Exploring the World with 10 Non-fiction Reads

As travel is still restricted for the moment, we thought we would recommend a collection of non-fiction books to help take you around the world as you delve into their pages. We have selected a wide variety of books here, and it was incredibly difficult to limit ourselves to just ten! These non-fiction reads will not only take you to far off countries, they also explore themes from migration to anxiety, and in biographies you will meet mountaineers, a chef, and an ultra marathon runner who attempts to rescue a street dog. We found ourselves transported in these fabulous forays to other countries, we hope you will be too.

The Glitter in the Green

The Glitter in the Green

Author: Jon Dunn Format: Hardback Release Date: 24/06/2021

Befitting its beautiful subjects, Jon Dunn’s The Glitter in the Green: In Search of Hummingbirds is a dazzling work of nature writing. Blending a thrilling sense of personal adventure with bewitching detail on the habitats, habits and mythology of these most handsome of birds, the book has huge appeal for both dedicated bird-lovers and general readers. Framed by the author’s inspiring viewing of the Natural History Museum’s hummingbird cabinet, Dunn shares how he was driven to feed his hummingbird addiction by immersing himself in their world - “I had to see them for myself. Stuffed historical specimens had sown a seed that had, in time, flourished into a consuming hunger”. To that end, he plans and embarks on a journey to see these birds with their “otherworldly, metallic and jewel-like plumages”, their “rainbow array of colours, shapes and sizes” across their global range - from the wilds of Alaska, to the very tip of Argentina. As well as taking in hummingbirds’ full geographic range (with each place and its people evoked in glorious technicolour), the book’s style has a broad wingspan too - it flits and flutters from having the tension of a thriller, the poetic impact of a literary prize-winner, and the unadulterated glee of a piece of personal passion. Having failed to find one myself (to date, at least), boy was I envious of the author’s enraptured description of seeing Bee Hummingbirds (the world’s smallest bird) during an entrancing Cuban experience that left him feeling “a little like Alice in Wonderland”.

Nala's World

Nala's World

Author: Dean Nicholson Format: Hardback Release Date: 29/09/2020

If you need a slice of pick-me-up then stop right here. Dean Nicholson is famous on social media as 1bike1world. His original aim to cycle solo around the world changed when he rescued abandoned kitten Nala and she joined him on his travels. The book charts his and Nala’s story and contains some squeezably lovely photos too. It seems as though Dean is still in shock at how quickly people took to his story (their instagram page at the time of writing sits at 810k followers). Dean comes across as completely down to earth and appreciative of the small things in life, the things that actually matter and mean the world. He has seen the very best of people, while also bearing witness to the sorrowful treatment of animals by some. Dean has raised a huge amount for charity since Nala came into his life. She is one photogenic cat, and her utter trust and love for Dean shines through. A hugely glorious bundle of feel-good, Nala’s World comes with beaming smiles of recommendation from me. Chosen as a LoveReading Star Book, this would make a perfect gift for a loved one (don’t forget to buy a copy for yourself too!). Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.

Star Books
World Travel

World Travel

Author: Anthony Bourdain, Laurie Woolever Format: Hardback Release Date: 20/04/2021

