Book Recommendations

Book Recommendations by the Zegrahm Expedition Team: Part 1

Zegrahm Expeditions|April 15, 2020|Blog Post

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We know that curious explorers like yourself will not be content to sit idle during this time of isolation and social distancing, so we reached out to our expert expedition team for their best book recommendations. We were rewarded with a plethora of books to help you—and us—learn, grow, and travel through reading.

Whether reading historical accounts of famed explorers, learning about unique fauna around the world, or discovering something new about another culture, we hope this reading list feeds your sense of adventure, satisfies your thirst for knowledge, and ignites your passion for exploration—even while at home.

Happy reading!

Jack Grove, Zegrahm Cofounder & Marine Biologist

Over the decades of global travel with Zegrahm Expeditions, I have been privileged to visit many of the most remote islands and pristine seas in the world.

Not surprisingly, one of my favorite books is about islands—David Quammen's book, The Song of the Dodo, Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction. It is a stirring work, breathtaking in its scope, far-reaching in its message. I highly recommend this publication, especially considering that many of our Zegrahm travelers have traveled extensively among these secluded islands and atolls.

Quammen’s keen intellect sheds light on the travels and research of prominent naturalists and biogeographers focused on the subject of island biogeography, and the reader comes away with a greater understanding of the study of the origin and extinction of all species.

Lex Hes, Naturalist

My favorite book is Kalahari: Life’s Variety in Dune and Delta by Michael Main. This is a wonderful introduction to the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa, with specific reference to Botswana. It covers human history, geology, and wildlife.

That sounds fairly simple and basic, but it is actually an extremely well-constructed story of the Kalahari, revealing in great detail the formation of the Kalahari Desert and in particular the amazing Okavango Delta with a wonderful narrative of the human history in the Kalahari on top of that. A great read and a perfect introduction to anyone wanting to visit the Kalahari and the Okavango Delta.

Stephen Fisher, Historian 

Stephen Fisher

It’s really hard to pick a single book (as I'm something of a bibliophile) but…I recommend Motor Gunboat 658. It is the wartime memoir of Leonard C. Reynolds, a young officer in the Royal Navy who sailed from the UK in the spring of 1943 in a small 115 ft wooden Motor Gun Boat—an equivalent of the USN’s wartime PT boats (but minus the torpedo tubes). 

For the next two years, Reynolds served on 658 in the Mediterranean theater, initially around Malta, Sicily, Italy, and Corsica and then into the Aegean. Starting as a fresh junior officer, by the end of the war he was a veteran in command of the boat who had seen numerous actions and lost many friends. 

What sets Motor Gunboat 658 apart from other wartime memoirs is that the story is told so well. Reynolds gives a gripping narrative full of action, drama, tragedy, and humor. Doubtless, it was the quality of his memoir that led the Imperial War Museum to ask him to write the three-volume history of Royal Navy Coastal Forces in the 1990s.

Bob Quaccia, Biologist & Lynne Greig, Cruise Director

Where the Sea Breaks Its Back by Corey Ford must be a great read—as two of our expedition team members selected it as their favorite book!

Bob: This is an epic story of the Russian Exploration of Alaska in 1741 by Captain Vitus Bering (namesake of the Bering Sea). On board was the famous naturalist Georg Steller (namesake of the Steller Sea Lion, Steller’s Eider, and Steller’s Sea Cow).

What I most liked about this book was that it was written from the actual logbook of the voyage. Reading of the hardships and discoveries on this journey with the surprises at the end make this a page turner and a book I’ve enjoyed several times.

Lynne: This moving story tells the reader about the naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, who served on the 1741-42 Russian Alaska expedition with explorer Vitus Bering. Steller was one of Europe's foremost naturalists and the first to document the unique wildlife of the Alaskan coast. In the course of the voyage he suffered, along with Bering and the crew of the ill-fated brig St. Peter, some of the most grueling experiences in the history of Arctic exploration. 

Coming from South Africa, I had never heard of Georg Wihelm Steller or Vitus Bering. During the Zegrahm Expeditions voyages to Alaska and the Russian Far East I started to hear these names over and over again. I met my Russian husband who was appalled that I didn’t know the history and story of these two men. Reading Where the Sea Breaks Its Back gave me a clear and concise history of the area and the players that so influenced the history in this area in so many ways.  

Mark Brazil, Ornithologist

Mark Brazil

One of my favorite books is The Crystal Desert by David Campbell. It is a beautifully well-written account of summers spent in Antarctica. David Campbell explores the history of exploration and the natural history of the Antarctic Continent. In describing his own summers there spent in research, he portrays the landscape and the creatures that make Antarctica home in such rich descriptive language that the book requires no other illustrations than his writing. His exposé is like a colorful tapestry depicting planktonic creatures to the great whales, the life forms most visitors encounter, and those unseen beneath the ice, weaving in history and personal experience in such a way that the book reads more like a novel than a travel-natural history volume.  

Tip: Check out some of Mark’s published works: Field Guide to the Birds of Japan, The Nature of Japan, Field Guide to the Birds of East Asia, The Whooper Swan, and A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Japan.

T.H. Baughman, Historian

If I had to choose one book to have on a desert island, I would choose Alexander William Kinglake’s Eothen, which is an account of the author’s trip from England through the Middle East in the 1830s.  

