Book Review: Curiosities and Splendour: An Anthology of Classic Travel Literature

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_curiosities_and_splendourHave you ever sat down to enjoy a real life tale of adventure from another place, and another time?  Sit down with the newly released travel anthology Curiosities and Splendour and you’ll find inspiration, amazement and a dose of reality from times past – all of which will make for many hours’ entertainment.

What a treat to be able to read of the explorations and ventures that people have taken throughout history, into foreign lands and exotic cultures. My imagination soars when I think of the sights, smells and sounds they must have encountered on their travels and consider the choices they had to make, and the awe-inspiring moments in history they were a part of.

Curiosities and Splendour is a collection of 30 short extracts from an excellent selection of travel literature. It’s a great book to take with you on holiday, you can read an excerpt in one go and enjoy its flavour before reading another tale in the book, or heading off on an adventure of your own. It can sometimes be difficult to move between stories in one go, as the style of early authors can take some concentration to read. However, it’s worth giving the book some time and energy to extract each tale’s full flavour.

The first story is close to home, telling of the impact of the great snowstorm of 1867 to one sheep farm in Canterbury. Early settler and farmer Mary Anne Barker’s written account of the storm became an important social document in part because other retellings of the storm were passed on as oral history. The snow began in July and lasted for a week, with Barker telling of sinking into the snow up to her shoulders. The devastating loss of over half their stock including 90% of the lambs is as meaningful to us today as it was then.

My favourite adventure book of all time, and also top of the National Geographic’s list of 100 Greatest Adventure Books is featured in the collection: The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard.  This is still one of the most awe-inspiring books I have ever read, about the absolute perils and hardship suffered by the English explorers and scientists accompanying Robert Falcon Scott in the Terra Nova Expedition in Antarctica 1910-1913. Having read The Worst Journey in the World in entirety, I can vouch that the extract is a faithful sample of the narrative as a whole, sharing insight into the people, the hardship, and the heart of that incredible exploration.

There are a great selection of authors and experiences featured in Curiosities and Splendour. See the words of literary luminaries come to life in the travel writings of Charles Dickens (American Notes), DH Lawrence (Sea and Sardinia), and Mark Twain (Life of the Mississippi). Historical personalities share their adventures throughout the ages including explorers David Livingstone, Marco Polo, and James Cook. Isabella Bird’s tales of A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains share the rare and valuable female view of adventuring in the 1870’s.

Travel writing is a wonderful source of insight into our history and the lives and travails of the people that lived in those times.  Many great works are readily accessible for anyone to read, harking back to those written back through the ages such as Homer’s Odyssey, or even the Bible – they all contain rich and marvellous insight into times past. Although the further back in time you go, the less sure you can be of the accuracy. There are still glimpses of history to be had that will stoke the imagination about times past and a different world than the one we live in today.

It’s great to see Lonely Planet assemble these into a sample platter of some of the best in Curiosities and Splendour.

by Amie Lightbourne

Curiosities and Splendour: An anthology of classic travel literature
by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781788683029