The Great American Armchair Road Trip

For those of us stuck in one place for one reason or another the thoughts of participating in that most American of things, the road trip, is an ever-tempting daydream. Below is my attempt to build a Great American Armchair Road Trip collection. For those more ecologically-conscious, don’t forget we have railroads or you can take it even slower and bike across. Feel free to add further entries in the comments.

20th Century Road Warriors

Travels With Charley – John Steinbeck

Famous author of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men takes his dog Charley in a souped up truck on a winding trip through the hinterlands of America. Humorous and thoughtful.

On The Road – Jack Kerouac

Doesn’t really need an introduction I guess. Probably one of the most well-known books in America.

Blue Highways: A Journey Into America – William Least Heat-Moon

Heat-Moon hit the road after hitting the bottom and decided to take the ‘blue highways’ of America, the those lesser-known rural roads and gives us this bestselling intimate portrait.

Roads: Driving America’s Great Highways – Larry McMurtry

Award-winning author of Lonesome Dove sticks mainly to the massive interstates that criss-cross this nation speeding its citizens along while in search of a past life that slips through his mind and memory.

Coast to Coast: A Journey Across America – Jan Morris

The acclaimed travel writer takes a tour of the US and gives us a real view of 1950’s America obscured by the nostalgia of television.

Interpreting The Horizon

The Journals of Lewis & Clark – Meriwether Lewis, William Clark

I haven’t read this but it’s on my list. The beginning of the opening of the American West, the setting for most road trip narratives and the landscape across which many American dreams play.

City of the Saints – Richard F Burton

One of England’s greatest adventurers takes a short trip in the US. Burton is as curious about our very unique Mormons and the people of the West as he is of Pakistan city life or cannibalistic African kings.

Life & Death of Great American Cities – Jane Jacobs

One of the first tracts against the suburbanization of America and dissolution of American cities. A classic of urbanism and a great way to interpret the recent past of how we live and think about the future.

An Empire Wilderness – Robert D Kaplan

From the author of Balkan Ghosts, Kaplan takes a look at the socioeconomic world of America at the end of the millenium and tries to draw conclusions about its future.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost – Rebecca Solnit

I highly recommend anything written by Solnit but this is a great starting place. She writes mostly about the West and politics. In this work she takes it much further in trying to interpret what it is to be ‘lost’, in more ways than one.


Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov’s entertaining, funny book about a paedophile and his ward also captures the landscape of America at the time of writing. Nabokov and his wife used to take massive butterfly hunting road trips across the US and his observations find their way into this classic. The above is an annotated version which I haven’t perused so might be best to find a copy at a used bookstore.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy – The most depressing ‘road novel’ you’ll ever read. Dark, sparse, post-apocalyptic story of a man and his son. Doesn’t quite fit the sunny freedoms of the American Dream but is an excellent book nonetheless. The link above takes you to the ’06 edition; a new one will be out in September to tie-in with the movie.

What would you recommend?


  1. Chris

    The only one I’ve read on you list was “On The Road” which I thought was excellent. I wish I had something to add, but thanks for the recommendations.

  2. Jim

    what will it take to get you on the road?

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