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The travel books to read in 2020: Stanfords reveals its Travel Writing Awards shortlist

The shortlist for the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, organised by travel book and map store Stanfords, has been revealed. Here, the bookshop shares what made these six reads stand out.

By Stanfords
Published 18 Feb 2020, 07:00 GMT
The Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards shortlist.
The Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards shortlist.
Photograph by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Underland by Robert Macfarlane 
Macfarlane’s exploration of the spaces and substances below the Earth’s surface are spread across several years and continents. He calls the places he visits the Underland — the voids of limestone caves, gushing torrents within a glacier and fungal networks beneath a forest. Although terrified on several of his subterranean excursions, he’s awestruck by his encounters. Note: if you’re claustrophobic, you might need to skip some bits. (Hamish Hamilton, £20)

Last Days in Old Europe by Richard Bassett 
A memoir based on 10 years of the life of a young British musician turned foreign correspondent, this entertaining read will appeal to the musically inclined — and to any reader seeking a first-hand account of the decline and fall of Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe. The book is written in three long chapters, each recounting his life in a different city, including richly detailed descriptions of key landmarks singled out by the author. (Penguin, £9.99) 

Lotharingia by Simon Winder 
This book is dubbed ‘a personal history of Europe’s lost country’. It’s filled with descriptions of the ebb and flow of places, people and activities across Lotharingia (a medieval region that encompassed the Benelux, Lorraine and much of northern Germany). Winder describes each individual tessera making up the mosaic that is Lotharingia. (Picador, £20)

On the Plain of Snakes by Paul Theroux
Several of Theroux’s previous books have been based on travels by train, but his latest book reveals the soul of Mexico from his car. He follows the Mexico-US frontier and observes the tensions in the border towns. Theroux also immerses himself in the lives of the people and creatures along the way. (Hamish Hamilton, £20)

The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman
This is a story that combines Sherman’s search for the bells that used to mark the time in Tokyo with glimpses into her growing friendship with a coffeeshop owner. Each chapter describes beautifully the city’s neighbourhoods and the inhabitants Sherman encounters when visiting the supposed location of each ‘bell of time’. (Picador, £14.99)

Epic Continent by Nicholas Jubber 
If you knew this book was poetry, there’s a chance you might decide not to read it, which would be a grave mistake. Several epic poems create the trunk and limbs of a book on which core elements of European history, culture and geography then flower. Nicholas explores how, over many centuries, the people of Europe created lasting traditions. (John Murray Press, £20) 

The shortlist also includes No Friend But the Mountains By Behrouz Boochani, translated by Omid Tofighian; Pravda Ha Ha By Rory Mclean; Around the World in 80 Trains By Monisha Rajesh; and Mud and Stars By Sara Wheeler.

About the awards

The Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards celebrate the world’s best travel writing and travel writers. The 2020 competition winners will be revealed at an event in London on 26 February. For tickets go to:

Published in the March 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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