Photograph by Yossi Zamir, Flash90/Redux
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A traveler reads whil​e floating in the Dead Sea.

Photograph by Yossi Zamir, Flash90/Redux

18 Inspiring books to gift travelers this holiday

From novels to cookbooks, these travel page-turners are sure to please everyone on your list.

All the #instatravel posts or Tripadvisor reviews can’t take the place of a gorgeous photo book or a compelling travel tale that you can get lost in. These 18 new books will inspire wanderlust, shine a light on a corner of the world you might not have known about, and help you explore more deeply once you are there. You’re sure to find something for a favorite traveler on your holiday list—or for yourself.

Cookbooks

News headlines don’t often show the side of Iran that fills the appetizing pages of Batmanglij’s latest cookbook, packed as it is with some 250 recipes and 400 photographs. The Tehran-raised, Washington, D.C.-based Batmanglij traveled 10,000 miles throughout her home country to trace the roots of traditional Persian dishes, document the bounty of local markets, and cook with local chefs, from saffron-rich Khorasan province to the famed wine region of Shiraz.

An Alabama chef who has lived in San Sebastián, Spain, for more than eight years, Buckley evokes the spirit of the Basque people through cultural insight and classic recipes. Travelers can recreate tasty bites such as salt fish croquettes or gâteau Basque.

Let’s Eat France!, by François-Régis Gaudry

This six-pound compendium of everything French cuisine is a light-hearted collection of recipes (from mayonnaise to cassoulet); tips (best gastronomy museums, a guide to wild berries); a tour of the country via its breads, wines, and signature dishes; and anecdotes on star chefs from Julia Child to Daniel Boulud. [Discover the chocolate capital of France.]

With its tropical Caribbean setting, Cuba has always been rich in a variety of fruits and the bounties of the sea. But the country’s complex history has often meant shortages in food, fuel, and other resources. This photo-filled cookbook celebrates Cuban culture and the people behind the food, capturing a resilience, which, as Gershman writes, “perfumes every savory dish.”

Photo Books

The more than 200 images that animate this coffee table book are divided into chapters titled Chaos, Surprise, Beauty, and Awe. Nearly all of them are bound to spark a #travelgoal, from the tree-root-tangled temples of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, to the sculptures of the annual Burning Man festival, in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. [These photos prove how wild Burning Man really is.]

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In the introduction to this stunning photo book, National Geographic staff photographer Mark Thiessen writes: "Each shot took planning, commitment, dogged determination, and sometimes dumb luck … and a little bit of magic.”


Born to Ice,
by Paul Nicklen

Born and raised on Baffin Island, in Arctic Canada, award-winning National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen has long had a love affair with polar regions. This substantial keepsake photo book captures the lives of leopard seals, whales, walruses, polar bears, penguins, and narwhals, and is infused with the urgency Nicklen feels about preserving a beloved landscape that is rapidly disappearing.

Fiction

Paris Echo, by Sebastian Faulks

With chapters titled after Paris Métro stations, this twisty story told through two narrators—an American academic researching World War II Paris and a teenage Moroccan immigrant—is at heart a love letter to Paris’s historic streets and odd corners, tourist attractions and flaneur-inviting neighborhoods. [Read more about people-watching in Paris.]

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

This best-selling, Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick immerses readers in North Carolina’s coastal marshlands while telling a tale that’s part murder mystery, part coming-of-age narrative. You’ll fall in love with the main character, abandoned 10-year-old Kya, who learns to survive amid the blade grass, palmettos, and cattail lagoons.

What We Were Promised, by Lucy Tan

Although with less designer-name-dropping than the Crazy Rich Asians series, Tan explores similar themes of class, newly acquired wealth, and family tradition in her novel set in Shanghai. After achieving success in the U.S., Lina and Wei return to China as wealthy expats but life amid Shanghai’s high-rises and shopping malls isn’t what they expected, particularly when Wei’s long lost brother comes back into their lives.

Little, by Edward Carey

This curiosity-filled novel about the life of Madame Tussaud is enlivened with old-timey illustrations by Carey himself. Set in the years before and during the French Revolution, diminutive Marie moves to Paris after being orphaned and becomes assistant to a doctor who makes wax models of body parts. A must-read for anyone who’s ever visited Madame Tussauds wax museum in London or any of its other 20 outposts around the world. [Madame Tussaud used beheaded politicians to create her original waxworks.]

Nonfiction

Arctic Solitaire, by Paul Souders

Souders’ quest to photograph polar bears led to this memoir detailing a series of solo, accident-prone adventures piloting a 22-foot boat through Arctic waters. The search for the iconic animal takes Souders from Hudson Bay up to Repulse Bay, in northern Canada, stopping at Inuit villages along the way. [Here's how people live in the Arctic.]

To Shake the Sleeping Self, by Jedidiah Jenkins

We might have heard this story before—young man quits job and his prescribed life and hops on a bike for a long-distance adventure (this time from Oregon to Patagonia) to find himself. But this memoir stands out for its frank honesty about the author’s emotional journey, as someone struggling with his evangelical Christian upbringing and his sexual identity. “I am on this bike, on my spirit quest,” he writes. “This is where people have revelations.”

Traveling through the West Bank, into Jerusalem, across Israel, and into Gaza, Di Cintio reveals life in contemporary Palestinian territories through the lens of its authors, books, and literature. He meets writer Maya Abu-Alhayyat at Café Ramallah, smoking a nargileh under a poster of Elvis. He finds the cultural hub of Gaza at the Gallery Café, where he chats with theater impresario Jamal Abu al-Qumsan. Throughout he finds “no life undarkened…by conflict” but also “no life wholly defined” by it either.

With a lifelong “mad longing for a world without maps,” Harris undertakes an epic cycling adventure along the Silk Road. She marvels at the Mars-like landscape of the Tibetan Plateau, indulges in calorie-dense khachapuri adjaruli (cheese and egg-filled bread) in Georgia, and interviews government ministers about wilderness conservation in Tajikistan.

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What’s it like to be lost, really lost? Purvis has been there, both physically and emotionally, but this memoir recounts how she found her way back to her true self, with the help of a Labrador retriever she names Tasha and trains in search-and-rescue in the avalanche-prone mountains around Crested Butte, Colorado.

Land of the Dawn-Lit Mountains, by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

Despite suffering from panic disorder (a malady she says she shares with Charles Darwin), the intrepid Bolingbroke-Kent sets off on a solo adventure across a lesser-known part of India, Arunachal Pradesh. Her travelogue sensitively captures the history, landscapes, and people of this isolated, mountainous state.

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

For those of us for whom libraries are a travel destination, Orlean’s latest book is on our holiday wish list. Consummately curious, Orlean delves into the case of the 1986 fire that devastated the Los Angeles Public Library, the largest library disaster in U.S. history. Who started it? Why? Woven throughout, we learn about the compelling—and quirky—history of libraries in general.

They may seem dry and lifeless, but desert landscapes, as fans know, are far from monochrome. Atkins journeys to eight of the world’s great deserts, following the trail of Wilfred Thesiger in the Empty Quarter of Oman, volunteering with an immigrant-aid non-profit in the Sonoran desert, and visiting the church of St. Antony in Egypt’s eastern desert, one of the oldest monasteries in the world.