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Michael Palin's 6 favorite books
The actor and comedian recommends works by Joseph Conrad, John Bunyan, and Ernest Hemingway
But he does give the thumbs up to Heart of Darkness.
But he does give the thumbs up to Heart of Darkness. ShowbizIreland/Getty Images

Ryszard Kapuscinski by Artur Domoslawski (Verso, $23). Kapuscinski has become a hero of mine for the breadth of his travels, the power of his descriptive writing, and his insight into the human condition. In this absorbing biography, a fellow admirer applies the same standards to Kapuscinski that the pioneering Polish journalist did to his subjects — asking awkward questions about my hero's commitment to the truth.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (Dover, $1.50). A short, powerful tale about where an obsession can take you, about a character pushing into the unknown and entering a world whose values are turned upside down.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (Back Bay, $16). The story of a writer sent abroad by mistake to cover a war in Africa makes for a dark and funny look at the power and incompetence of press barons. Some very fine travel writing adds another level to its appeal.

The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vols. 1–5 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $139). One of the greatest travelers of the mind, Virginia Woolf was always asking questions of herself and her writing. Why should she be "so divinely happy one day, so jaded the next?" These volumes are shot through with excoriating honesty, as she pushes the boundaries of self-examination to try to get at the truth of her talent and her place in the world.

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (Dover, $3.50). Christian's journey toward the Celestial City via the Slough of Despond is a classic 17th-century account of the search for a better world. In the godless 1960s, books like this fell out of fashion, but on recently re-reading it I could see why its imagery once gripped me so firmly.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, $12). Like his protagonist — an old fisherman in pursuit of a marlin — Hemingway fixes the reader's attention unwaveringly on the story he wants to tell. The tension peaks as an exhausted Santiago fights one last time to find the success that has so persistently eluded him.

Michael Palin recently published two new books: Brazil, a travelogue, and The Truth, a novel about a would-be biographer of a famed environmentalist.

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