East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The Karavansara summer reading list for students (and everybody else)

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I don’t know how it is there where you are sitting, but hereabouts schools are about to close for summers, and teachers are busy assigning homework and projects and stuff.
One of the things that hit the kids every year is the dread read at least five books from this list list.
I always hated that when I was in high-school – I usually approached summer with a stack of a dozen big books I wanted to read, and here I was forced to slip more dull novels in the mix. And now I’m told that with the lowering standards of our school they are reducing the required reads to three, but you get the idea.


And I thought, why not put together my own suggested reading list?
For kids out there, high-school level, to broaden their horizons, and provide some much-needed food for thought.
I’ll also do a list in Italian for my blog, as a form of service – but putting together a list of English-language titles is easier, and I’m told list posts are quite popular.
But with a twist: I’ll focus on a list of books in theme with the usual topics of this blog. Books that talk about science, nature, philosophy, literature, history and imagination.
With an eye for adventure, exploration, and a modicum of swashbuckling – because this is, after all, Karavansara!

There are ten books in my list, and they all have one thing in common: they are beautifully written non-fiction books, and they are not so recent, so you’ll be able to get them from the library, or as cheap paperbacks or as ebooks.

  1. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: a book about a man alone in a trailer in one of the most beautiful and desert places in the world, trying to understand how solitude can intersect with understanding – of oneself, of nature, of everything else.
  2. Sylvia Earle, The World is Blue: a beautiful book about the oceans, and their value for all life on our planet, written by a legendary oceanographer and explorer. A book about something urgent and important.
  3. Thomas Hoover, Zen Culture:  the book that started my interest for Zen and for Japanese art and culture. Because learning about other cultures is important. And you are lucky, you can get this one for free in digital format.
  4. Marina Warner, Stranger Magic: a colossal essay on the Arabian Nights, filled with wonders and magic and historical detail, and literary insight and other marvels. Probably the best literary essay I ever read (and I read a few).
  5. James Burke, The Day the Universe Changed: another book about science, and history, and the way in which everything is connected to everything else, and our perception of the universe changes every time our tools for the investigation of the universe change.
  6. David Cordingly, Women Sailors and Sailor’s Women: a fine historical account of the women that tied their lives to the sea. Pirates, harbor mistresses, lighthouse guardians and everything else.
  7. Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: the best book about the spy game played between the British Empire and Russia in the 19th century. Solid research, great adventure, and everything you could ask of a historical essay.
  8. Frank Buck, Bring ’em back Alive: the autobiography of adventurer, big-game hunter and all-around true-life pulp hero, Frank Buck. A lot of fun. Only tangentially connected with the TV series of the same title.
  9. Margaret Bald, From the Sahara to Samarkand: Selected Travel Writings of Rosita Forbes 1919-1937: because we all love an adventuress, and Rosita was the most wonderful of them all. The title gives you an idea of the general contents of this selection of excerpts, articles and other writings.
  10.  Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: a zen handbook for writers, this is one book I keep going back too, and is highly recommended. Maybe you won’t write more, or better, but maybe you’ll feel better writing. Or something. To each their path. But this is quite good.

Here, this could be a good start. Read the lot, kids, and you’ll get out of the summer better than you entered it.
But hey, this is my list!
What would you add to this ideal library of summer reads for students – and for everybody else?
Sticking to non fiction, please, and as adventure-relates as possible, but let me hear your suggestions. The comments, as usual, are open.

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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

One thought on “The Karavansara summer reading list for students (and everybody else)

  1. Six Easy Pieces, by Richard Feynman, because, well, give me a reason not to read it.

    Periodic Tales, by Hugh Aldersey Williams, because is a fun collection of stories and anecdotes about the chemical elements; you’d think that there is not a crazier man than Hennig Brandt, a german alchemist that accidentally discovered phosporus while trying to distillate gold from vats of horse urine, then the author admits to have tried this at home.

    Fermat’s Last Theorem, by Simon Singh, about the story of of the (in)famous, you guess it, Fermat’s last theorem, and its solution. Or maybe not.

    Il Barbarossa, by Franco Cardini. A good biography of Frederick Barbarossa, Holy German Emperor. Great man living in great times, I think it is available only in italian, and not so easy to come by; but if you can find it, it is a good read.

    The Fall of the Roman Empire, by Peter Heather. A great account about the downfall of one of the most important empires of all history, that was a process way more complex than the coming of the barbarians.

    And as a bonus, Dune, by Frank Herbert. Yes, it is a work of fiction, but it is also a treatise about history, mythology, religion, biology, ecology…


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