Conceived a year before his tragic death as “an atlas of the world through his eyes”, Anthony’s Bourdain’s World Travel is a glorious testament to the unique wit and worldview of a chef, food writer and travel documentarian who was, above all else, a brilliant storyteller. Put together by his long-time assistant Laurie Woolever, with contributions from friends, family and colleagues in place of Tony being around to write some of the planned pieces himself, this is a travel guide like no other - unsurprising given that Bourdain was a character like no other. From Argentina to Vietnam, Australia to Uruguay, this A-Z travelogue includes information you’d expect to find in a conventional guidebook (how to get there, where to eat, where to stay) but beyond these basics, it dishes up Bourdain’s distinctly personal take on the many places he’s explored. His words are always incisive; always a brutal blend of raw candour and decadent description. There are thoughts on food, history and culture, sometimes contextualised by Tony’s companions, while at other times all it takes is a straight-talking, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth quote from the man himself, like these words of caution for first-time tasters of Brazil’s potent dendê oil: “You know, it takes some getting used to. The first time I was here, you eat it, you shit like a mink for hours afterwards. But now, no problems! Lovin’ it.” There’s passionate political commentary too, notably when he talks about Cambodia (“Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands”) and Mozambique, a beautiful nation that has, to Tony’s anger, been “relentlessly screwed by history”. Honest, insightful and salty, this is a delicious antidote to formulaic travel writing; a rejuvenating blast of anti-blandness that stirs an urge to explore the world with even a soupçon of Bourdain’s fearless, flamboyant spirit.

Finding Gobi

Finding Gobi

Author: Dion Leonard Format: Hardback Release Date: 01/06/2017

June 2017 Non-Fiction Book of the Month. A book to put a great big beaming (and somewhat tearful) smile on your face. ‘Finding Gobi’ documents the quite amazing story of one man’s quest to find the little dog who had stolen his heart. Dion Leonard was a serious ultra marathon competitor in a race through the Gobi Desert, when a little street dog joined him, running by his side. We hear about Dion’s childhood, why he started running, what it takes to be an ultra competitor, and we meet Gobi, the dog with eyes that appear to see into your soul. You may already be aware of this story, as it took social media by storm, if like me, you weren’t, then the prologue sets your mind at ease before you start this simply sensational story. ‘Finding Gobi’ joins man and dog in a story to warm the cockles of your heart, I absolutely adored it. It is worth noting that a children’s version of the story is also available. Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.

eBooks of the Month
Dalvi: Six Years in the Artic Tundra

Dalvi: Six Years in the Artic Tundra

Author: Laura Galloway Format: Hardback Release Date: 01/04/2021

Always engaging and illuminating, Laura Galloway’s Dálvi is an uplifting ode to doing something different. A testament to how a person can flourish after fleeing the monotony of the  work, spend, socialise, show-off-on-social-media cycle of modern life to live by an entirely different kind of cycle - the kind that’s directed by nature’s shifting seasons in a unique environmental and cultural setting. Threaded with themes of flourishing through adversity, and finding home and love in unexpected places, this remarkable memoir is as stirring as it is gripping. The author’s journey began when a genetic test revealed that she shares DNA with the indigenous Sámi people of the Arctic tundra. Having endured a disastrous marriage, and growing increasingly dissatisfied with her life in NYC, Galloway ventures to the Norwegian town of Kautokeino, ostensibly to discover her roots, but in actuality discovering herself and her future way of life. Here, in this remote reindeer-herding region she meets and falls for a herder and decides to stay - even after he leaves her just six months later. With only very limited knowledge of the Sámi language, Galloway lives a largely solitary life with little money, and yet this life is so much better for her: “Now it is simple. There is no noise and no distraction. I have to be with myself, whatever that means, in the silence, listening to nature, being still.” In contrast, “When I left New York, I was exhausted – emotionally, financially and physically, as if I had been on a giant rat wheel.” Galloway is an amiable, amusing companion - never self-indulgent and always honest, not least when writing about her traumatic childhood (the death of her mother when she was only three, and the unrelenting vindictiveness of her father’s second wife). In time, little by little through her six years in the Arctic, she realises, “I’ve moved between two worlds.” And, at the heart of this transition, and a consequence of living in nature, her “endlessly fascinating companion”, is the realisation that “home is inside you and all around you.” Home whispers, “’I am here’, when you are most alone.”  What a joyous life-affirming read.

