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Barry Lopez's 6 favorite books about unfamiliar places

The prominent writer recommends works by Anna Badkhen, Ben Finney, and more

Barry Lopez is one of the nation's foremost nature writers and the author of Arctic Dreams, winner of a 1986 National Book Award. His new book, Horizon, revisits the places and encounters that have shaped his view of our fragile planet.

The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840–60 by John D. Unruh Jr. (1979).

Many of us are still unfamiliar with the historical undercurrents of our own country as well as those of foreign lands. Unruh's meticulously researched history of western migration exposes the folklore shaping much of what has been written about the American West — but also suggests that cherished lore masquerading as authentic history can be found in every country.

Dersu Uzala by Vladimir Arsenyev (1923).

This memoir, which was made into a movie by Akira Kurosawa in 1975, tells the story of a respectful encounter between a Russian officer and an indigenous resident of Russia's far east. The encounter reshaped Arsenyev's life and thinking and emphasizes there is more to local geography than the visitor can easily see.

The Ice: A Journey to Antarctica by Stephen J. Pyne (1986).

For me, this is the most learned, insightful, and engaging history of Antarctica. Pyne's far-ranging intelligence is perfectly at home in a land where many visitors, faced with the vast stillness, continue to hope for more animation.

Fisherman's Blues: A West African Community at Sea by Anna Badkhen (2018).

Badkhen's chronicle of the time she spent crewing on fishing vessels in Joal, a village on the coast of Senegal, is a broadly aware, wise, and deeply sensitive evocation of the trouble gathering on the horizons of this and other obscure places.

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder (2010).

Many people in the West remain innocent of the full horror of World War II because they know little of what happened in Eastern Europe. Fourteen million people died there. Snyder's account is both a staggering indictment and an eloquent elegy.

Voyage of Rediscovery: A Cultural Odyssey Through Polynesia by Ben Finney (1994).

This book is an exploration and celebration of the seamanship and navigational technologies of Polynesian people. Without charts, compasses, sextants, printed logs, or prior knowledge of the existence of places like Hawaii, Polynesians navigated the "empty space" of the Pacific with breathtaking expertise. Read this book together with We, the Navigators by David Lewis.

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