Map of London and phone featuring the ebook "The Beatles from A to Zed"

Recommended Reads

Destination reading: 7 books that enhanced my summer vacation


I’m a curious traveler. I don’t want to just sit on a beach for a week. I need museums, galleries, great restaurants, and places that connect me to a book I’ve read or listened to. I need to know the “so what?” of where I’m visiting or what I’m looking at. What’s the story behind this display, that landmark, this famous restaurant, or the city in general? What happened before? Why is this such a significant place?

I recently returned from an English vacation and the Libby app was one of the MVPs of my trip. Traveling is much easier with free ebooks, audiobooks, and digital magazines offered by my public library. If I had to buy all the books I needed before my trip, I’d have to cut a few days off the vacation and buy a new suitcase. I’m fortunate to simply load my Libby with the books I need as a curious traveler. And yes – the Libby app works internationally, as long as you have an internet connection you can borrow and download new titles. You can also download titles before you go and access them for offline use.

Here are a few books I enjoyed before exploring London. Download the Libby app before your vacation and dig around to find out more about your destination to enhance your trip!

The Splendid and the VileThe Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
🎧 Audiobook
Perfect for visiting the Churchill War Rooms

When I reached out to my colleagues on what to read prior to a trip to the Churchill War Rooms, this book came up over and over.

Written about London’s darkest year during the blitz of World War II, Larson takes you back in time with day to day accounts on how Churchill remarkably managed to hold his country together and keep the British in the fight. As an American, I never learned WWII from the British perspective, and the stories I read and listened to gave me a brand new appreciation.

Crown_&_sceptre_-_Private_Lives.pngCrown and Sceptre by Tracy Borman
The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman
Perfect for visiting Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London

I recently discovered Tracy Borman’s writing and now I’ve added many of her books to my TBR list. Crown and Sceptre covers the British Monarchy from William the Conqueror to the modern age. I like nonfiction writers who write about their subjects as if they’re fictional characters, and Borman writes a few pages on each Monarch – who they are, how they got the crown, and how heavily said crown sat on their head.

The Private Lives of Tudors is a great accompaniment to a trip to Hampton Court Palace. When you're in the palace learning about Henry VIII and the Tudor era, you’ll love Borman’s stories about how they lived, how they dressed, and how they ate. Visiting Hampton Court Palace’s kitchen is fun on its own, but this background information provides a lot of color.

A Year in the Life of William ShakespeareA Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro
🎧 Audiobook
Perfect for a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe and the site of the original Globe Theatre

This book starts with the Lord Chamberlain’s men hauling material from another theater across the Thames to build the original Globe. When you stand at the Southwark location where the Globe once stood, you feel a closer connection to Shakespeare and the stories Shapiro expertly tells.

This story in particular tells how competition and cultural factors possibly lead to one of Shakespeare’s best years, writing four plays including “Henry the Fifth,” “Julius Caesar,” and “Hamlet.”

I read this book a few years back and have revisited it since returning from vacation. Shapiro has many great Shakespeare titles on Libby, and you can’t go wrong with his research on the The Bard.

The Beatles from A to ZedThe Beatles from A to Zed by Peter Asher
🎧 Audiobook
Perfect for Beatles fans traveling to London or Liverpool

A big reason I wanted to travel to England was to see Beatles sites up close. I wanted to see the Saville Row studios where the rooftop concert took place. I wanted to cross Abbey Road in London, and see Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane in Liverpool.

If you’re a Beatles fanatic, or if you just want to learn little bit more about the Fab Four, this is a great guide to the band. Asher knows the Beatles better than most. He met the Beatles in 1963, his sister dated Paul McCartney at the height of Beatlemania, and he recorded a McCartney-written song and helped start Apple Records.

This easy to read “A to Zed” breakdown of the Fab Four will teach you more about the songs, the places, the albums, the lyrics and anything you’d need for a trip across Abbey Road. It’s available in audiobook, but I’d suggest reading it on the phone or tablet to see the color photographs and other designs of this fun book.

Elizabeth the QueenElizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedell Smith
🎧 Audiobook
Perfect for a visit to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Crown Jewels

This very in-depth account of Queen Elizabeth II was in my ears leading up to my trip. The author tells the queen’s story in great detail. If you like The Crown, you’ll love this story of the Queen and the modern United Kingdom.

Similar to The Crown, you’ll hear the stories of the Prime Ministers the Queen worked with, the challenges the UK faced coming out WWII, and a behind-the-scenes account of how she personally handled all of this as the UK’s public face.

The audiobook’s narrator, Rosalyn Landor, has a pleasant voice, which will make it easy to remember the many interesting things you’ll learn about the Queen.

The Great CoursesThe Great Courses Collection
Perfect for everything you want to learn about England before your trip

I can’t conclude this without a shout out to the amazing selection from The Great Courses, available both as audiobooks in Libby and streaming videos in Kanopy. Broken down in lessons, similar to a college course, experts teach you everything you’d want to know about many of the places you’d visit on an English vacation.

🎧 Audiobooks I listened to included:

How Winston Churchill Changed the World by Michael Shelden

Turning Points in Medieval History by Dorsey Armstrong

The Story of Medieval England by Jennifer Paxton

England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles by Michael Shelden

💡 Another great tip for destination reading is stocking up on fiction set in the place you’re visiting. Borrowing books in Libby makes it easier to put yourself right back on your favorite trip.

No matter where your summer journey takes you, your library can help you get there. Load up your Libby shelf for your next trip to learn the history, culture, iconic restaurants, best meals, haunted spaces, and more for wherever you’re headed.

*Title availability may vary by library and region.

RELATED READ: 7 travel guides to help you plan your summer adventure

Published Jun 19, 2024

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About the Author

Jeff Russ is a curious traveler and an Advertising Specialist with OverDrive. He refuses to leave work at work and enjoys using his Libby app in his free time to read ebooks on his porch and listen to audiobooks while tending to his garden or hiking at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. He’s usually looking for a book on a places he’s been and things he’s seen across the globe.


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