John S. Dykes

Paul Theroux
A novelist and one of the country’s most celebrated travel writers, Theroux first lived in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi during the 1960s. He has written several books set there, including his latest, The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari. In an excerpt, he details his stay at Botswana’s Abu Camp, where visitors can ride elephants across the Okavango Delta. “I seldom seek out luxury camps,” he says, “but this one was quite unusual and well worth the visit.”

Franz Lidz
No stranger to ambitious aquatic expeditions himself—he made the second-ever descent of Africa’s Zambezi River in 1982—Lidz examines Thor Heyerdahl’s legendary 1947 Pacific crossing in the hand-hewn raft Kon-Tiki, the subject of a new movie.

David Mamet
A playwright, author and director, Mamet won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for drama for his play Glengarry Glen Ross. In “Flights of Fancy,” he considers the significance of memorabilia throughout his life. “On my desk right now,” he says, “is a model of a Hawker Hunter, in homage to Frederick Forsyth; a Randall knife, a present from my wife; and an old Case folding knife, a gift from knifemaker Tony Bose.”

Tony Horwitz
The winner of a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for his work at the Wall Street Journal, Horwitz is Smithsonian’s history columnist and the author of seven books. He visited the restored Gettysburg National Military Park and found a Civil War battlefield transformed. “You can visualize the battle in ways that weren’t possible before,” he says. “It’s so easy to imagine yourself in the same landscape that soldiers fought across in 1863.”

Susan Spano
After journeying around the world writing travel columns for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, Spano visited cultural hotspots in the United States for our second annual “America’s Best Small Towns.” “I’m a big city person, and I had an image of the classic American small town in my head,” says Spano, who lives in New York City. “But none of these bear any resemblance to it—they're singular, diverse and surprising.”

Tony Perrottet
The author of five books, Perrottet traced the “Birthplace of the American Vacation” to upstate New York after finding William H.H. Murray’s 1869 Adirondack guidebook, which sparked public interest in the outdoors. “I think he’d be proud of the conservation there today,” Perrottet says. “There are still vast areas where you can be entirely alone.”