Saturday, September 23, 2006

Simon Winchester's favorite books on travel

Simon Winchester named his five favorite books on travel for Opinion Journal, including this one which Churchill claimed "above all was the book that taught him how to write:"
Eothen by Alexander Kinglake (1844)

For any connoisseur of the terror occasioned by the prospect of venturing into the faraway, there can be no finer or more gripping start to a travel story than in Kinglake's classic adventure, which he titled after the Greek for "from the east"--eothen. By passing, against all official advice, through an infection quarantine-barrier into the plague-ridden frontiers of the Ottoman Empire, this 25-year old, short and short-sighted Etonian committed himself to months of wandering, forbidden to return until the infection had burned itself out. He ventured to many still curious and unfamiliar territories (Cyprus, Beirut, the Holy Land, Damascus), describing them in an account, written a decade later, best termed impressionistic rather than reportorial. And all the better for it: "Eothen" remains the primus inter pares of all travel literature--Winston Churchill claiming that it above all was the book that taught him how to write.

Click here to read about Winchester four other favorites.

Chapter One of Eothen opens:
At Semlin I still was encompassed by the scenes and the sounds of familiar life; the din of a busy world still vexed and cheered me; the unveiled faces of women still shone in the light of day. Yet, whenever I chose to look southward, I saw the Ottoman’s fortress - austere, and darkly impending high over the vale of the Danube - historic Belgrade. I had come, as it were, to the end of this wheel-going Europe, and now my eyes would see the splendour and havoc of the East.
Eothen is available free online.

Winchester, who wrote The Professor and the Madman and Krakatoa, is more recently the author of A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906.

Read a description of the book here, and an excerpt from it here.

--Marshal Zeringue