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  • Writer's pictureRosanne Knorr

5 Favorite 'Travel Books' That Aren't Guides

Updated: Oct 1, 2018

I wish I'd read that Leonardo da Vinci biography before visiting Clos Lucé. However, it reminded me how a wide range of books can enhance travel—actual or armchair. So I decided to share five personal favorites, starting with a classic.

#1 Is Paris Burning? (Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierre, 1991). The dramatic narrative races forward as occupied Paris faces Hitler’s threat to annihilate it before the Allies arrive. The German colonel in charge delays—not an easy task against Hitler. For visitors to Paris, it gives meaning to the small plaques seeded on buildings with names of resistance heroes. And, as you stroll the cafes and shops now lining the Champs- Elysées, you can imagine tanks and troops and cheering crowds passing under the Arc de Triomphe as the allies liberated the city.

#2 In the Garden of Beasts. (Erik Larsen, 2011) Unlike most books on Nazi Germany, Beasts begins in 1933, when the Third Reich in Berlin appeared benign. The eye witnesses here are America’s ambassador, William E. Dodd and his family who at first admire the “new Germany”—and his daughter’s affairs include Gestapo chief, Rudolf Diels. Tension mounts as the full horror of Jewish persecution becomes frighteningly evident. #3 Wine & War (Don & Petie Kladstrup, 2001) We know the story of how the French hid their great works of art from the Nazis. After all, they even made a movie about it. This is the other work of art in France, their wine. Throughout the French countryside vintners were about to be pillaged by thirsty Nazis. This is how they protected their finest vintages under threat to themselves.

#4 The Path Between the Seas. (David McCullough, 1977) Panama is becoming a popular country for expats and travelers intrigued by the canal cruise. This book explains the effort of constructing that passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, including the men who made it and died from accidents and disease to build it.

#5 Freedom at Midnight. (Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierre, 1997) These two journalists are expert at research that they turn into a dramatic narration. In this case, the story of India’s independence from England with a cast of characters including Gandhi, Nehru, and Lord Mountbatten. The resulting partition into India and Pakistan still affects the region in wars and terrorism ongoing today.

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