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Learn History Through Travel…. Books!

Woman reading a book in an ebook

January 17, 2019

Mid-Continent Public Library’s annual Winter Reading Challenge is now underway. Read just five books over the next two months, and you can earn a free mug as well as an entry to win a trip for two to the Dominican Republic! This year’s theme is Passport to Everywhere―because you don’t need to get on a plane to feel like you’ve gone somewhere; you can get the same feeling from a good book—especially a travel book!

Wait a minute; aren’t travel books just for people who are about to, you know, travel? What good is one of these books if you are not actually going somewhere? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: a good travel book can make you feel like you have taken a journey without ever leaving home. This can be great for those who dream of voyaging beyond their own borders, but real life keeps them here for now.

A well-written travel book can be useful in another way―they are a fantastic resource for those who love history. Most don’t think about looking to a travel book to study history, but if you want to learn something about a far-off land, reading a travel book can be a good idea. Some travel series are wonderful at giving you an in-depth review of a country’s past, going site by site and giving details of events that happened in each location. This is refreshing if you are someone who prefers a more intimate look at history rather than just names and dates.

Of course, it is important to get the right kind of travel book. Some books put more focus on accommodations and making sure you can find your way around. Road and hotel recommendations dominate these types of books, with only an occasional foray into the more interesting aspects of the places they are giving you directions to. These are the best to use if you simply need maps and room prices.

However, if you are looking for something more, these two series are my favorite:

First, I recommend the set of travel books arranged by the great Rick Steves. Those who have seen his show, Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS, know how he excels at making the history of a place come to life. It is also evident that he loves getting to know the local culture and the people. Steves is very aware that it is the everyday people that provide the most useful understanding of a country.

If you enjoy the show, you should definitely check out his books. His wonderful voice permeates his writing as he illustrates the best spots to visit. And you don’t just get a lesson about the well-known places—Rick Steves also reveals the hidden gems that those who stick to the more mundane travel tomes will never discover. Reading Steves makes you feel as if you’re traveling right alongside him. But he doesn’t forget all the practical information like train times and hotel prices. His personal acquaintance with many B&B owners can be enlightening.

The other series that I really enjoy is DK Eyewitness Travel. What I love about these books is that they include wonderful descriptions of the architecture and history of many of the buildings. The books have a tremendous number of color photos that give you a perfect picture of what you’re reading. They also include the history of the country and its individual territories. You can jump around, going from city to city and boulevard to boulevard, discovering all the great sites they hold. When you’re done, it can feel like you’ve actually walked the streets yourself.

But one of my favorite parts of the DK Eyewitness books are the back sections. This is where they give all the practical travel info―and not just about hotels and restaurants. These sections also include information about the police, healthcare, money, newspapers, and much more. I don’t know why, but I love reading about the different social systems and how they work in other places as compared to the U.S.

So if travel is not currently in your future, but you still want to go somewhere, try these two series. And don’t forget that, as our Winter Reading Challenge says, books truly can be a Passport to Everywhere.

Pamela M.
Antioch Branch

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