"Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe" National Geographic, $40
What people eat can tell you a lot about a country.
That, in a nutshell, is the premise behind this lavish illustrated guide to food and place. In it, the editors choose 500 culinary destinations around the world, succinctly describing what makes them special along with suggestions on when to go, how to plan and where to find Web site information. Arranged by theme, readers will find chapters on great food towns, markets, seasonal dishes, street foods and desserts. There are entries on Turkish figs, New York delis, whiskey and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Oregon's microbreweries (at 70, Portland has more brew pubs than anywhere else in the U.S.), key lime pie in — where else? —Key West, and Danish pastries in, yes, Denmark. Chicago even warrants a mention as such acclaimed chefs as Charlie Trotter and Rick Bayless receive glowing recommendations. The editors also have featured the occasional gastronomic challenge, such as eating lutefisk, Norway's national dish, in Norway. "There is a certain bravado involved in sampling this dish in its place of origin," they admit. The book includes numerous sidebars, such as descriptions of food factories and museums (including Ben & Jerry's in Waterbury, Vt.), great national dishes (ranging from hamburgers in the U.S. to roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in England) and street markets (from Toronto and New York to Brazil and Singapore). And if you have ever wondered about the origin of some of the world's singular original dishes and drinks, from Bananas Foster in New Orleans to the Bellini cocktail in Venice, this is the book for you.
"Paris Postcards: The Golden Age" Counterpoint, $24.95
For many years they were taken for granted, but to author and collector Leonard Pitt, vintage, hand-painted French postcards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are nothing less than "little works of art." More than this, they also serve as historical documents. In this gorgeous collection, Pitt has chosen postcards that show readers a Paris that no longer exists. In his fascinating introduction, he discusses the birth of the postcard. The postcard, he writes, "revolutionized communication and created the first form of social networking equivalent to today's e-mail." (But, of course, at a much slower pace.) Each postcard is accompanied by informative captions. Pitt also includes sample postcards from American visitors to Paris writing to loved ones back home. The images here are often famous (the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Moulin Rouge) and majestic (Paris' grand boulevards), but there also are plenty of examples of ordinary Parisians going about their business. It's an utterly charming collection that captures a moment in time.
"Music + Travel: Touring the Globe through Sounds and Scenes" Museyon Guides, $17.95
For some people, music and travel go hand in hand. This book is written for them. It features a dozen writers who were sent to a dozen countries. Their assignment: describe the music — "the coolest genres" — around the world. That includes Celtic punk in Dublin, Muslim hip-hop in Paris, Indipop in Mumbai and techno in Berlin. Some genres are definitely a huge departure from mainstream tastes.
Ethiopop in Ethiopia, for example, draws from spiritual music, jazz, hip-hop and funk with a particular fondness for synthesizers and Stevie Wonder-like riffs, while Argentina's rhythmic sounds of cumbia, with its global dance music, has emerged from its folk roots to give the tango a run for its money.
But more traditional types of music are also here.
Peter Margasak, staff writer for the Chicago Reader, for example, devotes a chapter to Chicago jazz.
Each chapter features sections on what the editors call "hometown heroes," as well as brief descriptions of influential albums associated with each type of music.
"Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa" Interlink Books, $20
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa but also, according to author Michel Moushabeck, one of the most accessible.
But Moushabeck was under no illusions about the difficulty of the trip.
Before he and photographer Hiltrud Schulz left, they consulted with physicians who offered advice on travel-related illnesses as well as the importance of recognizing illnesses associated with high-altitude climbing. They read and watched everything they could get their hands on, including books, Web sites and blogs. Selecting hiking equipment proved to be difficult — too many choices. Both personal and objective, the book is full of entertaining details, such as a quick stopover in London, where they buy a copy of Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro."
They describe the journey to the famous mountain, offer a portrait of their guide, Bruce ("What kind of an African name is Bruce?" Moushabeck jokes) and then, of course, describe the climb itself, the wonders of it, as well as the considerable challenges.
"Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya" Lonely Planet, $22.99
This ninth edition on the world's highest mountain range features 30 treks, from Katmandu to Mount Everest, that range in levels of difficulty. Some are as short as three days, though the average length is two weeks; a long trek may be 30 days or longer. An essential guide.