Our privately chartered small ships venture to some truly incomparable destinations: the idyllic isles and sparkling waters of the Caribbean; Scotland’s verdant Highlands & remote outer islands; Vietnam & Cambodia along the storied Mekong River; and into the green heart of the Upper Amazon. Whether you’re looking to armchair travel or raring to get back out there, these book picks, expertly curated by our expedition team, offer inspiration and preparation.
Recommendations by: Darrel Schoeling, Director of Expedition Development in Ecuador & Peru
In Trouble Again
1990, Vintage Books, 272 Pages
As funny as he is insightful, the irrepressible English naturalist, explorer and wit Redmond O'Hanlon starts his wonderfully titled comic masterpiece of a 4-month journey between the Orinoco and the Amazon with a litany of the insects, protozoa, snakes and predators that can do you harm. He sneaks in a lot of natural history along the way (with a special fondness for birds, see below) and his slim book will have you reading aloud. Take note: you may, however, wish to read this book after your voyage—or at least until after your dip in the Ucayali—a much-anticipated activity on the Lindblad-National Geographic Upper Amazon voyage aboard Delfin II. Though O’Hanlon is great fun (and his science is spot on), the man is profane with a particularly British fondness for suffering—and he is not for the squeamish. For me it’s his ill-concealed wonder and reverence for nature that strikes home, like this passage about coming upon a bird nest. O’Hanlon’s many adventures include retracing Darwin’s round-the-world voyage aboard the Beagle with Darwin’s granddaughter, Sarah Darwin.
I had walked about fifty yards when a nightjar flicked silently from the ground in front of me, twisted over a patch of bromeliads, and disappeared. On the bare rock, in the shade of a low bush, lay one pink-brown egg, stippled, lined and spotted with black ... Suddenly the world seemed freshly made and the future ceased to matter. Beneath the tropical sun on Toucan hill, ignorant, momentarily, like a Yanomami, of the laws of science, gazing at that little egg, I might have been looking at one half of an empty eggshell, a message of brown and purple blotches on a background of browny-white, a present from a mistle-thrush dropped at my feet on a vicarage lawn.
Ecologist and conservationist Michael Goulding focuses on the Big Picture in th is beautifully illustrated atlas, depicting the mighty river and its major tributaries, from its source high in the Peruvian Andes to the Atlantic, in 150 full-color maps and 300 glorious photographs. With dozens of accompanying informative essays, Goulding and his Brazilian co-authors cover geology, hydrology, conservation threats, biodiversity, the many peoples dependent on the Amazon, the importance of seasonal fluctuations, and much more. You’ll likely return often to this comprehensive volume for questions about the role of the river and the forest upon which it depends; dipping in to discover, for example, why tributaries are black, transparent, yellow, or brown and why seasonal flooding is so critical to the health of the ecosystem (like in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, where Lindblad-National Geographic sails). Goulding, who won the annual Parker/Gentry Award in 2020 for his contribution to conservation over the last 40-years, of which this book is a milestone, has always kept people at the center of his research and conservation goals for Amazonia.
Recommendations by: David Barnes, Expedition Leader
The Scottish Clearances
2018, Penguin Books, 463 pages
A magisterial account of what some have described as an early example of ethnic cleansing—the forcible removal of entire communities of Gaels from their lands in the Scottish Highlands and their forced emigration, mainly to Canada and Australia, in the century after the Jacobite defeat at Culloden. Today, more Scottish Gaelic is spoken in the Canadian maritime provinces than is spoken in Scotland itself. We visit the Culloden battlefield site near Inverness and reference the Clearances throughout the voyage. It surprises many visitors to learn that the pristine landscape through which we travel is no wilderness but was, until the middle of the eighteenth century, a highly populated “congested” district. This meticulously researched account, written by Scotland’s pre-eminent historian and met with critical acclaim, is an evocative memorial to political vindictiveness and the paramountcy of economic efficiency.
The Lighthouse Stevensons
1999, HarperCollins, 304 pages
An engaging and affectionate account of the Scottish lighthouses built by author Robert Louis Stevenson’s ancestors. We encounter many of these—the lighthouses, not the ancestors—on this itinerary. The rugged coastline, particularly of north-west Scotland, is notoriously difficult to navigate and prone to dramatic changes in weather and tempestuous seas. In 1786, the Northern Lighthouse Trust was established to build a series of navigation lights to aid mariners in these waters. Robert Stevenson was appointed its Chief Engineer. Four generations of Stevensons worked to build the network of lighthouses still in use today. Robert Louis Stevenson, whose Kidnapped is based on the island of Mull which we visit, wrote: “…when the lights come out at sundown along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think they burn more brightly for the genius of my father.”
