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Blog Words : Book Reviews | 19 July

Travel and conservation: book reviews

Chris Stewart’s latest book, plus re-released classics and a selection of eco-minded narratives

The ReefConservation is on the minds – and pages – of many of this month’s new titles, with two in particular looking closely at mankind’s failed custodianship of the planet. The Reef is Iain McCalman’s excellent biography of the Great Barrier Reef and those responsible for exploring it, as well as letting it decline. A history, celebration and obituary in one.

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The Hunt for the Golden MoleThe animal at the heart of The Hunt For The Golden Mole is a never-actually-seen Somalian marsupial. In reality, Richard Girling’s search for it is an ecological exploration of the discovery of species, the loss of them, the rise of the conservation movement and the depressing forces that check its progress.

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The GalapagosMan’s menace also looms over The Galápagos, but Henry Nicholls’ natural history book focuses mainly on the extraordinary species you can see there. Part travel guide, part spotting tool, it’s facty enough for hardcore spotters while still readable enough for any Darwin wannabe.

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The Fly TrapThe natural world is also central to The Fly Trap, whose fly-collecting author Fredrik Sjöberg retreats to Runmarö island, east of Stockholm. From here follows a wryly Scandinavian rumination on nature, collecting, and the journeys of one intrepid entomologist.

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Fragrant HeartMiranda Emmerson has broader horizons. Fragrant Heart sees her and her partner indulge in one last big adventure before settling down, taking a culinary wander through South-East Asia while traversing the trickier map of the heart. With recipes dotted throughout, think of it as Eat, Eat-Some-More, Love.

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Japan GrantaStaying out East, Granta bring together another pedigree selection of writers for its Japan issue. It’s a balance of big literary hitters – David Mitchell, David Peace – along with exciting home-spun talents. Together, the pieces capture the rituals and tensions of a culture caught between its kimono-clad past, neon resurgence and uncertain future.

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Indonesia etcWith 13,466 islands and 240 million people, Indonesia is a pretty bewildering area to wrangle comprehensively into one book, but Elizabeth Pisani does a great job with Indonesia Etc. The former foreign correspondent’s extensive travels through her old patch find her dealing with the more colourful aspects of modern Indonesia and the corruption that blights it.

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On a shoestring to CoorgLegendary writer Norman Lewis was 83 when he made his Indonesian expeditions in 1991. His matter-of-fact prose makes for thoughtful reading in An Empire of the East, the latest of Eland’s re-released travel classics. Also re-issued is Dervla Murphy’s On a Shoestring to Coorg, her traipse around Southern India in 1973 with her then five-year-old daughter.

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Last Days of the Bus ClubIf India feels too far to armchair-travel, try citrus-soaked Andalucía. The Last Days Of The Bus Club, the fourth part of the ever-enjoyable Driving Over Lemons ‘trilogy’, finds Chris Stewart enjoying his local celebrity in rural Spain. And by enjoy, we mean making a cured pig’s ear out of public speaking and dealing with a disastrous flood.

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If a more relaxed pace sounds good, you’ll be glad to hear Bradt has released more of its Slow Travel guides. With a rich level of local detail, these get under the skin of Britain’s most relaxing spots (Norfolk, Yorkshire Dales, Suffolk, North York Moors & Yorkshire Wolds and South Devon & Dartmoor, all £10). If only they came with a free deckchair.

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