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Peace Corps Authors Bibliography

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Find books in the Library of Congress Collections by 200 authors who served in the Peace Corps.

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Tayler, Jeffrey (Morocco, 1988–90; Peace Corps Staff/Poland, 1992; Uzbekistan, 1992–93).

Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2004054066

Publisher’s description: “…Tayler penetrates one of the most isolated, forbidding regions on earth—the Sahel. This lower expanse of the Sahara marks the southern limit of Islam’s reach on the continent. It boasts such mythologized places as Mopti and Timbuktu, as well as Africa’s poorest countries, Chad and Niger. In parts of the Sahel, hard-line Sharia law rules and slaves are still traded. Racked by lethal harmattan winds, chronic civil wars, and grim Islamic fundamentalism, it is not the ideal place for a traveler with a U.S. passport. Tayler finds genuine danger in many guises, from drunken soldiers to a thieving teenage mob. But he also encounters patience and generosity of the sort only Africans can achieve. Traveling overland by the same rickety means as the natives themselves—tottering, overfull buses, bush taxis with holes in their floors, disgruntled camels—he uses his fluency in French and Arabic (the region’s lingua francas) to illuminate its roiling, enigmatic cultures and connect with its inhabitants as no other Western writer could.”

Glory in a Camel’s Eye: Trekking through the Moroccan Sahara. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2002027611

Publisher’s description: “…Tayler penetrates one of the most isolated, mythic regions on earth—the Moroccan Sahara. Traveling along routes little altered since the Middle Ages, he uses his linguistic and observational gifts to illuminate a venerable, enigmatic culture of nomads and mystics. Though no stranger to privation (having journeyed across Siberia and up the Congo for his earlier books), Tayler is unprepared for the physical challenges that await him in a Sahara desiccated by an unprecedented eight-year drought. The last Westerner to attempt this trek left his skeleton in the sand, and even Tayler’s camels wilt in the searing wastes. But he also finds a certain purity; the Saharawi Bedouins are Ur-Arabs, untouched by the modernity or radicalism that festers elsewhere in the Arab world. By revealing their ingenuity, their wit, their unrivaled hospitality, and more, Tayler upends our notions of what is, and what is not, essentially Arab.”

Murderers in Mausoleums: Riding the Back Roads of Empire between Moscow and Beijing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2009. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2008013302

Publisher’s description: “A gripping journey through some of the planet’s most remote and challenging terrain and its peoples, in search of why democracy has yet to thrive in lands it seemed so recently ready to overtake. Across the largest landmass on earth, in lands once conquered by Genghis Khan and exploited by ruthless Communist regimes, autocratic and dictatorial states are again arising, growing wealthy on petrodollars and low-cost manufacturing. More and more, they are challenging the West. Media reports focus on developments in Moscow and Beijing, but the peoples inhabiting the vast expanses in between remain mostly unseen and unheard, their daily lives and aspirations scarcely better known to us now than they were in Cold War days. Tayler finds, among many others, a dissident Cossack advocating mass beheadings, a Muslim in Kashgar calling on the United States to bomb Beijing, and Chinese youths in Urumqi desiring nothing more than sex, booze, and rock and roll—all while confronting over and over again the contradiction of people who value liberty and the free market but idealize tyrants who oppose both. From the steppes of southern Russia to the conflict-ridden Caucasus Mountains to the deserts of central Asia and northern China, Tayler shows that our maps have gone blank at the worst possible time.”

River of No Reprieve: Descending Siberia’s Waterway of Exile, Death, and Destiny. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2005024728

Publisher’s description: “In a custom-built boat, Jeffrey Tayler travels some 2,400 miles down the Lena River from near Lake Baikal to high above the Arctic Circle, recreating a journey first made by Cossack forces more than three hundred years ago. He is searching for primeval beauty and a respite from the corruption, violence, and self-destructive urges that typify modern Russian culture, but instead he finds the roots of that culture—in Cossack villages unchanged for centuries, in Soviet outposts full of listless drunks, in stark ruins of the gulag, and in grand forests hundreds of miles from the nearest hamlet. That’s how far he is from help when he realizes that his guide, Vadim, a burly Soviet army veteran embittered by his experiences in Afghanistan, detests all humanity, including Tayler. Yet he needs Vadim’s superb skills if he is to survive a voyage that quickly turns hellish. Though they must navigate roiling whitewater in howling storms, they eschew life jackets because, as Vadim explains, the frigid water would kill them before they could swim to shore. Though Tayler has trekked by camel through the Sahara and canoed down the Congo during the revolt against Mobutu, he has never felt so threatened as he does now.”