Recommendation by: Tom O’Brien, Expedition Leader
Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean
2017, U of Pennsylvania Press, 288 pages
If you are traveling with us to the Windward Islands of the Caribbean, our voyage will give you insight into and interaction with a warm and colorful Caribbean culture that has almost disappeared from the overly touristic cruise ship and resort islands. My good friend and colleague of 30 years in the Caribbean—historian and cultural expert Tom Heffernan—illuminates the creole languages, the religions, and the expressions of cultural identity throughout our entire voyage, and our long relationships with the locals makes the interactions uniquely comfortable and friendly. But it helps to come with a fresh overview of the sugar and slave trade that brought so many millions of Africans of differing tribes, languages, and religions to a new world where their identity and heritage disappeared within a generation as they struggled just to stay alive. Dr. Heffernan recommends this recently published book by Randy Browne as a very readable foundation for the cultural understanding of today's Caribbean explored on Sea Cloud.
Recommendation by: Tom Heffernan, Historian
Imagine entering the Caribbean with the trade winds pulsing great gusts in your square rigger sails as it heads from Europe to South America. Your bow cuts a great white course in the green blue sea with 22 knots of wind off your starboard beam, breaking the green sea into blankets of great white foam. Fifty thousand square feet of canvas groan in the rigging as the incessant wind blows. Below you sit 4,000 tons of Baltic grain as you scud along at 15 knots. Salt spume covers everything. You're wet from dawn to dusk for the two months of your journey. Hands go aloft and the riggings are dark with scrambling sailors 15 stories into the blue sky as the ship heels. Seas crash over the sides and gunnels flooding the deck. This was the world of Benjamin Lundy in 1885 and it is retold in this riveting story by his great-great nephew Derek. The Sea Cloud is a lineal ancestor of the great age of square rig sailing and when you step on board you become that history.
Recommendations by: Tom O’Brien, Expedition Leader
Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques
2006, River Book Press, 240 pages
The Angkor temples of Siem Reap are a deserved highlight of our voyage, but the Hindu pantheon and ancient Khmer names can be confusing, along with the shifting boundaries between Hinduism and various types of Buddhism. For the best overview of what to look for and how to best appreciate the sheer beauty and distinctiveness, I would first watch the 2-part 2017 BBC documentary Jungle Atlantis (available on YouTube and other streaming sites). As well as serving as an excellent overview of the sophisticated Angkor temples and culture from the 8th to the 14th centuries, it includes the most recent extensive findings from the cutting-edge LIDAR ground penetration laser technology. And then I would buy this convenient yet complete pocket-sized guide to the temples which offers succinct overviews of Angkor culture, religion, and architecture and makes perfect pre-voyage reading material. The book also contains well-illustrated diagrams and photos of each individual temple that are very useful to have along in the field or as a recap after wards. If you can’t find it online, it is readily available everywhere upon arrival in Cambodia.
Music of the Ghosts
2017, Atria Books, 336 pages
Cambodia has been through a lot in the last century. A country where the majority of peoples’ daily lives were much like those depicted on the walls of the ancient Angkor temples suddenly came under French colonial authority, and then fell victim to the geopolitics of 20th century world powers. And Cambodia simply cannot be visited without understanding the disturbing atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, and the puzzling absence of today’s call for justice. There are libraries of books on all subjects, but my recommendation for the most comprehensive and enjoyable reading is th is fictional story by Vaddy Ratner. Where her previous book In the Shadow of the Banyan went directly into the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Music of the Ghosts brings us on a more encompassing cultural journey into the Khmer (Cambodian) people and values. The book takes a Cambodian-American girl back to her home country to search for answers about what happened to her father, and her journey yields an impacting understanding of different generations of Cambodians today.
The Quiet American
2004, Penguin Classics Deluxe, 188 pages
Many American travelers prepare for their trip to Vietnam through the lens of the war that the Vietnamese call “The American War.” They are always surprised at how friendly and welcoming the Vietnamese people are to Americans, and they come to understand that for the Vietnamese, the war was only ten years of a 200-year-long struggle against colonialism layered on historic conflicts with China and Japan. Amidst the myriad books on the subject, I think the best reading for quality and understanding is Graham Greene’s 1955 classic. Set in 1953 when the United States was just starting to get involved in France’s losing cause, it is written from the perspective of a conflicted English war journalist who enjoys the pleasures of colonialism while trying to understand the native Vietnamese culture through his local mistress. The book is full of complex relationships and philosophies as the captivating romantic and political plots unfold. It emphasizes that there are no easy answers and no simple black and white values, while giving compelling insights into the differing players and cultures that shaped the region in the 20th century.