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

Turkish time travel

1 January 2011

Harry Mount looks across the Dardanelles and sees yesterday’s weather today In Canakkale — the biggest town on the Dardanelles, where more than 130,000 British, Australians, New Zealanders and Turks… Read more


Wonders of the world’s fare

11 December 2010

It was a slender hope, a moment of lunacy really, but I picked up Reinventing Food – Ferran Adrià: The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat by Colman Andrews… Read more

In a Greene shade

2 October 2010
Chasing The Devil Tim Butcher

Chatto & Windus, pp.325, 18.99

Some travel writers, in an attempt to simulate the hardship of Victorian journeys, like to impose artificial difficulties on themselves. A glut of memorably foolish yarns with titles like Hang-Gliding… Read more


Tangerine dreams

28 August 2010
Travels: Collected Writings, 1950-93 Paul Bowles, introduced by Paul Theroux

Sort of Books, pp.508, 14.99

Before tourism came travel; and before travel, exploration. A sense of wonder had accompanied journeys along the lip of the unknown, as the Victorian pathfinder was often an amateur scientist,… Read more

The lure of adventure

7 July 2010
My Friend the Mercenary James Brabazon

Canongate, pp.352, 16.99

A few minutes’ walk from Paddington Station is a drinking den and restaurant called the Frontline Club, a members’ club for foreign correspondents. A few minutes’ walk from Paddington Station… Read more


Animals without Backbones

30 June 2010
Bugs Britannica Peter Marren and Richard Mabey

Chatto & Windus, pp.500, 35

What is a Bug? For this book, any animal that is not a Beast: the whole invertebrate realm, from the humble amoeba, through insects (more than half the book), to… Read more


The poetry of everyday life

23 June 2010
Drinking Arak Off an Ayatollah’s Beard: A Journey Through the Inside-out Worlds of Iran and Afghanistan Nicholas Jubber

Da Capo, pp.311, 9.99

In an age when it is fashionable to travel with a fridge, Nicholas Jubber’s decision to take an 11th-century epic poem as his travelling companion to Iran and Afghanistan can… Read more


Whither America?

16 June 2010
The Ask Sam Lipsyte

Old Street Publishing, pp.296, 12.99

At the beginning of The Ask, Horace sits with Burke and proclaims that America is a ‘run down and demented pimp’. At the beginning of The Ask, Horace sits with… Read more


Not every aspect pleases

2 June 2010
The Making of the British Landscape Francis Pryor

Allen Lane, pp.848, 30

Half a century ago I read W. G. Hoskins’s book, The Making of the English Landscape, when it first came out. It was for me an eye-opener, as it was… Read more


To strive, to seek, to find . . .

21 April 2010
The Watkins Boys Simon Courtauld

Michael Russell, pp.208, 18.95

In 1931, a 23-year-old Englishman called Henry ‘Gino’ Watkins returned from an expedition to the white depths of the Greenlandic ice cap. In 1931, a 23-year-old Englishman called Henry ‘Gino’… Read more


Casualties of war and peace

14 April 2010
Unreliable Sources John Simpson

Macmillan, pp.593, 20

John Simpson quotes Humbert Wolfe’s mischievous lampoon but makes it clear that, in spite of the somewhat disobliging title of his book, he does not accept it as fair comment.… Read more


Progress at a price

7 April 2010
Vietnam: Rising Dragon Bill Hayton

Yale, pp.272, 20

I was sitting recently with a former US marine by one of the huge open windows on the top floor of the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon. Our drinks were being… Read more


Land of eternal euphemism

24 March 2010
Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea Barbara Demick

Granta, pp.314, 14.99

If it wasn’t for the sheer misery of most of its luckless inhabitants, wouldn’t the world be a duller place without North Korea? If it wasn’t for the sheer misery… Read more