Here are some of Matthew's books, many of which are available across e-book platforms. (Don't leave home without one!)
The Revolution as a Dinner Party
Across China with Edgar Snow, Mao Tse-tung, Joseph Stilwell, Chiang Kai-shek, and Sun Tat-sen
From the author of Letters of Transit, Reading the Rails, and Appalachia Spring comes this delightful account of a journey across the People’s Republic of China, in search of the men who shaped its modern history.
Along the way Matthew Stevenson visits Mao’s cave house in Yenan, where Chiang was kidnapped in Xian, General Joseph Stilwell’s house in Chongqing, and Sun Yat-sen’s hideouts in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
Between Beijing and Hong Kong, and many places in between, Stevenson moves around by bicycle, train, and foot, allowing him to describe the places that shaped the lives of China’s founders.
Of Mao’s cave in Yenan, Stevenson writes: “The simple houses are dug into the side of the hill and are reached by climbing steps from the parking lot. Most have nothing more than a bed, a few chairs, a table, and a cupboard—the revolution playing out in what New Yorkers would call a ‘single-room occupancy.’”
The Revolution as a Dinner Party is a graceful book, full of observation and humor, that is perfect for one today thinking about China—either its past or future. It also an accessible history of China’s last hundred years and biographies of the men at the heart of the country’s many conflicts.
Heading south by southwest in a rental car that is filled with camping gear and books of American history, Matthew Stevenson explores the last battles of Civil War (The Wilderness and Appomattox), the home of patriot Patrick Henry (Red Hill), the career of railroad photographer O. Winston Link (Roanoke), and the coal hollows of Appalachia (Hazard and Whitesburg).
In language that is observant and often wry, he writes about the military careers of generals Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Ambrose Burnside, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, using on-the-ground descriptions of their battles at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, and Gettysburg (“Something about the American experience died and was saved in those bleak patches of trees and boulders”).
He follows the contours of the declining coal industry across Virginia and Kentucky, writing about the life and times of author and legislator Harry M. Caudill (Night Comes to the Cumberlands) and those of the Robert Kennedys—Jr. and Sr.—both of whom made Appalachia a signature political issue.
Stevenson is the ideal travel companion to take you to corners of the American landscape and history that are sometimes overlooked or forgotten.
From his home just outside Geneva, Switzerland, American writer Matthew Stevenson (Letters of Transit, An April Across America) sets out on journey across the United States that takes him through the Bad Lands of South Dakota, across Texas, into post-Katrina New Orleans, up to the Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson, and finally to his roots in New York City.
He describes not just his travels, but the personalities he meets along the road. In South Dakota, he writes about a weekend in the presence of former President, Bill Clinton and Senator George McGovern. In Texas, he has dinner with the columnist and humorist, Molly Ivins. In New York City, completing what he calls a tour of “blue state America,” he attends a dinner given by The Nation magazine (“Only in America are the actors politicians and the politicians actors”).
Remembering the Twentieth Century Limited
In this book, Matthew Stevenson weaves together a historical tapestry of the last hundred years. From the battlefields at Gallipoli and those around Armenia, to Cold War Washington and modern Beirut, he has written a compelling, yet often humorous and always accessible account of persons and places encountered in his travels.
An American writer who moved to Switzerland in 1991, Stevenson writes with grace and passion about his visits to World War I trenches ("the Allies bogged down in the same entrenchments that, by attacking the Hellespont, they had sought to envelop"), ground zero at Nagasaki ("we inspected a replica of Fat Man-a Neolithic fish of plutonium, with gills, a squat body and a sharp tail-hanging vertically, as if still on its descent"), Serbia ("The problem with dismembering Yugoslavia was that its internal borders were drawn to prop up the Communist coalition, not to outline national boundaries"), and war-torn Lebanon ("Seen from Beirut, Hezbollah has social qualities as elusive as its guerrillas posted to the caves outside Tyre").
Traveling south from Princeton, New Jersey (“the exception to my conclusion that George Washington was a mediocre general who survived mostly with good luck”), he visits Baltimore and the Babe Ruth Museum, Washington, D.C. (“inaccessible behind an imperial façade”), and the Civil War battlefields of northern Virginia before heading south through the southern states of North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi.
On these roads he visits the home of William Faulkner (“I am glad I persisted because there was something magic about walking alone around Rowan Oak, as if I were a weekend guest.”) and the siege lines at Vicksburg (“Only a man such as Grant, so well acquainted with failure, would have persisted”). He then drives across Texas, from Dallas to Waco, including a stop in Crawford (“I confess I was stunned by the nothingness of it”). The trip ends on the West Coast, with visits to Los Angeles (“Friends had told me that Hollywood was seedy and full of tourists, but I found that part of the appeal”) and San Francisco.
Written in the accessible style of a long letter home, this book combines the narratives of travel, memoir, sports, and history, which blend together in Stevenson’s wry sense of observation.
Letters of Transit
From the introduction:
"One of the advantages of collections of essays is that the chapters can be read in any order. In general, I have been told, most readers begin by dipping into a few stories that interest them and then, after a while, start at the beginning. What in my mind connects many of these essays is an association to family—either my father’s battles on Guadalcanal or my mother’s ancestors from near Belfast—or a link with lonely voices of democracy and independent thought.
"If I look for anything in particular when I travel to troubled parts of the world, it is for voices of reason. By good fortune I have found them in places like Serbia, South Korea, Russia, Jordan, and Pakistan. In many cases I met with authors—my carry-on luggage is usually crammed with books. In remote corners of the globe I have also met with politicians, doctors, military officers, and social workers who are fighting a lonely struggle with repression, oligarchy, or violence. The trips were worth it just to have met Beyers Naudé, an Afrikaner minister, in the grimness of South African apartheid or to speak with Horacio Mendez Carreras, a human rights lawyer, amidst Argentina’s Dirty War."
Mentioned in Dispatches
In 1991, Stevenson moved from Brooklyn to a house in the vineyards outside Geneva, Switzerland. In this book he writes about his travels around Europe (“On a hot July evening, in the company of other backpackers, we boarded the midnight Geneva-Trieste express and scrambled to our compartment, so that long into the night children could bicker about who was most deserving of the upper bunks”) and his impressions of visiting the United States (“the size of the suburban houses made me think America has become a nation of great Gatsbys”)
In these essays, Stevenson, with wit and insight, describes crossing Poland by bicycle, the countries of former Yugoslavia, visiting the battlefields of Okinawa, and Albania’s brave new world (“the province of pyramid schemes and stolen cars”). He explores the myths of Omaha Beach and Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (according to his father, “a war movie by a guy who has seen a lot of war movies”). When in New York after September 11, he recalls his earlier visits to Asian battlefields (“the skeletal frame of the Trade Center evokes the dome at Hiroshima”).
Reading the Rails
In this book of the rails, Matthew Stevenson writes about trains in Europe, Asia, and North America. He begins in Europe, on trips that take him to Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, and Krakow. And then he continues with a long journey south from Pristina across Macedonia and into Greece.
In Asia, he rides the famed Trans-Siberian to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, and then a variety of trains in China, notably to the scenes of the Russo-Japanese War in Port Arthur, and to some of the World War II battlefields near Nanking, Shanghai, and Beijing.
With his son Charles, he understands to ride the trains across Turkey to pre-war Syria, which includes a stop in Palmyra.
And the book ends in North America, on a private railroad car to Pittsburgh, and on Amtrak across the South and New England.