Taylor, David A. (Mauritania, 1983–85).

Ginseng, the Divine Root: The Curious History of the Plant That Captivated the World. 1st ed. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Press, 2006. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2005052726

Award: Winner of the Peace Corps Writers 2007 award for best Travel Writing

Publisher’s description: “The story behind ginseng is as remarkable as the root itself. Prized for its legendary curative powers, ginseng launched the rise to power of China’s last great dynasty, inspired battles between France and England, and sparked a boom in Minnesota comparable to the California Gold Rush. It has made and broken the fortunes of many and has inspired a subculture in rural America unrivaled by any herb in the plant kingdom. Today ginseng is at the very center of alternative medicine, believed to improve stamina, relieve stress, stimulate the immune system, enhance mental clarity, and restore well-being. It is now being studied by medical researchers for the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. In Ginseng, the Divine Root, David Taylor tracks the path of this fascinating plant—from the forests east of the Mississippi to the bustling streets of Hong Kong and the remote corners of China. He becomes immersed in a world full of wheelers, dealers, diggers, and stealers, all with a common goal: to hunt down the elusive “Root of Life.” Weaving together his intriguing adventures with ginseng’s rich history, Taylor uncovers a story of international crime, ancient tradition, botany, herbal medicine, and the vagaries of human nature.”

Textor, Robert B., ed. (staff/Washington, 1961–62, as full-time anthropological consultant for seven months).

Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps. Foreword by Margaret Mead. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1966. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/66017083

Summary: This scholarly volume is predicated on the view that the Peace Corps is about the volunteers rather than the bureaucratic machinations of the Washington staff. Country experts such as anthropologist Paul L. Doughty and political scientist David Scott Palmer (Peru, 1962–64) authored its 14 chapters, which are country case studies examining cultural aspects that their Peace Corps programs need to take into account. For the occasion of the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary, the MIT Press and Stanford University Libraries have made this early anthropological approach to the Peace Corps mission available for downloading at: http://www.stanford.edu/~rbtextor/Cultural_Frontiers_of_the_Peace_Corps.pdf (external link)

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Theroux, Paul (Malawi, 1963–65).

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2008011436

Publisher’s description: “Thirty years after the epic journey chronicled in his classic work The Great Railway Bazaar, the world’s most acclaimed travel writer re-creates his 25,000-mile journey through eastern Europe, central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, China, Japan, and Siberia.”

Great Railway Bazaar: By Train through Asia. 1st Mariner Books ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2006287162

Publisher’s description: “First published more than thirty years ago, Paul Theroux’s strange, unique, and hugely entertaining railway odyssey has become a modern classic of travel literature. Here Theroux recounts his early adventures on an unusual grand continental tour. Asia’s fabled trains—the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Express—are the stars of a journey that takes him on a loop eastbound from London’s Victoria Station to Tokyo Central, then back from Japan on the Trans-Siberian. Brimming with Theroux’s signature humor and wry observations, this engrossing chronicle is essential reading for both the ardent adventurer and the armchair traveler.”

Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2002032710

Publisher’s description: “A rich and insightful travel book in the tradition that made Paul Theroux’s reputation, Dark Star Safari takes us the length of Africa by rattletrap bus, forgotten train, and rusting steamer. Theroux confronts delay, discomfort, bullets, and bad food while encountering a remarkable mix of places and people. Beginning in Cairo and ending in Cape Town, he goes on the ultimate safari to the true heart of Africa, not the lavish game parks with overfed guests but the small villages of the bush and the filthy chaotic cities that define this forgotten continent. No one is more qualified than Paul Theroux to undertake the vast task of describing Africa. He got his start as a writer in Africa nearly forty years ago when he taught in the Peace Corps in Malawi and at Makerere University in Uganda. Now he returns to find countries in the throes of corruption and poverty. Able to strike up a conversation with anyone, Theroux is the perfect guide: keenly observant, wry, entertaining, and wise. We encounter villagers, farmers, bureaucrats, political figures, white settlers, smug tourists, and aid workers, each with a distinctive point of view. …The first account of a single trip since his bestseller The Pillars of Hercules, Dark Star Safari conveys all the vast contrasts and the glory and misery of Africa and is Paul Theroux at his very best.”

Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/79015353

Award: 1981 Nominee, American Book Award

Publisher’s description: “Starting with a rush-hour subway ride to South Station in Boston to catch the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, Theroux winds up on the poky, wandering Old Patagonian Express steam engine, which comes to a halt in a desolate land of cracked hills and thorn bushes. But with Theroux the view along the way is what matters: the monologuing Mr. Thornberry in Costa Rica, the bogus priest of Cali, and the blind Jorge Luis Borges, who delights in having Theroux read Robert Louis Stevenson to him.”

The Mosquito Coast. London; New York: Penguin Books, 1982. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/96147929

Awards: 1983 Nominee, American Book Award; James Tait Black Award

Publisher’s description: “In a breathtaking adventure story, the paranoid and brilliant inventor Allie Fox takes his family to live in the Honduran jungle, determined to build a civilization better than the one they’ve left. Fleeing from an America he sees as mired in materialism and conformity, he hopes to rediscover a purer life. But his utopian experiment takes a dark turn when his obsessions lead the family toward unimaginable danger.”

Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train through China. 1st Mariner Books ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2006028745

Publisher’s description: “Paul Theroux invites us to join him on the journey of a lifetime, in the grand romantic tradition, by train across Europe, through the vast underbelly of Asia into the heart of Russia, and then up to China. Here is China by rail (the Iron Rooster is the name of a train), as seen and heard through the eyes and ears of one of the most intrepid and insightful travel writers of our time.”

The Lower River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2011036975

Publisher’s description: “Ellis Hock never believed that he would return to Africa. He runs an old-fashioned menswear store in a small town in Massachusetts but still dreams of his Eden, the four years he spent in Malawi with the Peace Corps, cut short when he had to return to take over the family business. When his wife leaves him, and he is on his own, he realizes that there is one place for him to go: back to his village in Malawi, on the remote Lower River, where he can be happy again. Arriving at the dusty village, he finds it transformed: the school he built is a ruin, the church and clinic are gone, and poverty and apathy have set in among the people. They remember him—the White Man with no fear of snakes—and welcome him. But is his new life, his journey back, an escape or a trap?”

The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2013000388

Amazon.com description: ““Happy again, back in the kingdom of light,” writes Paul Theroux as he sets out on a new journey through the continent he knows and loves best. Theroux first came to Africa as a twenty-two-year-old Peace Corps volunteer, and the pull of the vast land never left him. Now he returns, after fifty years on the road, to explore the little-traveled territory of western Africa and to take stock both of the place and of himself. His odyssey takes him northward from Cape Town, through South Africa and Namibia, then on into Angola, wishing to head farther still until he reaches the end of the line. Journeying alone through the greenest continent, Theroux encounters a world increasingly removed from both the itineraries of tourists and the hopes of postcolonial independence movements. Leaving the Cape Town townships, traversing the Namibian bush, passing the browsing cattle of the great sunbaked heartland of the savanna, Theroux crosses “the Red Line” into a different Africa: “the improvised, slapped-together Africa of tumbled fences and cooking fires, of mud and thatch,” of heat and poverty, and of roadblocks, mobs, and anarchy. After 2,500 arduous miles, he comes to the end of his journey in more ways than one, a decision he chronicles with typically unsparing honesty in a chapter called “What Am I Doing Here?” Vivid, witty, and beautifully evocative, The Last Train to Zona Verde is a fitting final African adventure from the writer whose gimlet eye and effortless prose have brought the world to generations of readers.”

Thomas, Maria (pseudonym of Roberta Worrick; Ethiopia, 1971–73).

