Paul Theroux

Back to Global Conversations 1.6: Paul Theroux, Writer

Acclaimed travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux tells Melissa Biggs Bradley why he’s been in his own personal lockdown since 1963; how he gets to the “flesh and blood” of a place when he’s on the road; his principles of travel—from America to Africa; why the best travel is not really about travel at all; and why going alone is the way to self-discovery—in short: you learn everything from leaving home.

Episode Guide

In the travel world, writer Paul Theroux doesn’t need an introduction. And when one is offered, it is usually full of superlatives. He’s been called the world’s most perceptive travel writer, but he’s also one of the most prolific. He’s published 56 books, both fiction and nonfiction, including the acclaimed Great Railway Bazaar and The Mosquito Coast, which was made into a movie in the 1980s starring Harrison Ford. And it’s now being turned into a series for Apple starring Paul’s nephew, actor Justin Theroux. One of Paul’s greatest honors was receiving the highest award attainable for a traveler, a medal from the prestigious Royal Geographical Society.

Melissa met Paul more than 20 years ago. His wife is a dear friend, and Paul makes quite an impression when you meet him. So much so that when Melissa took her kids to Hawaii and they got to meet Paul on Oahu, they came away totally in awe of how cool and how smart he was. Paul’s most recent book, published last year, is called On the Plane of Snakes, and it is a vivid, moving, and thrillingly informative telling of a road trip that he took along the length of the U.S. Mexico border, exploring deep in Mexico’s hinterland where few travelers ever visit. But that is perfect for an adventurer like Paul, who is said, “if you tell me not to go to a place, that’s the place I want to explore.”

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