Badass Books


You’ve come to the right place for reading recommendations.  Even with a tiny backpack, books make up an astounding percentage of my total pack weight.  I know, I know… “Get a kindle already!”

Dreaming of that first trip?  Can’t wait to travel again?  Start with travel inspiration.

Or jump ahead to:

Armchair Travel

Grab Life By the Balls

Armchair Anthropology

Travel Inspiration

Looking for courage to take the big leap?  You need Tales of a Female Nomad. Rita finally broke away from the kind of life that has many of us forever delaying our travel dreams.  She’ll inspire you to get started!


Every traveler, from the newest to the wizened, connects with this backpacker’s bible.  Vagabonding provides the newbie with first mental steps – the stuff that comes before making a packing list, picking an insurance policy, and worrying about visas and currency exchange rates.  Those with lots of travel under their belts will nod the whole way through, underlining Pott’s words that hit the nail on the head over and over.


Veteran traveler Peter Moore manages to be simultaneously wise and hilarious in No Shitting in the Toilet.  Named for the giggle-inducing English-as-an-attempted-language one encounters on the road, the tome first called to me from the shelves of a Bangkok book shop.  It was worth every baht, and I quote it constantly.  Seasoned travelers will especially appreciate Mr. Moore’s wit.


Armchair Travel

These tales will captivate those keen to vicariously experience war zones, isolated jungles, frozen terrain.

♦ ♦

Intense and fascinating. Emergency Sex follows a trio who start as strangers on a UN Peacekeeping mission in Cambodia. They go on to war-torn, disaster ridden locales, never knowing what shocking experience will blindside them next.


For anyone who has every toyed with the idea of getting away from it all and living off the land – especially in an exotic locale.  You’ll find well-thumbed copies of The Beach in every backpacker bookstore in Southeast Asia.  It might be the adult version of Lord of the Flies..


Jon Krakauer is a total badass.  In Into the Wild, he tells the painstakingly-researched story of a young man’s post-university disenchantment.  The book follows Chris McCandless as his wanderlust and search for depth take him into the desert, into new communities, and eventually north to Alaska.  The casual reader gets an adventure, the analytical reader gets a fascinating peek into the human desire for raw life..


Despite the protagonist’s questionable integrity, which Jon Krakauer ayes, the same badass just mentioned called into question long after publication, Three Cups of Tea is still an amazing story.  Probably best enjoyed as a work of fiction, the book will take you into the remote mountains of Pakistan for a glimpse of one of the world’s most misunderstood cultures.  Witness the flame of hope burning brighter and brighter as those living hard-scrabble lives finally get a taste of opportunity.



Travels with Charley is part Armchair Travel, part Armchair Anthropology, the amazing Steinbeck heads out into 1960 America to see what’s really going on across the country.  His observations will impact any modern reader’s perspective on the USA, whether you’re American or not.  As a bonus, his journey is of the ambling, come-what-may style that so many of us dream about, but are terrified to actually embrace.  Let him inspire you!


Grab Life By the Balls

Perfectly content with your existence?  Skip ahead to Armchair Anthropology.

For everyone else, settle in, grab a notepad (or at least a pen), and get ready to squeeze more out of your life.

Why read these books?  Because you’re surrounded by a mainstream culture that only talks the talk.  Your boss is not grabbing life by the balls. Your friends are not grabbing life by the balls. Your routines – get up, get ready for work, go to work, work, do a thing (gym, meeting, happy hour, book club), eat, sleep – do not have much ball-grabbing in them.

A book gets you to be pro-active. A book is a little nudge to do a bit of ball-grabbing every day. Because you only get to your goals by consistently chipping away.  A book is like your workout buddy – a source of motivation to do what the inertia of your daily life has so far prevented you from doing.

Money and fear (usually in combination) are the most common roadblocks.  Let’s tackle them!

♦ ♦

I bet you’re lazy about your finances.  It’s a safe wager, given money passivity is a commonality shared by roughly everyone who likes ice cream.  You stand to get very little of the big things you want out of life if you let things go on like this.

I Will Teach You to Be Rich might be more aptly titled, “I Will Teach You to Stop Fucking Away Your Hard-Earned Dollars.”  Especially if you’re 18 to 35ish, read this book.  Older?  Anyone without a financial system will reap rewards from these pages.  The first and most important step is to learn to stop being poor.  Even if you do nothing more, you’ll finally be on the road to places you’ve dreamed of going for years.

If you don’t have a financial system, please go buy I Will Teach You to Be Rich right now.  It’s $8.  The price of two lattes.  Please give up two coffees to start changing your life.


After money, fear is the reason you’re talking about your dreams but not living your dreams.  Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of who-cares.  The important thing is to teach yourself how to act in spite of your fear.

The 4-Hour Work Week, should be called “How to Stop Doing What You Think You Have to Do.”  The first two sections of this book are the most important.  Step One is essentially putting your fears in tidy boxes and tucking them away so they stop sucking your mental energy.  Then comes Step Two: which habits to change and how to change them so they stop sucking the rest of your mental energy and time.

You cannot change your behavior with willpower and no plan.  That’s like going on a diet when you still have Twinkies in the cupboard, a freezer full of ice cream, and happy hour plans three nights that week.  Not happening.  And neither are your dreams if you don’t get some kind of blueprint for action.  Go buy The 4-Hour Work Week.  While you’re waiting for it to arrive, watch this video.


Now that you have tools to deal with money and face your fears, it’s time to tackle your stuff.  Even if you’re not reading Half the Clothes because you want to travel, the stuff you have that you aren’t using wastes a massive amount of your time and mental energy.

For wanna-be adventurers, The Japanese Art of Decluttering is especially important.  Life on the road requires doing something with your current possessions.  Facing your closets and cupboards now – before you’re frantically researching visas, currency exchange rates, cheap flights, what to pack, and travel insurance – is a very smart move.  Even for those not traveling soon, this book’s action plan is life changing.  You’ll take no prisoners and have no regrets.


Armchair Anthropology

Do you relish the window into other cultures that travel provides?  The following books will transport you to a far away land or into the minds of international characters, from the first page to the last.

♦ ♦

The Good Earth is a glimpse into historic Chinese culture.  It takes a fascinating look at history repeating itself.  It’s full of characters you can cheer, boo, and root for.



First They Killed My Father leaves you riveted and grateful for every morsel of food in your fridge.  It’s a must-read for anyone traveling to Cambodia, but an intense, perspective-enriching book for all.


Zeitoun takes place in America, but not the America you know.  During Hurricane Katrina, a man stays behind as the storm ravishes the city.  Then he sets about helping neighbors.  In the chaos, he is inexplicably arrested by trigger-happy, jerry-rigged law enforcement.  In the authority vacuum, he was detained with no end in sight.  A fascinating look at how quickly cultural structures can collapse and what happens to the victims.


The Help is a raw look at the dirty laundry of 1960’s southern plantation owners.  A white girl fresh out of college realizes how deplorable life and living conditions are for the African American women in her community.  She endeavors to befriend maids.  They tackle the dangerous task of writing an expose that shocks the south (and the reader).


Other anthropologically fascinating texts:

I hope to have time to write “why to reads” soon.  But first a post about bargaining, then how to quit your job, and then why round the world tickets suck… so many things!  Keen to keep up?  You know what to do:



I want…


back to top

References   [ + ]

a. yes, the same badass just mentioned