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Book Recommendations by the Zegrahm Expedition Team: Part 2

Zegrahm Expeditions|May 26, 2020|Blog Post

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We hope you enjoyed the selections from our first round of book recommendations curated by our expert expedition team. Our field leaders gave us so many intriguing recommendations, we’ve compiled another list of books to explore!

We hope you enjoy this suggested reading list as much as the last as you explore small-town America with Brent Stephenson, discover Scottish literature with Tom Sharpe, witness the fall of Constantinople with Olga Stone, experience the Arctic with Rich Pagen, and so much more.

Enjoy the journey!


Brent Stephenson, Ornithologist

Brent Stephenson

I am currently reading The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson. If you haven’t read any of his books, they are great. He is very humorous, very cutting, and really appeals to my sense of humor. There are many instances where I have laughed so hard while reading his books I have had to stop reading and wipe tears from my eyes! I’ve not read a lot of his books, but he is quite prolific, and well worth a look.

Tip: Check out Brent’s book that he co-wrote with Paul Scofield—Birds of New Zealand: A Photographic Guide.


Tom Sharpe, Geologist

For fun tales, although the dialect can be a struggle at times if you’re not used to it, I recommend the Para Handy Tales by Neil Munro, the adventures of the captain of a little cargo steam ship plying the coastal waters of the west of Scotland in the 1930s. These can be found in various editions, but there is a good 1992 compendium, Para Handy Complete Edition, published by Birlinn. Also fun to read are Whisky Galore and The Monarch of the Glen by Compton Mackenzie.

For contemporary fiction, I suggest any—or indeed all—of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels which are set in Edinburgh. I’m working my way through all of them at the moment. The novels cover Rebus’ career, so it’s best to begin with the first, Knots and Crosses, from 1987 through to the most recent, In a House of Lies, from 2018.


Rich Pagen, Conservation Biologist 

Picture of Rich Pagen reading Arctic Dreams

One of my favorite books is Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez, which is an exploration of the many-faceted wonders of the Far North, from the ever-changing light, to the sparse landscapes, to the creatures that survive and thrive in this (at first glance) barren realm. He also delves into the human dimensions of this massive and (mostly) unexplored world: from the Native communities that have seamlessly co-existed with the animals and plants here for millennia; to the explorers throughout history who have attempted short-term jaunts into this foreign world, often finding out the hard way how unprepared and unsuited for it they actually are; to the modern day oil and natural gas interests that threaten the fragility of this delicate ecosystem.

This is one of my favorite books because Barry Lopez is such a master of observation, noting details that most would miss. The Arctic is, in many ways, very subtle: tiny flowering plants almost invisible to the naked eye; temperature inversions in the cold atmosphere creating temporary mirages on the horizon; and animals like wolverines with such large home ranges that often the only sign of their existence at all is a fleeting set of their tracks. 


Pepper Trail, Ornithologist

I recommend Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides by Adam Nicolson.  I consider this a “must-read” for travelers interested in Zegrahm’s voyages to Britain. Nicolson is the owner of the Shants, a group of small islands in the Inner Hebrides. This lovingly detailed account covers everything from the region’s early monastic history to puffin biology to the habits of sheepherders, all leavened with Nicolson’s humor and obvious love for these rugged and beautiful islands.

I also recommend The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen. Any book by Matthiessen is worth reading, but this is perhaps his non-fiction masterpiece. It is framed around an expedition Matthiessen made with the great field biologist George Schaller to study Himalayan blue sheep—and to search for the snow leopard. The trip becomes a deeply personal exploration of Buddhist philosophy and of humanity’s relations with the natural world.

Last but not least, The Eye of the Albatross by Carl Safina. Human voyages pale in comparison with the adventurous lives of albatross and other seabirds, and Safina captures that drama with great skill by centering this non-fiction masterwork around “Amelia,” a satellite-tagged Laysan albatross. Her journeys form the narrative framework for a fascination exploration of the biology, ecology, and conservation of seabirds.


Olga Stone, Classical Historian

Olga Stone

My current favorite history writer is Roger Crowley. I have read three of his books—1453: The Holy War for ConstantinopleEmpires of the SeaThe Siege of Malta; and City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas—and currently reading Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, which is also very engaging. 

If I were to choose just one book though, it would be 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople, which I’ve read it three times now. The description of the fall of Constantinople made me cry—it is like reading a daily chronicle report of a large living creature bleeding to death, where people fought, lived, loved and the civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Romoi, was coming to its final chapter. Visiting Istanbul after having read this book makes me see Constantinople fighting for its life.


Shirley Campbell, Social Anthropologist 

For me, The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan is one of the most exciting books I have read in a very long time. Full of intriguing information, this historian gives a compelling argument for thinking about the development of our “civilized” world in a very different way. Frankopan engages with the history of the world from the beginnings of cultural interconnectedness through trade along the silk roads. His newest book, The New Silk Roads, is on my bedside table waiting for me to finish the other four books I am reading at the moment!

I also recommend Aelfred’s Britain: War and Peace in the Viking Age by Max Adams.

It is an excellent account of the ninth-century confrontation between Norse invaders and the barely formed “kingdoms” of what is now Great Britain. Adams examines what is buried in the soils of the land, crumbling in the ruins of forts and written in the various chronicles, revealing the beginnings of a “united kingdom.” Not only am I learning a lot about eighth and ninth century Britain, but I am learning about the so called “Vikings” as they became “visible” in the landscape and documents of ancient Britain. I’m also looking forward to reading his earlier book, The King of the North.

Picture of Shirley Campbell with her book The Art of Kula

Tip: Read one of Shirley’s books—The Art of Kula. Nearly a century ago, it was predicted that Kula, the exchange of shell valuables in the Massim region of Papua New Guinea, would disappear. Not only has this prophecy failed to come true, but today Kula is expanding beyond these island communities to the mainland and Australia. This book unveils the many deep motivations and meanings that lie behind the pursuit of Kula.