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The Places in Between - Rory Stewart Possibly my best book of the year. Maybe not the best-written, in
terms of literature, but definitely the one I've recommended, and
given to, the most people.
Rory Stewart's account of his decision to walk, solo, across
Afghanistan, in 2002, shortly after the Taliban were deposed. In the
course of the book, he never talks about his qualifications to do this
or his personal history (which does come across as humility), but it
also makes the venture seem perhaps even more foolhardy than some
people might consider it. But whether one considers the venture brave
or reckless, it was definitely not safe. However, Stewart survived to
tell the tale - and it is one, especially considering our country's
entanglement with Afghanistan, that everyone should read. Through his
interactions and experiences with the modern people of Afghanistan, as
well as his direct and interesting talent for bringing in historical
context, Stewart really enables an understanding of a country and its
people that news reports do not.
Stewart has much more empathy for these people and their culture than
many readers will: after his trek, he started the Turquoise Mountain
Foundation, which aims to renew Afghani culture by encouraging
traditional arts and architecture, many of which are in danger of
being lost. Although he deplores the ignorance and hatred which are so
prevalent throughout the country, he sees these aspects as a tragedy
to be overcome. Looking past these, he truly illuminates a culture of
nearly incomprehensible foreign-ness.