Traveling the Globe Page by Page

Article excerpt

Critics have been forecasting the death of travel writing for decades. Yet the genre shows no signs of demise, as shown by NEWSWEEK's list of the finest travel writers of the past 100 years.

Martha Gellhorn (1908-98)

Described by The New Yorker as "one of the most eloquent witnesses of the 20th century," the American writer Gellhorn was a hard-as-nails yet deeply compassionate war reporter who covered conflicts all over the world--most notably the Second World War, where she was one of the first journalists to report from a liberated Dachau. During the D-Day landings of June 1944 she scooped her then-husband Ernest Hemingway, to whom she was married for five turbulent years. Later, she covered the war in Vietnam, the Six-Day War in the Middle East, and civil wars in Central America.

Freya Stark (1893-1993)

A fearless English traveler, Stark launched her writing career in the 1930s with a series of extraordinary expeditions to the remotest corners of Arabia and the Middle East, then still largely unseen by Western eyes. As a multilingual female traveler in one of the most conservative and patriarchal regions of the world, her pioneering achievements still strike the modern reader as fiercely triumphant, with every moment recorded and relished in exceptional prose. The writer Lawrence Durrell rightly hailed her as a "poet of travel."

Norman Lewis (1908-2003)

Unassuming in person, Lewis was unforgettable in print, a writer's writer revered by fellow Englishman Graham Greene as "one of our best writers, not of any particular decade but of our century." The Lewis classics include Naples '44, in which he recreated the Dantean hell of a shattered wartime city; The Honoured Society, a simultaneously chilling and darkly humorous study of the mafia; and Golden Earth, a portrait of Burma, a country where "the condition of the soul replaces that of the stock market as a topic for polite conversation." Reading Lewis is a joyful journey that drifts easily from limpid prose bordering on magical realism to hard-hitting campaigning journalism.

Dervla Murphy (1931- )

The Irishwoman's first book, published in 1965, was entitled Full Tilt, the pithiest description of how Murphy has always lived her life. Over the years, and in the course of 24 books, she has thrown herself at challenges that would leave lesser men and women--and that is almost all of us--quivering in her wake. Many of these journeys were made by bicycle, Murphy's favorite mode of travel; others by train, boat, pony, or mule to far-flung corners of the globe from Congo to Siberia. Her writings reflect her style of travel: courageous, uncompromising, and completely original, brimming with raw energy and righteous anger.

Ryszard Kapuscinski (1932-2007)

Doyen of foreign correspondents, the Polish writer Kapuscinski kept the best material from his reporter's notebooks for the works of literature that many ardent fans hoped would win him the Nobel Prize. His insatiable thirst for travel, for meeting fellow men and women in exceptional circumstances around the world--including at least 27 African wars, revolutions, and coups over four decades--was prompted by an inspired gift from his editor: a copy of Herodotus' The Histories. Kapuscinski's Emperor told the mesmerizing story of Haile Selassie's downfall in Ethiopia; Shah of Shahs, the last days of the Persian monarch. Both exemplified his flair for what he called "literary reportage."

Jan Morris (1926-)

While many authors in this list have been stirred by the irresistible call of the wild and remote, the Welsh writer Jan Morris has devoted her literary career to a celebration of civilization's greatest achievement: the city. Among her many books, the portraits of Venice, Oxford, Hong Kong, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, and Manhattan '45 stand out as timeless hymns to these great urban centers. She has enjoyed a six-decade love affair with the ultimate city, New York, which dates back to her heady first glimpse of it in the 1950s, a passion undimmed by the narcissism and neuroses of that roaring megalopolis. …