Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

The cruel khans of Khiva


The East Gate of Khiva “They looked like lambs in the hands of their executioners,” wrote Arminius Vámbéry in his 1864 book Travels in Central Asia.  “Whilst several were led to the gallows or the block, I saw how, at the sign from the executioner, eight aged men placed themselves down on their backs upon the earth. They were then bound hand and foot, and the executioner gouged out their...

Time-lag tired in Tashkent


Amir Temur Square It feels awfully nice to type 2,000,000 into an ATM and have a big stack of money come out. The good news: my card worked. The bad news: 2,000,000 som is only around €145. The only time I’ve held more cash in my hands was after changing $50 USD on the street in Rangoon in 2002. I took it back to my cockroach infested hotel and physically rolled in it. But there would be none of...

The Best Books I Read in 2023


It’s that time of year when I tempt you to obliterate what remains of your savings. In my defence, it could be worse. At least you’re not spending it on commemorative spoons. I’ve got some great books to recommend this year. As usual, I read and re-read a lot of travel literature to prepare for Personal Landscapes podcast conversations.  I also have a few essential history reads to share...

Sarah Anderson: Founding The Travel Bookshop


Sarah Anderson (Photo by Sebastian Latala) Many readers think of owning a bookshop as some sort of dream job. Sarah Anderson founded the iconic Travel Bookshop in 1979. You might be familiar with this place even if you’ve never been to London. It was the inspiration for the bookshop in the 1998 Hugh Grant / Julia Roberts film Notting Hill.  But that’s not our concern here. I’ve never seen...

The future was there


Berlin residents must have felt one step closer to the future in the decade before the Cold War ended.  That’s when a 313-metre-long spacecraft materialized in Westend.   East Berlin was building their Palace of the Republic in the 1970s, and the West’s Congress Hall in the Tiergarten — known as the pregnant oyster for its unfortunate shape — was too small. A competition was held to...

Good Scammer


Good Scammer by Guy Kennaway This is the book Horatio Alger would have written if an Alger hero came from a post-colonial Caribbean island awash with foreign money that never seems to trickle down to the poverty-stricken villages beyond gated tourist enclaves. The poorly educated, semi-literate orphan at the heart of Guy Kennaway’s latest novel experiences the ‘Rise to Respectability’, sees his...

Louisa Waugh: Life on the edge of Mongolia


Louisa Waugh Louisa Waugh lived in a village in the far west of Mongolia in the late 1990s and wrote a remarkable book about her experience. It’s a world of drought-stricken spring, lush summer pasture and brutal winters when fetching water meant hacking holes through river ice. In this harsh and stunningly beautiful landscape, villagers lived on mutton, dairy products and vodka, and met...

Wannsee and the bureaucracy of genocide


The villa of the Wannsee conference Remembrance Day isn’t observed here in the country that started and lost two World Wars. But Berlin is filled with memorials which commemorate the Twentieth Century’s darkest events. I normally stand alone in my study for the 11am moment of silence. But this year I decided to observe Remembrance Day by visiting the Wannsee villa where Nazi bureaucrats met to...

Bruce Chatwin: with editor and friend Susannah Clapp


Bruce Chatwin Bruce Chatwin’s first book — In Patagonia — changed our idea of what travel writing could be. Its structural is elliptical, almost episodic. Its truth is somewhere between fact and fiction. Its richly descriptive prose is built with short, simple sentences peppered with arcane words and a rich vocabulary. Chatwin described it as a ‘cubist’ portrait. The author was as...

The New Leviathans


The New Leviathans by John Gray Only a Leviathan can protect us from the state of nature: a “war of all against all” in which the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” So said Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 book of that name. The Leviathan Hobbes had in mind was a sovereign with unfettered power ceded by individuals in exchange for protection. This ruler would create conditions...


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