Last time I was in Tripoli I stayed at the Rixos Al Nasr. All I had to read was Gaddafi’s Green Book but I could only take so much of the dictator’s thoughts on women breastfeeding, the rapacity of sporting clubs as a social instrument, the coercive tyranny of nursery school, the expressive rights of the insane, and of course the why “the black race will prevail,” so I asked the woman at the front desk if she had any books. I was led into an administrative-looking room and presented an entire box of books. To my surprise and pleasure, most of the books were amazing travel books, all left behind in the hotel by guests. Not only is this fascinating in itself but for any lover of travel literature, this list includes some of the best I’ve ever read:
Dark Star Safari (2003), Paul Theroux. Cantankerous overland adventure from Cairo to Capetown via canoe, cattle truck, armed convoy and more.
The Innocents Abroad (1869), Mark Twain. A merciless, mocking and hilarious sashay through Europe to the Holy land, Twain called his “”Great Pleasure Excursion”” on board the chartered vessel Quaker City. It was the best selling of Twain’s works during his lifetime and one of the best selling travel books of all time.
Eothen (1844), Alexander William Kinglake. A subtly self-mocking (and ironic) portrait of a dislikable colonial type who acts like a dick to all the locals he meets.
Along the Ganges (2006), Ilija Trojanow. Bulgarian Cold War era emigrant living in Cape Town tells the tale of his journey from the river’s source to the fascinating cities along its course.
The Emperor (1978), Ryszard Kapuściński. After the collapse of the Haile Selassie’s regime in Ethiopia in 1974, an intrepid Polish journalist interviews various functionaries and compiles a fascinating portrait of the mysterious autocratic kingdom. Best part: the emperor’s dog, which had a habit of peeing on the shoes of dignitaries.