I first heard of the author while reading a magazine on a flight to Portland, Oregon around 1974. I have often introduced this book to friends by handing them the volume and saying, “Open this book to any page. I will bet you five dollars that that you will find, on the page you open to, a sentence or paragraph that thrills you. Many people smugly thought “here’s a quick five bucks” only to fork over a five dollar bill to me. 

Tip: An author himself, check out T.H.’s own personal favorite, Biographical Vignettes.

Bolivar Sanchez, Naturalist

Mark Brazil

My favorite book is The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. This book is written in an approachable, non-scientific way for the general public to learn and understand more about marine natural history, especially about one of my favorite creatures, the octopus. I learned to appreciate this highly intelligent animal and its important role in the marine ecosystem. After reading this book you will look at and appreciate small creatures in a different way.

Tese Wintz Neighbor, Expedition Leader, Asia Specialist

My favorite book of 2020 so far is Convenience Store Womana novel by the best-selling Japanese author Sayaka Murata. This brilliant, quirky, sweet gem of a book will transport you into the life of Keiko, a long-term convenience store employee. Perhaps Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Sympathizer) describes it best: “A darkly comic, deeply unsettling examination of contemporary life, of alienation, of capitalism, of identity, of conformity. We’ve all been to this convenience store, whether it’s in Japan or somewhere else.”

With relatively few contemporary Japanese writers translated into English, it is an excellent window into the heroine’s life, society’s expectations of marriage-age youth today, and Japan’s declining marriage and low birthrates. I love exploring Japanese society today, reading Japanese authors, and teaching about contemporary Japan—this small novel does it all (and is a page turner!).

Amanda Charland, Archaeologist

Picture of Amanda Charland holding her book recommendation, Endurance

My favorite book is Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (1959). This captivating book details Ernest H. Shackleton’s failed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and the fate of his ship, the Endurance. Shackleton and his 27 man crew attempted to cross the Antarctic continent in 1914. After their ship was beset and crushed by ice floes in the Weddell Sea, the men braved unforgiving weather and hunger in what is the ultimate true tale of survival. The book reads like a thriller, is amazingly well researched, and details the almost superhuman near two-year struggle of 28 men in the most unforgiving place on earth.

Tom Hiney, Naturalist 

Tom Hiney

My favorite book is The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. It looks at the life and exploration of Alexander Von Humboldt, the forgotten father of environmentalism. It is very well researched and written and she makes clear the myriad, fundamental ways that Humboldt created our understanding of the natural world. He has more species named after him than any other person (although Sir David Attenborough may soon overtake him).

Jim Wilson, Ornithologist 

One of my favorite books is An Unsung Hero: Tom Crean – Antarctic Survivor by Michael Smith. The fact that this is a story about an Irishman does not color my view that this is a great book about a true giant of Antarctic Exploration. He spent more time on the ice than Ernest Shackleton and Robert Scott because he was at the center of both of their famous expeditions. He is also arguably a better role model than either Scott or Shackleton. A junior version of this book is on the national primary school curriculum in Ireland and ideal for budding students of the history of polar exploration.

Tip: Check out some of Jim Wilson’s own books—and an app:

The Birds of Ireland: A field Guide by Jim Wilson with photography by Mark Carmody. This is a best-selling photo-ID guide to the common and scarce birds of Ireland.Birds of Ireland by Jim Wilson

Ireland's Garden Birds by Jim Wilson, co-written with Oran O'Sullivan. This is a best-selling photo-ID guide to the garden (backyard) birds of Ireland.

Ireland's Garen Birds by Jim Wilson and oran O'Sullivan

Download Jim’s Antarctic Wildlife Guide app co-produced with Pam Le Noury (mydigitalearth). This best-selling and comprehensive app is a guide to the birds, whales, dolphins, and seals of the Antarctic. It includes Ushuaia/Beagle Channel, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia. 

Antarctic Wildlife Guide App by Jim Wilson and Pam Le Noury

Richard Jacoby, Mariner

One of my favorite books is The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. It would be a big brick in the carry-on, but an ideal size to ride out an unexpected quarantine order! It is a great first-hand account of the Terra Nova Expedition, the infamous ”Winter Journey” to Cape Crozier, as well as a glimpse into the day to day life of an Antarctic Explorer.

If you are looking for a quick read, I am just finishing Shackleton of the Antarctic, by Zegrahm’s own T.H. Baughman. It is a perfect for anyone who wants a brief, well-crafted primer to the Shackleton story and an introduction to some of the important figures in the “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration. It’s about the right length for an airplane trip, and not too big to bring in your carry-on bag!

Ron Wixman, Cultural Geographer

One of the great pleasures of traveling around the world is sampling and enjoying all sorts of delicious and different foods. While at home, I often go through a variety of my cookbooks when entertaining guests. Of all of them, my favorite is by two young Syrian women, Our Syria: Recipes from Home, by Dina Mousawi and Itab Azzam.

Rather than read another travel book, or history, or astronomy, why not do what I do—cook! This book gives you wonderful and easy dishes to remind you of foreign travels and bring them right into your home. Enjoy!

P.S. Watch for another list of book recommendations…coming soon!