Colin Thubron's travel writing books standing upright on a shelf to show spines, with The Amur River turned to display its cover, alongside a small globe.

 

With more than half a century of globetrotting under his belt, Colin Thubron is ‘Britain’s best living travel writer’, in the words of the Sunday Times. His adventures have taken him from Syria to Siberia and everywhere in between. As well as an acclaimed travel writer and novelist, Thubron is also a CBE, a former President of the Royal Society of Literature and an RSL Companion of Literature.

With the publication of The Amur River this month, there’s no better time to start your reading journey…

Mirror to Damascus (1967)

From the Biblical Amorites to the revolution of 1966, Colin Thubron charts the rich history of Syria’s capital in his first book, Mirror to Damascus. Both a personal record of Damascus and a descent through the layers of culture, tradition, art and religion that have shaped the city and its people, this is now considered a classic of travel writing. Thubron described the book as ‘a work of love’; an affection that still shines through in his charming and witty writing, fifty years on.

The Hills of Adonis (1968)

The product of four months and five hundred miles spent walking the mountains of Lebanon, The Hills of Adonis is a quest for meaning, a reflection on faith and reason and a poem on the joy and complexity of living. Visiting almost every place of cultural importance, Thubron records a country of outstanding natural scenery, rich with a unique medley of peoples and religions.            

Journey into Cyprus (1975)

Just two years before the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Colin Thubron trekked 600 miles across the country, moving from Greek villages to Turkish towns, meeting Orthodox monks, wedding parties and peasant families, all against the landscape of a beautiful Mediterranean island on the eve of chaos and tragedy. According to the Financial Times, Thubron’s ‘passionate concern for antiquity in all its aspects – mythological, architectural, conceptual – lends weight and warmth to every chapter’.

Among the Russians (1983)

In 1982, Colin Thubron travelled by car into the Soviet Union, from St Petersburg and the Baltic States in the north to Georgia and Armen in the south. This is an enthralling account of the complexities of Russian identity, as well as a sharp and insightful social commentary. The Daily Telegraph wrote that ‘What makes the book so readable is Thubron’s combination of an artist’s aesthetic sensitivity with the literary craftsmanship to convey it’.

 

  

Behind the Wall (1987)

In Behind the Wall, winner of the Hawthornden Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, Colin Thubron journeys for the first time into China. From the Gobi desert to the far end of the Great Wall, over the course of 10,000 miles, he encounters a diverse country whose resources strain to meet growing demand – a nation of people still reeling from the devastation of the Cultural Revolution.

The Lost Heart of Asia (1994)

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, widespread social upheaval and political change followed. Travelling throughout Central Asia in the wake of this momentous shift, Thubron writes insightfully on the vast area’s history and shifting present. The Lost Heart of Asia is a lyrical, spectacular portrait of a region in the throes of transformation.

In Siberia (1999)

Described by the Observer as ‘One of the finest books about contemporary Russia’, In Siberia continues the odyssey that Thubron started in Among the Russians. Journeying though a region that makes up one twelfth of the land surface of the whole Earth, he encounters Buddhists and animists, radical Christian sects, reactionary communists, the remnants of a so-called Jewish state, the site of the last Czar’s murder, Rasputin’s village, the ice-bound graves of ancient Sythians and the deepest and oldest of the world’s lakes.

Shadow of the Silk Road (2006)

Shadow of the Silk Road is one of Thubron’s most loved works of non-fiction, a critically acclaimed bestseller charting his path along the greatest land route on Earth – an ancient trade road carrying goods and ideas between Rome and China, spanning Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran and Kurdish Turkey. Covering over 7,000 miles in eight months, Thubron recounts extraordinary adventures, including a near miss with a drunk driver, incarceration in a Chinese cell during the SARS epidemic and undergoing root canal treatment without anaesthetic in Iran, all told in inimitable prose.

To a Mountain in Tibet (2011)

The Tibetan Mount Kailas is the most sacred mountain in the world, considered holy by one fifth of humanity. In To a Mountain in Tibet, Thubron joins Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims through the high passes to the slopes of Kailas. Having recently witnessed the death of the last of his living family, this trek around the great mountain is also a pilgrimage for Thubron, awakening an inner landscape of love and grief, restoring precious fragments of his own past. 

The Amur River (2021)

In his 80th year, Thubron set out on an ambitious journey along the 3,000-mile river that divides China and Russia. Although it is almost unknown, the Amur River is the tenth longest river in the world, forming a tense border between Russia and China, haunted by the memory of land grabs and unequal treaties. Offering a unique perspective of two of the world’s superpowers via the story of the river, this is a shining masterpiece by the acknowledged laureate of travel writing, an urgent lesson in history and the culmination of an astonishing career.

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