vast areas of barely explored wilderness, and its heady mix of the sublime, the bizarre and the lushly seductive, South America would appear to have all the ingredients… Read more


Nostalgie de la boue

19 March 2011
Edgelands: Journeys into England’s Wilderness Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts

Cape, pp.264, 12.99

In the late 1960s I grew up in the London borough of Greenwich, which in those days had a shabby, post-industrial edge. Behind our house on Crooms Hill stood a… Read more


A reluctant country

5 March 2011
The Pursuit of Italy: Italians and their Diversities from the Romans to the Present David Gilmour

Allen Lane, pp.446, 25

The unification of Italy 150 years ago was a terrible mistake, according to David Gilmour, imposing a national state on a diverse collection of people with little sense of patria.… Read more


To the holiest in the height

29 January 2011
To a Mountain in Tibet Colin Thubron

Chatto & Windus, pp.218, 16.99

Colin Thubron’s new book will disappoint those of his readers who admire him for his reserve. He is the last and perhaps the best of the gentleman travellers of the… Read more


Under Eastern eyes

22 January 2011
An Ottoman Traveller: Selections from the Book of Travels of Evilya Celebi translated by Robert Dankoff and Sooyong Kim

Eland, pp.482, 25

The Ottoman Empire inspired great travel books as well as great architects. Travellers like George Sandys, Richard Pococke or the Chevalier d’Arvieux in the 17th and 18th centuries were curious,… Read more


All these Indias

22 January 2011
India: a Portrait Patrick French

Allen Lane, pp.436, 25

Some years ago I went to a dinner party in Lucknow, capital of India’s Uttar Pradesh, where the hosts and their guests were Hindus who as children had fled Lahore… Read more

In the lap of the Gods

1 January 2011
Halfway House to Heaven: Unravelling the Mystery of the Majestic River Oxus Bill Colegrave

Bene Factum Publishing, pp.176, 14.99

The Oxus, that vast central Asian river that rises somewhere in the Afghan Pamirs, has fascinated explorers for centuries. Its name gives us the land of Oxiana. Yet few Europeans… Read more