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Personal Landscapes podcast

Kapka Kassabova on Europe’s last nomadic pastoralists

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Kapka Kassabova Kapka Kassabova is the most interesting new writer in the travel literature genre.  I use the term “new” in the sense of my own reading. I mostly read older books, or new books by older writers, because so little of what’s being published today seems relevant beyond the present moment. I think Kapka’s work will stand the test of time. She was born and raised in Cold War...

Eric Cline: Why civilization ended in 1177 B.C.

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Eric Cline The Late Bronze Age Mediterranean was a surprisingly interconnected place.  Rulers sent one another gifts, as well as diplomatic exchanges, and food aid in times of drought. Trade flourished, interrupted by the odd embargo, and military conflicts used disinformation for strategic gain.  It was globalized and cosmopolitan in a way that feels very familiar to us in 2024. And then...

Paul Theroux on Orwell and Burma Sahib

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Long before George Orwell wrote Animal Farm and 1984 — and long before he was even George Orwell — Eric Blair was a nineteen year old policeman in Burma serving the British Raj. Biographies skirt over this five year period, in part due to the absence of letters and diaries, but it was the making of the writer he would become. Today’s guest set out to imagine those years in a wonderful new novel...

Jonathan Raban: one of our greatest writers on place

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Jonathan Raban (Photo by Julia Raban) Jonathan Raban wrote about human landscapes rather than uninhabited ones, and the borderlands between what a place professes to be and what they are. An Englishman who emigrated to Seattle at the age of 47, his status as an outsider gave him a unique perspective on America as the land of perpetual self-reinvention. Many of his books involved water — from the...

James Salter: with biographer Jeffrey Meyers

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James Salter James Salter is the best American writer you’ve probably never read. He was a fighter pilot in the Korean War, flying more than 100 combat missions in an F-86 Sabre. He wrote Hollywood screenplays, one of which was made into a film starring Robert Redford. Three of his books — the novels A Sport and a Pastime and Light Years, and a memoir called Burning the Days — place him among the...

Justin Marozzi: Tamerlane and Samarkand

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Justin Marozzi I’d always thought of Temur as a cut-rate Genghis Khan who burst out of the Asian steppe, conquered a sizeable chunk of territory, and then failed to hold his empire together. It was only when researching a trip to Uzbekistan that I discovered Temur — or Tamerlane, as he was known in the West — was one of the world’s greatest conquerors. He was a strategist on a par with Alexander...

Barnaby Rogerson on the making of the Middle East

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Barnaby Rogerson (Photo by Tom Bunning, October 2014) The Arab conquest was a decisive event in the history of the Mediterranean, but it is also one of the least understood. Today this region is plagued by endless conflicts and proxy wars between nations that can look more similar than different to the outside observer. Its greatest internal fault line is the split between Sunni and Shia Islam —...

Sarah Anderson: Founding The Travel Bookshop

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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...

Louisa Waugh: Life on the edge of Mongolia

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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...

Bruce Chatwin: with editor and friend Susannah Clapp

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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...

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