African Visas: A Novella and Stories. New York: Soho, 1991. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/91003829

Subject: “Set in Africa, this is an acclaimed collection of a novella and six stories about the intractable problems of the continent, Ethiopia in particular, as seen by adventurous women. For example, “Jiru Road,” the novella, is a first-person account of Sarah’s life in the Peace Corps.” African Visas is published posthumously; Thomas died on a relief mission to Ethiopia on August 7, 1989, in a plane crash that also killed Congressman Mickey Leland of Texas and 13 other people.

Antonia Saw the Oryx First. 1st ed. New York: Soho, 1987. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/86031570

Publisher’s description: “A young woman doctor in Africa [Tanzania], facing exile, seeks to touch the culture she was raised in through a young African woman whom she has saved with Western surgery.”

Thomsen, Moritz (Ecuador, 1965–67).

Farm on the River of Emeralds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/78006760

Subject: In The Farm on the River Emeralds, the author (1915–91) returns to Ecuador to purchase and hack a farm out of the jungle with his friend Ramón from Rioverde. Thomsen and Ramón struggle to establish the farm, hire workers, and adjust to the community.

Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/77089492

Subject: The author, a California farmer, became a Peace Corps farmer in Ecuador at the age of 44. This is a chronicle of his experience living in the Ecuadorian coastal village of Rioverde during his Peace Corps service.

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 1990. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/89027450

Awards: RPCV Writers & Readers’ Paul Cowan Nonfiction Award, 1990, for his collected works; 1991 Governor’s Writers Award (now the Washington State Book Awards)

Publisher’s description: “The Saddest Pleasure is a deeply personal look at the people, poverty, beauty, art, music, literature, and passion of South America by an American who has spent most of his life there. Moritz Thomsen was one of the early Peace Corps volunteers. Through his skill as a writer, he vividly brings to life the people and landscapes he loves. The Saddest Pleasure tells the story of Thomsen’s desperate departure from Ecuador at the age of sixty-three and his soul-searching journey through Brazil and the Amazon River. Along the way, the author reflects on the meaning of his own life and the world around him, his friendships, and on the distances between people and cultures. Thomsen’s spirited observations are tinged with irascibility, as he moves from city to feudal countryside, from primitive conditions to the startlingly contemporary details of a culture in transition. Paul Theroux’s introduction to this book is a testament to Mr. Thomsen’s remarkable life.”

Tidwell, Mike (Zaire, 1985–87).

Amazon Stranger: A Rainforest Chief Battles Big Oil. New York: Lyons & Burford, 1996. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/95051297

Award: RPCV Writers & Readers’ Paul Cowan Nonfiction Award, 1997

Publisher’s description: “The author tells of the efforts of American Randy Borman to aid the Cofan Indians of Ecuador in their struggle against the international oil companies who want to exploit the jungle.”

The Ponds of Kalambayi: An African Sojourn. New York: Lyons & Burford, 1990. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/90040035

Summary: The author describes his two-year sojourn as a Peace Corps volunteer among a remote tribe in south-central Zaire (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo), where he struggled to make a fish-farming project viable despite irrational traditional practices.

Toner, Jim (Sri Lanka, 1989–91).

Serendib. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2001. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/00044724

Amazon.com description: “I didn't invite him. The idea was all my father’s, my seventy-four-year-old father who had never been outside America and who suddenly thought that Sri Lanka, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer, would be a jolly place to visit. When John Toner, a retired Cleveland judge, decided on a whim in April 1990 to spend a month with his son in war-torn Sri Lanka, he was as much a stranger to his seventh—and last—child as he was to the hardships of life in a Third World country. Serendib chronicles the journey that follows as a father and son who had never been alone together live in close quarters, in the poorest of conditions—and replace awkwardness and distance with understanding and love.”

Townson, Annabelle (Romania, 2001–03).

We Wait for You: Unheard Voices from Post-Communist Romania. Lanham, Maryland: Hamilton Books, 2005. Library of Congress Permalink: http://lccn.loc.gov/2005929684

Publisher’s summary: “The author, an American Peace Corps volunteer from 2001–2003, chronicles the lives of average citizens in post-Ceauşescu Romania.”

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