Feed your wanderlust: Christmas gift books for travellers

With a few shopping days still to go until Christmas, E&T’s features editor rounds up some recent books that would make great gifts for engineers who have a passion for exploration and discovery.

Traditionally, December is a busy time for publishers. The pre-Christmas period generates the year's highest sales figures and year after year publishers – whether deliberately or by trial and error – tend to pick up one potentially bestselling end-of-the-year genre, be it cookery or gardening, celebrity biography or vintage thriller.

This year the publishers' choice seems to be travel, exploration and discovery – not just ordinary travelogues, but a quest for things and places unusual, forgotten and little-known, under a general theme which I would describe as ‘where in the world?’

Let's start with a truly unique and unorthodox Baedeker travel guide, ‘Germany: Experience Renewable Energy’ (Verlag Karl Baedeker, Euros 16.99, ISBN 9783829714990). As an inveterate Baedeker guide collector and connoisseur, I was pleasantly surprised by this title, it being very different from all other handbooks in Baedeker's nearly 200-year history.

It tells you how to get to the sites of Germany's top 200 green technology projects – from eco-friendly hotels and national parks to solar power plants - and describes each of them in detail, as well as supplying the usual travel details of where to stay and eat while visiting. This new techno tourism concept has proved so popular that the first edition of the guide sold out within days. This is the coveted second edition.

Similar to Baedeker Verlag, E&T's long-time publisher friend JonGlez has just released a new second edition of its best-selling ‘Secret London. An Unusual Guide  (£12.99, ISBN 978-2361951108). We reviewed the first edition in detail in E&T several years ago and I can only add here that the latest incorporates mroe than 50 new hidden corners, including several technology-related ones – a sheer delight and a great Christmas stocking filler for an aspiring explorer of that great city.

Looking further afield, ‘The Phantom Atlas. The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps by Edward Brooke-Hitching (Simon & Schuster, £25.00, ISBN 978-1471159459) is a welcome addition to the highly popular genre of books on strange and unusual maps, of which a number has been published in recent years. This ‘Phantom Atlas’ deals with places and maps that are entirely in the domain of myth and fantasy, such as like Australia's Inland Sea, Lost Continents of Lemuria and Mu, and the imaginary Atlantic island of Hy Brazil (allegedly situated off Ireland’s coast). The book takes the reader on a fascinating excursion through the world of adventure, mystery and dream – an ideal Christmas pastime.

Lots of new discoveries, including those in the world of engineering and technology, are in stock for the readers of the recently published ‘Atlas of Improbable Places. A Journey to the World's Most Unusual Corners by Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield (Aurum Press, £20.00, ISBN 9781781315323), ‘Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer (Workman Publishing, $35.00, ISBN 9780761169086) and ‘Atlas of Lost Cities. A Travel Guide to Abandoned and Foresaken Destinations by Aude de Tocqueville (Black Dog & Leventhal, £20.00 , ISBN 9780316352024).

Talking about places abandoned and foresaken, I cannot help mentioning three new coffee-table photo albums, specialising in less-known areas and concepts, from Jonglez: ‘After the Final Curtain The Fall of the American Movie Theater by Matt Lambros (£29.99, ISBN 9782361951641), all about the inherent nostalgia and quiet attraction of the now-abandoned movie houses of the past; ‘Abandoned Asylums (£29.99, ISBN 9782361951634) by Matt van der Velde, and, last but not least – and of particular interest to E&T readers - ‘Forgotten Heritage by Matthew Emmett  (£29.99, ISBN 9782361951627), with truly spectacular photographs of disused industrial and engineering objects - from the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Fanborough, UK, to an abandoned power station in Belgium. A real treasure for anyone with an interest in industrial and engineering heritage.

To sum it all up, it would be relevant to recall here the words of the poet, novelist and playwright James Elroy Flecker, which could serve as a common epigraph to all the books mentioned here.

We travel not for trafficking alone:

By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:

For lust of knowing what should not be known

We make the Golden journey to Samarkand.

Happy reading, and best of luck in your vicarious Christmas quest for the unusual and unknown!

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