Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award, in partnership with The Authors' Club

Authors' Club 1891
The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places  By William Atkins

For all the desert's dreamlike beauty, to travel here was not just to pitch yourself into oblivion: it was to grind away at yourself until nothing was left. It was to aspire to the condition of sand.  

 One third of the earth’s land surface is desert, much of it desolate and inhospitable. What is it about this harsh environment that has captivated humankind throughout history? From the prophets of the Bible to Marco Polo, Lawrence of Arabia to Gertrude Bell, travellers have often seen deserts as cursed places to be avoided, or crossed as quickly as possible. But for those whose call deserts home, the ‘hideous blanks’ described by explorers are rich in resources and significance. 

 Travelling to five continents over three years, visiting deserts both iconic and little-known, William Atkins discovers a realm that is as much internal as physical. His journey takes him to the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter and Australia’s nuclear-test grounds; the dry Aral Sea of Kazakhstan and ‘sand seas’ of China’s volatile north-west; the contested borderlands of Arizona and the riotous Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert; and the ancient monasteries of Egypt’s Eastern Desert. Along the way, Atkins illuminates the people, history, topography, and symbolism of these remarkable but often troubled places. 

 Reviving the illustrious British tradition of travel writing, The Immeasurable World is destined to become a classic of desert literature.

William Atkins’s first book, The Moor, was shortlisted for the Thwaites Wainwright Prize. He works as an editor and his journalism has appeared in The Guardian and Granta. In 2016 he was a recipient of the British Library Eccles Prize. He lives in London. 

Dancing Bears: True Stories About Longing For the Old Days by Witold Szabłowski, Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

For centuries, Bulgarian Gypsies trained bears to dance, raising them from cubs. After the fall of Communism, the bears were forcibly released into a sanctuary. But today, whenever these bears see humans, they still get up to dance. Szablowski visits post-communist countries around the world exploring the challenges of freedom for those forced to learn it.

Witold Szabłowski is an award-winning Polish journalist. His reportage on illegal immigrants flocking to the EU won the European Parliament Journalism Award. His book about Turkey, The Assassin from Apricot City, won the Beata Pawlak Award and an English PEN Award and was nominated for the NIKE Award, Poland’s most prestigious book award. Szabłowski lives in Warsaw.  

Lights in the Distance : Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe by Daniel Trilling
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A mother who puts her children into a refrigerated lorry and asks ‘what else could I do?’ A runaway teenager who comes of age on the streets and in abandoned buildings. A student who leaves his war-ravaged country behind because he doesn’t want to kill. Each of the thousands of people who come to Europe in search of asylum every year brings a unique story with them. But their stories don’t end there. 

Daniel Trilling is the editor of New Humanist magazine and has reported extensively on refugees in Europe. His work has been published in the London Review of Books, Guardian, New York Times and others, and won a 2017 Migration Media Award. His first book, Bloody Nasty People: the Rise of Britain’s Far Right, was longlisted for the 2013 Orwell Prize. He lives in London. 

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Ottoman Odyssey: Travels Through a Lost Empire by Alev Scott, Map & Illustration by Jamie Whyte 
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Alev Scott’s odyssey began when she looked beyond Turkey’s borders for contemporary traces of the Ottoman Empire. Travelling through twelve countries from Kosovo to Greece to Palestine, she uncovers a legacy that’s vital and relevant, showing that diversity is the enduring, endangered heart of this fascinating region. 

Alev Scott was born in London in 1987 to a Turkish mother and a British father. She studied Classics at Oxford before working in London as an assistant director in theatre and opera. In 2011 she moved to Istanbul, where she taught Latin at the Bosphorus University. Her first book, Turkish Awakening, was published in 2014. Alev writes for numerous publications, including The Guardian. Alev Scott currently lives in Athens but is frequently in the UK, where she is normally based in London or Bath.

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The Rhine: Following Europe’s Greatest River from Amsterdam to the Alps by Ben Coates

Ben Coates sets out by bicycle from the Netherlands and follows the course of the Rhine river through Germany, France and Liechtenstein, to its source in the icy Alps. He explores the impact it has had on European culture and history, shaping the people who live alongside it. 

Ben Coates was born in Britain in 1982, lives in Rotterdam with his Dutch wife and now works for an international charity. During his career he has been a political advisor, corporate speechwriter, lobbyist and aid worker. He has written articles for numerous publications including The Guardian, Financial Times and Huffington Post. He is the author of Why the Dutch are Different.

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The Stopping Places: Journeys Through Gypsy Britain by Damian Le Bas
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Damian Le Bas grew up surrounded by Gypsy history. In a bid to better understand his Gypsy heritage, the history of the Britain's Romanies and the rhythms of their life today, Damian sets out on a journey to discover the atchin tans, or stopping places – the old encampment sites known only to Travellers. Through winter frosts and summer dawns, from horse fairs to Gypsy churches, neon-lit lay-bys to fern-covered banks, Damian lives on the road, somewhere between the romanticised Gypsies of old, and their much-maligned descendants of today. In this powerful and soulful debut, Damian le Bas brings the places, characters and stories of his to bold and vigorous life. 

Damian Le Bas was born in 1985 into a long line of Gypsies and Travellers. He was raised within a network of relations who taught him how to ride and drive ponies, tractors and trucks, sing melancholy cowboy ballads and speak the thousand-year-old Romani tongue. He was awarded scholarships to study at Christ’s Hospital and the University of Oxford. Between 2011 and 2015 he was the editor of Travellers’ Times, Britain’s only national magazine for Gypsies and Travellers. The Stopping Places is his first book. 

Damian lives and works mostly in Kent, with his wife (the actor Candis Nergaard); and Sussex, where he grew up and where his nan – who taught him the old Romany Travellers’ little-known routes and ways – both still live. 

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