Star Books
Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary

Author: Michael Gill Format: Hardback Release Date: 07/03/2019

Anyone familiar with Mount Everest – the world’s highest peak – will also know the names Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing. In 1953, these two men were the first to stand atop this mountain. The equipment they used to achieve this remarkable feat making it all the more something of legend. Even before I first opened Michael Gill’s book, I sensed I was holding something rather special. It did not disappoint. Michael was Hillary’s friend and expedition companion for 50 years. It shows. The detail in this book is incredible and it never ceases to engage the reader. Interspersed with letters, photographs, anecdotes from contributors and the words of Hillary himself, this is a fascinating insight into the life of one of our world’s true heroes. Hillary was first and foremost a mountaineer. He was also a beekeeper, a diplomat, an author, an explorer and a philanthropist. He suffered tragedy – his wife and 16-year-old child killed on their way to see him – and he overcame depression.  Hillary said to others who wrote accounts of his life ‘I write my own books.’ I suspect he may have made an exception in this case. Hillary was a truly remarkable man and Michael Gill has, quite rightly, afforded him the honour of writing his story with respect and with great skill. Superb, just superb.

Drawn Across Borders: True Stories of Migration

Drawn Across Borders: True Stories of Migration

Author: George Butler Format: Hardback Release Date: 01/04/2021

Written and illustrated by award-winning artist and current affairs specialist George Butler, Drawn Across Borders is a unique empathy-inspiring portrayal of the affecting personal experiences of twelve migrants, covering countries as diverse as Tajikistan, Myanmar, Kenya, Syria and Palestine. It’s an honest, awe-inspiring tribute to the featured individuals, a testament to the strength of the human spirit, and a timely reminder that real people lie behind every news story on migrants. Real people with real (and varied) reasons for leaving places they once called home.   Butler frames the book with brilliant clarity: “People move around the world for many reasons. Some migration is voluntary; most is not.” The written portraits are deeply personal, framed by the author’s experiences on the frontlines of - for example - refugee camps, and based on his conversations with migrants. When combined with the accompanying painterly illustrations, they create a book that draws the heart and eye to a clutch of stories that should be known. The LoveReading LitFest invited George to the festival to talk about Drawn Across Borders.   You can view the event by subscribing to the LitFest programme for as little as £6 per month - or you can pay per view. For just £2, go, see George in conversation with Paul Blezard and find out why everyone should read this book.   Check out a preview of the event here

Baggage

Baggage

Author: Jeremy Hance Format: Paperback Release Date: 26/11/2020

Take one articulate, impassioned environmental journalist with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, add honesty, humour, and some fascinating travels stories and you have an inspirational book in your hands. Jeremy Hance is an award-winning journalist with a job that means he has to travel to some of the most remote countries in the world. Each time he begins a journey he is joined by OCD (Jeremy has named Steve), and depression (Malachi) which makes for an interesting trip. We first join Jeremy in 2017 en route to Jakarta as he struggles to cope with the journey, we then travel back to 2006 when his love for travel and the environment really began. His honesty is refreshing and uplifting, I smiled, laughed, and winced on occasion as I travelled to some truly wonderful places. And then he invited me to feel his sorrow at the loss of nature across this world that we are a part of: “There are things in the world we’ve take advantage of for our ten thousands years of civilisation: a stable climate, a rich biodiverse white of wildlife, healthy oceans, and a deep connection to other forms of life. We’re risking all of these now.” He also sees the good, the possibilities: “… in reality, we’re all just human. And every day we can choose kindness or cruelty. We can choose to be brave or ambivalent”. And then he introduces hope: “Leave nature alone and it will flourish. Help it along a little, and it will come back all the faster and richer. Life is tenacious. Life will find a way, but we first have to leave it a path.” And so I travelled the world with Jeremy as he faced his fear every single day, and I found it inspiring, and fascinating in equal measure. Baggage: Confessions of a Globe-Trotting Hypochondriac is a wonderfully readable, engaging, and rewarding read, that I have chosen as a Liz Pick of the Month.

