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Travel

 writing 
is, famously, a mixed bag of tricks. This versatile medium can be stretched to just about any purpose: scientific endeavour, social investigation, and personal discovery, to name just a few. Perhaps as a result, its quality can also fluctuate wildly. Some of the very

 best 
books I’ve read have been travel narratives, but then so have some of the worst.

There are, in that bag of tricks, a few names that can do no wrong. Pick up a book by any one of the following authors, and you’re assured a ripping good read. You’ll also know that, in one way or another, the book you’re reading not only changed the way we perceive travel writing, but also the way we go about travel in the first place.

Charles Darwin

If you thought Darwin was the preserve of anthropologists and lab-room scientists, think again. His writing is as captivating and adventurous as it is scientifically acute, and his three main publications each provide as fascinating insight into the life of a traveler as they do the new lands he explores.

Darwin’s most widely read works are the famed Origin of the Species and Natural Selection titles. It’s his first publication, The Voyage of the Beagle, to which I return most frequently, however. The book details a five-year trip on the HMS Beagle, during which Darwin basically circumnavigated the world, making extensive land trips as he went. It’s a fascinating and readable account of one man’s scientific conviction and sense of adventure that testifies to his mantle as the Original Modern Travel Writer.

Bruce Chatwin

Bruce Chatwin did for social anthropology what Charles Darwin did for scientific anthropology, only 150 years later. His beautifully rendered narratives delve into the history of tribes and ways of people, often finding insight in areas where others have been quick to overlook. Chatwin’s most famous works are In Patagonia and The Songlines.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was part of the pleasure cruising boom that occurred in mid 19th Century America, when steamers suddenly offered people the chance to safely travel the world. The Innocents Abroad, his account of a five-month trip on one such steamer, is one of the

 best 
, most playful travelogues

 ever 
produced.

Paul Theroux

After The Great Train Bazaar, an account of a four-month train journey across central Asia, launched Theroux’s career, he has built a bibliography of atmospheric, taught, and thoroughly interesting travel

 writing 
. The Great Train Bazaar is still considered a defining moment of modern travel writing, though avid readers would suggest you also look at his fictive accounts of places, which are just as evocative and read at a faster pace.

 
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