Given that we are all unable to travel at the moment due to the effects of Covid-19, at Ultimate Library we thought we would put together a list of some of the best titles to ‘travel in the mind.’ Thanks to Sarah Miller, our valuable expert for this month, we already had several reading suggestions which we have now also supplemented with a few of our own to create this list!

These reads will enable the intrepid reader to travel without the usual requirements of planes and passports. In their pages, we hope that you will find a little escape from the challenging place that we now found ourselves in. This list of books will help you to understand the importance of ‘place’ and the centrality of travel, geography and landscapes in shaping our consciousness. All of the titles delve into “the capacity of places to create mythologies,” examining our age-old fascination with travel and offering some insight into how we might begin to travel in our own imaginations.

1. Lotharingia: A Personal History of Europe’s Lost Country by Simon Winder

This is a hilarious and compelling story that retraces, from East and West, a huge number of ambitious characters that tried and failed to grapple with ‘Lotharingians.’ A group of descendants who ultimately became Dutch, German, Belgian, French, Luxembourgers and Swiss. Over many centuries, not only has Lotharingia brought forth many of Europe’s greatest artists, inventors and thinkers, but it has also reduced many a would-be conqueror to helpless tears of rage and frustration.

2. Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin

In the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, HMS Erebus undertook two of the most ambitious naval expeditions of all time. On the first, the ship ventured further south than any human had ever been before. On the second, she disappeared with her 129-strong crew in the wastes of the Canadian Arctic. Then, in 2014, she was found.

3. Turbulence by David Szalay

A brilliant short-story collection that brings together 12 peoples’ lives as they travel on planes around the world. This is a nuanced and deeply moving sequence, that tracks a range of diverse protagonists as they circumnavigate the world in twelve plane journeys, from London to Madrid, Dakar to Sao Paulo, to Toronto, to Delhi, to Doha, en route to see lovers, parents, children, siblings, or just to get away. A stunning book that inspects how our lives intersect in the modern world.

4. The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts

The second time this book has appeared on one of our lists! Siberia’s story is traditionally one of exiles… But dotted throughout this remote wasteland are hundreds of pianos. These instruments tell the story of how piano music has run through Russia like blood. A powerful read that highlights the importance of music to reveal deep and vulnerable aspects of humanity.

5. The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane

This book is both an intellectual and physical journey, as we travel in time as well as space. Guided by monks, scientists, philosophers, poets and artists, both living and dead, Macfarlane explores our changing ideas of the ‘wild.’ From the cliffs of Cape Wrath, to the holloways of Dorset, and the storm-beaches of Norfolk, his journeys follow people of past and present, who have had intense relationships with these places. At once an adventure story, an exercise in visionary cartography, and a work of natural history, it is written in a style and form as unusual as the places it describes.

6. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

All world leaders are constrained by their geography as their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. If you’ve ever wondered why Putin is so obsessed with Crimea, why the USA was destined to become a global superpower, or why China’s power base continues to expand, the answers lie here. In ten chapters, using maps, essays and occasionally personal experiences, Tim Marshall looks deeply at one of the major factors that determines world history – geography.

7. Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden

When the author moved to a remote farmhouse in Cornwall, the intensity of his response to the place and its history took him aback. From the Neolithic ritual landscape of Bodmin Moor to the Arthurian traditions of Tintagel, Marsden assembles a chronology of our shifting attitudes towards the idea of ‘place.’ In archives, he uncovers the life and work of other ‘topophiles’ before him . Also drawing on his travels overseas, Marsden reveals that the shape of the land lies not just at the heart of our history but of man’s perennial struggle to be a part of this earth.

8. Mani: Travels in the Southen Peloponnese by Patrick Leigh Fermor

This is part-travelogue, part inspired evocation of Greece’s past. We join the author in the Mani, one of Europe’s wildest and most isolated regions, cut off from the rest of Greece by the towering Taygettus mountain range and the Aegean and Ionian seas, we discover a rocky central prong of the Peleponnese at the southernmost point in Europe. This is a place that maintains a stronger relationship with the ancient past than with the present. Myth becomes history, and vice versa.

9. Venice by Jan Morris

Frequently coined as one of the best travel books ever written, Venice is neither a guide nor a history book, but a literary immersion in Venetian life and character, which is set against the backdrop of the city’s majestic past. Analysing the particular temperament of Venetians, as well the waterways, architecture, curiosities, smells, sounds, lights and colours, there is scarcely a corner of Venice that Jan Morris has not investigated and brought vividly to life here.

10. The Immeasurable World by William Atkins

One third of the earth’s land surface is desert, most of it desolate and inhospitable. From the prophets of the Bible to Marco Polo, Lawrence of Arabia to Gertrude Bell, travellers have often seen deserts as cursed places to suffer rather than enjoy. Travelling to five continents over three years, visiting deserts both iconic and little-known, William Atkins discovers a realm that is as much internal as physical.