I was given a Kindle over a year ago, and I'm afraid I have not spent a lot on books since then. There's just so much page turning entertainment that is out of copyright.
The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin cannot be recommended enough. This is travel writing at it's best, the work of a curious, educated man prepared to travel with minimum resources in the most dire of environments.
Bruce Chatwin in, In Patagonia, pillaged Darwin for the story the Fuegians, Jemmy Button ("whose name expresses his purchase money"), Fuegia Basket and York Minster. These were folk seized by the captain of the Beagle, Fitz Roy, on a previous voyage as "hostages for the loss of a boat which had been stolen". Fitz Roy took the Fuegians to England and educated them at his own expense. Their resettlement was a major motivation for his return to the southern tip of the American continent. Their story is tragic in the extreme.
Darwin makes the claim that "when pressed in winter by hunger", the Fuegians, "kill and devour their old women before they kill their dogs". The justification: "doggies catch otters, old women no."
The Fuegians also make an appearance in Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum. Slocum was the first to do this. Making his way through the straits of Magellan he heard the "zip-like sound" of a passing arrow. Not long afterwards a Fuegian missile struck the main mast where it "stuck fast, vibrating from the shock."
When anchored for the night, Slocum, before retiring to sleep, scattered carpet tacks on his deck. He once awoke to hear the cry and splash that proved the strategy effective. Slocum made it through to the Pacific, but was blown east around Cape Horn and had to navigate the straits for a second time. On this pass he was much worried by the sight of Fuegians wearing sea boots.
There is a South African connection to Slocum's book. By the time he reached the Cape of Good Hope, Slocum was famous. He travelled to the Transvaal to meet President Paul Kruger and was introduced as the man who was sailing around the world.
"You don't mean round the world," said the President, a committed flat-earther. "It is impossible. Impossible."
There was no further conversation.
The History of England by Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Privilege and power make people stupid and there are no better examples of just how stupid it makes them than the kings of England, Charles I, Charles II and James.
First Footsteps in East Africa, by Richard Francis Burton, a man always ready with a tape measure to record the dimensions of a person's sexual organs.
All the above books read like great literary fiction in a way. It would be extremely difficult now for a writer to achieve the subtle unreliability of their extraordinary narrators.
Causes James Whyle Supports
Treatment Action Campaign, South Africa.