email a friend iconprinter friendly iconUltimate Travel Library—Western Europe
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Switzerland

Heidi, by Johanna Spyri (1880). This enduring tale of an orphan who is sent to live with her cranky grandfather in a Swiss mountain village continues to capture kids and adults with its spunky heroine and idyllic details of Alpine farms, fir trees, and flower-blanketed slopes.

Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps, by Fergus Fleming (2000). With dry humor and deep research, Fleming sketches the often eccentric personalities driven to climb the Alps, from a 16th-century naturalist to Edward Whymper, the first person to scale the Matterhorn. This is also a portrait of "Europe's most majestic mountain range"—a place that up until the 18th century some people considered the domain of dragons.

La Nouvelle Héloïse: Julie, or the New Eloise: Letters of Two Lovers, Inhabitants of a Small Town at the Foot of the Alps, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, translated and abridged by Judith H. McDowell (1761). This lyrical novel played a crucial role in dismantling the image of Switzerland as a threatening, untamed territory. Rousseau's portrait of the romantic landscape and simple peasantry inspired flocks of Europeans to visit the Swiss countryside in the late 18th century. Discover for yourself why La Nouvelle Héloïse was one of the most popular romance novels of its day.

La Place de la Concorde Suisse, by John McPhee (1984). Switzerland's famous neutrality is backed by one of the world's largest armies, per capita. McPhee delves into the Swiss army system with his characteristic knack for making the esoteric and mundane absolutely fascinating. From Geneva's neat-as-a-pin banking halls to the high ridges of the Alps on maneuver with a mountain patrol, he shows that Switzerland is anything but boring.

Scrambles Amongst the Alps In the Years 1860-69, by Edward Whymper (1871). This adventure classic is Whymper's own account of his dogged attempts to be the first to summit the Matterhorn—a feat he accomplished in 1865 and which quickly turned tragic as he lost four of his seven-man climbing team on the descent. A gifted draughtsman, he salts his narrative with many of his own illustrations.

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