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  • Tim Mathis

18 books that you didn’t know were about pilgrimage, with very short reviews.

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

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There are a lot of great books about the way that travel changes you. Some of them are recognized as classics about pilgrimage. Most aren't. Writing about this topic, I've come across a lot of really good books that you might like. This is a list of those with very short reviews. It's an informal bibliography of sorts, but that sounds boring, right?

Better - it's a list of books that have the potential to change the way you think about travel.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Books about pilgrimage, but no one bothered to mention it:

  1. On the Road. Jack Kerouac drives around the US acting like an asshole. Inspires a generation.

  2. Get in the Van. Henry Rollins quits his job at Haagen-Dazs to travel town to town, screaming at people and punching them. They spit on him and punch him back. Although he doesn't seem to learn anything, looking at who he has become, he must have.

  3. Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart. No one has captured the emotional experience of thru-hiking better than Carrot Quinn.

  4. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Murakami runs 6 miles a day and it turns him into the best writer in the world.

  5. Pilgrimage: A Medieval Cure for Modern Ills. Dave Whitson provides the spiritual inspiration for the GAP Month. He wrote this book for smart people. You knew it was about pilgrimage, but you've probably never heard of it. "If a tree falls in the forest..." and all that.

  6. The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. John Vaillant tells a story about Russian plebs who try to track down an elusive man eater. The man eater mostly wins but we all learn things in the process.

  7. The Motorcycle Diaries. Che Guevara as a pompous young dickhead who becomes a revolutionary by interacting with normal people.

  8. The Beach. Alex Garland. Oh my lord this beach is a real shocker.

  9. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia. The true story of how Dennis Covington goes back to his roots and accidentally joins a snake handling cult.

  10. The Voyage of the Beagle. Darwin goes outside for long enough to realize that the world doesn’t work the way that everyone thinks it works. Some people still don’t believe him.

  11. How the Word is Passed. Clint Smith goes on a voyage through trauma history and writes the best and most heartbreaking travel book that isn’t marketed as a travel book.

  12. The Song of the Dodo. David Quammen travels to small islands and figures out that we’re all screwed. Great stories along the way. Bill McKibben said it was perhaps the best book of science journalism ever written.

  13. I’m a Stranger Here Myself. Bill Bryson goes home and somehow makes you want to move to the Midwestern United States.

  14. Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home. Heather Anderson is a normal person who walks really far, really fast, and transforms into a superhero along the way.

  15. Roughing It. Mark Twain tries to understand America a long time ago. It was a mess then and it’s still a mess now.

  16. Them: Adventures with Extremists. Jon Ronson investigates why people are so crazy by hanging out with them for a year. It isn’t reassuring.

  17. Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl goes to a concentration camp and comes out with the most inspiring book you'll ever read.

  18. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Malcolm X travels in America and it traumatizes him and makes him a radical. Malcolm X goes on Hajj and it helps him find peace. Then America kills him.

There you have it.

If you're interested in pilgrimage, also have a look at these articles about The GAP Month.

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