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
Slow Road to San Francisco

Slow Road to San Francisco

Author: David Reynolds Format: Paperback Release Date: 20/08/2020

“Forty-six days, thirteen states, 3000 miles”. Documenting the author’s solo coast-to-coast road-trip across America, David Reynolds’s Slow Road to San Francisco is an absolute joy. An entertaining blend of observation and commentary delivered with a luminous lightness of touch. Buckle up for read that’s radiant with the author’s wit, charm and keen eye for people and place - everything you’d want from an on-the-road companion.  Beginning on the Atlantic Coast and winding up on San Francisco’s Pacific Coast - “because Europeans landed on the east coast of the landmass that they named America, and moved slowly west until they reached the other side” - the author’s journey across Route 50 documents edifying encounters that reveal as much about America and the world as they do about the individuals themselves. Though Route 50 is known as the loneliest road in America (and it’s one of the few remaining two-lane highways in the country), Reynolds is never short of people to talk to. Through conversations with bartenders, gas station attendants and motel staff, and the assorted personalities he meets in bars, cafés and museums along the route (among them war veterans, judges and friendly bikers), it truly feels like you’re on the road with him. Peeling back layers of Native American history, slave history and contemporary politics (everyone the author meets has something to say about Trump, and often Brexit too), usually with a glass of IPA to hand, this is life-affirming, enlightening stuff. Perhaps what stands out above all else is a generosity of spirit, both on the part of the people who freely share their time, opinions and tables with Reynolds, and on the part of the author himself. Like all the best road-trips, I didn’t want this ride to end.

Star Books
The Only Gaijin in the Village

The Only Gaijin in the Village

Author: Iain Maloney Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/03/2020

Radiant with an infectious enthusiasm for life, Scottish writer Iain Maloney has created a playful, powerful page-turner in The Only Gaijin in the Village, a brilliant blend of memoir and travel writing at its most edifyingly entertaining.  Maloney’s post-uni TEFL work led him to fall in love with Japan and his future wife Minori. After moving to Scotland, the couple chose to return to Japan as a result of “racist and elitist” Tory government immigration rules that made it near impossible for them to live together in the UK. “I have embraced exile. I am home,” he says of living in Japan, first in a city, before he and Minori relocate to a rural environment. Fiercely funny, the author’s voice is akin to being regaled by a witty friend’s pub anecdotes, with observations moving between lyrical eulogies to nature’s beauty and outright hilarity, such as when he describes a wild typhoon as a “blowy bastard”. From deciphering the codes of Japanese rural culture, to navigating trials of the natural world (including snakes, centipedes and behemoth bees), Maloney takes everything in his stride with an exhilarating can-do spirit. “Humans can get used to anything”, he blithely - and sagely - remarks.   Maloney comically covers cultural culinary differences when he describes encountering whale bacon and flame-grilled snakes, but true to form counterbalancing comes when he mentions haggis in the same context. There are similarly entertaining accounts of his farming endeavors, from uncovering digging myths the hard way (“Where is this ground made of tofu that’s easier to dig than a Miles Davies solo?”), to his superb description of growing peas that possess “a smell and taste so evocative Proust could have bored the arse off half of France for decades”.  Honest, amusing, humble and informative, with prescient political underpinnings (“every immigrant story is also an emigrant story. This is what the Right want us to forget. They want us to believe it’s all about them coming here, not about them leaving there...the term ‘expat’ is encoded racsim”), I can’t praise this highly enough.    

Comments (1)

Suroor A - 22nd July 2021

Thanks for this list! However, I noticed that all the books are by men. There are loads of good travel books by women which often get forgotten in lists (you're not the only one--publications like the Financial Times are guilty of the same omission). I have been reviewing travel books by women for the website Women on the Road since 2013 and haven't run out of interesting books. I have a suggestion: you could do a list of women's travel writing for one of the issues. I'm happy to suggest a few of the best ones I've read. They're well-written, engaging, adventurous and you learn something from them. What more could you ask of a travel book? Let's help give them a little more visibility. Thanks!

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