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Beyond Travel Books: What to Read Before Visiting Another Country

Before I take off to a new destination, I try to find a book to take with me so that I can get a better sense of the place. I’m not talking about travel books or guides. I mean a good, solid story that will immerse me in the culture and its people — past or present.

So I decided to curate a list of books that do just that. I call these my “Journey Reads” books. Each of the books I’ve chosen meets one of the following criteria:

  • Classic/Culturally Significant. The book is either considered a classic in that country or is something most everyone in the country has read or refers to.
  • Person/Place/Event. Reading the book will give you insight into a person of note, a city, or historic happening.
  • Sense of Culture. Reading the book provides a better understanding of how a country’s people think and behave, either through their actions or through the eyes of an outsider.

And, of course, each book has to be a good read. It can’t be something you force yourself to get through. If I wouldn’t rate the book with four stars or higher (out of five), it doesn’t make the list.

Below are the countries I’ve started on. You can also suggest a book or read more about this project.

Note that I’ve included links to Indiebound where possible, but some books are not available on there. Support indie bookstores! If a book is now in the public domain, I have tried to provide a link to where the e-book can be legally downloaded for free.

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