Travels With Herodotus Book Review

We all naturally seek adventure and exploration in our daily lives, whether it’s through reading a book or by hopping on a plane and visiting a different country, learning about new areas and locations is essential for living a fulfilled and happy life. 

Travels With Herodotus Book Review

In Travels with Herodotus, we follow Polish university student Ryszard Kapuscinski who explores the eastern regions of the world for the very first time, admiring all of the unique cultures, traditions, and celebrations along the way. 

As the title suggests, Ryszard is accompanied by the book, The Histories, written by the “father of history” himself, Herodotus, who helps the young wide-eyed explorer make sense of everything he is seeing which only encourages him to explore even more of the world than he anticipated.

Let’s take a closer look at this adventure book and uncover why it has received such popular praise since its release and whether you should try giving it a read for yourself. 

Overview Of The Novel

The book is a non-fictional account of Ryszard Kapuscinki’s journeys across Asia and parts of Africa during his time as a foreign correspondent for the PAP Polish News Agency.

After growing up in the midst of World War 2, Ryszard never had an opportunity to see the world, and all his life, he had only learned about the history of his home country and its relations to the rest of the Western world.

When Ryszard became a journalist in 1955, he initially dreamt of traveling no further than Czechoslovakia, but he soon found himself in India where he became infatuated with the culture and customs of the country. 

As he continues his journey across Asia and Africa on horseback and by sailing over the seas, he makes constant references to the ancient Greek travel writer Herodotus, who became fascinated with learning about other countries outside of Greece. 

Along his enlightening travels, Ryszard learns about what separates the Eastern world from the West along with the centuries of history that connect the two through matters of conflict, religion, and trade. 

Review Of Travels With Herodotus

One major factor that separates Travels with Herodotus from a lot of other travel novels is how much expression and wonder is packed into each piece of dialogue.

No matter whether it’s an ancient Indian Hindu palace or a simple market square in Sudan, the amount of joy Ryszard conveys to the reader helps us to imagine just how extraordinary these sights are for someone who has never seen the rest of the world before.

Along with the beautiful writing also come very detailed and intrinsic descriptions of everything that Ryszard sees during his travels. 

For example, when witnessing a coup taking place in Algiers, he refers to his companion Herodotus to understand why it might be happening and what effect it could have on neighboring countries, to provide a much deeper understanding of the event. 

This is a very joyous book, with each sentence having the ability to immediately transport the reader to another location to learn about and discover alongside Ryszard, creating a truly immersive story that is so hard to put down once you start reading. 

The words of Herodotus actually take up roughly half of the entire book, but rather than taking away from the journey itself, it only helps readers to draw parallels between how the world was once seen and how it actually is today.

In many ways, Ryszard acts as if he is the modern-day Herodotus, traveling the world to admire its beauty without ever passing judgment on the people and cultures he encounters along the way. 

The biggest drawback to the book is simply its length. At just under 300 pages, it feels like the locations explored through the book could have been described in even greater detail if it had been just a little longer.

This also unfortunately means that the pacing can feel a bit rushed at times as the book moves from one location to the next in barely any time at all, but whether this is an issue for readers will be a matter of preference. 

There is also the fact that Herodotus was known for being unreliable, even during the time that he was recording his adventures. While many of his observations were true and factual, he also included a lot of fictional and mythological elements in his work which muddied the waters a bit in terms of accuracy. 

While his work is very relevant to the book and can teach us a lot about the world, it would have been nice to preface readers about the controversy that does surround this historical individual. 

Themes In Travels With Herodotus 

There are a few key themes that shine through Travels with Herodotus which can teach us a lot about traveling and exploring the world. Let’s take a look at some of them right now. 

Respecting Cultures

Herodotus mentioned in his work that interfering with or disrupting the unique beliefs and customs of different peoples and cultures would be considered “tyrannical” or “sacrilegious”, something a lot of people were ignoring when traveling for selfish gain at the time. 

This is one of the key ideas that Ryszard carries with him during his travels, ensuring to always acknowledge different cultures and remain respectful of the traditions that are a part of them since they mean a lot to the people involved. 

Since Ryszard followed this teaching so closely, it means that each country is described through a very honest and respectable lens rather than any personal ignorance getting in the way and creating an idealized view of different cultures and societies. 


The influence of conflict and warfare was a big component of Herodotus’ The Histories, despite not being defined as a “military man” himself.

In the preface of the book, Herodotus talks of how war is a “display” where countries can demonstrate their own achievements for the whole world to see on a grand stage.

Unlike many ancient Greeks though, he did also make sure to point out the horrors of war too, and how while some conflicts were seen as necessary, others were completely barbarous and malicious. 

Most importantly of all though, he notifies readers that these conflicts, no matter how unethical and brutal many of them may have been, should never be forgotten since they are one of the biggest factors that shape a country and its relations with other nations. 

Many critics have suggested that Herodotus focuses far too much on the aspect of war in his own books, but in Travels with Herodotus, it is conveyed far more subtly so that it never comes across as forced.

An example of this is near the end of the book when Ryszard visits a Turkish museum and simply reflects on the turmoil that must have shaped the country after looking at ornaments and remnants of past conflicts. 

Passing Of Time

Ryszard reflects on the concept of time at multiple points throughout the story, something his hero Herodotus would also discuss frequently in his own works. 

While time is always passing us by, heritage, traditions, and customs are a snapshot of a country’s past that have been passed down through history, giving us a glimpse of what life was like all those years ago. 

As Ryszard admires the many historical landmarks in each country, he reflects on the fact that much of what is being built now will also be considered “ancient” and why it’s so important to leave remnants behind for future generations to discover. 

There is also a big emphasis on the fragility of memory and how humans would easily forget about events from a decade or a century ago if we did not have cultural traditions and symbols of heritage to remind us.

These are ideas that were expressed by Herodotus, but Ryszard manages to expand on them and relate them to a much more modern context in the book. 

Benefits Of Reading Older Literature

The wider context of this book may be the many adventures that Ryszard takes during his time as a journalist, but he makes a lot of time throughout his travels to praise the wisdom of Herodotus and many other ancient scholars who left behind their own works. 

In fact, there are several points where he actually speaks directly to the reader, urging them to read through a book or two from well-versed scholars who were writing centuries ago so that they can “reveal another layer” of the world and the people who occupy it. 

It’s fascinating to draw parallels between how events would be acted out in the past and what the norms are nowadays, which is something this book valiantly reminds us of every chance it gets. 

Final Thoughts

While it may not be a very long read and can come with some pacing issues, Travels with Herodotus is still a beautifully written account of one man’s journey exploring a part of the world for the very first time. 

The historical parallels and references to deeper issues of conflict and war make this a truly fascinating read that raises a lot of thought-provoking questions about how we see and interact with the world and people outside of our own country.

There are also plenty of very respectable and ethical traveling lessons packed into this book which also makes it suitable for younger readers too. 

All in all, Travels with Herodotus still holds up as a great reimagining of the classic novel, The Histories, by Herodotus himself, and is a must-read for anyone who loves the beauty and many benefits of traveling. 

Sophie Andrea