Spend half an hour in Franklin Brooke-Hitching’s library and you’ll go around the world twice. The titles that line the bookshelves of his Berkshire home are wonderfully evocative: Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque; The Sperm Whale and the South Sea Voyage. And my favourite, if only for the image it conjures: Through Persia By Caravan.Brooke-Hitching has spent the past 46 years collecting these volumes and others chronicling the exploits of British explorers. By last year, he had amassed 1,400 books charting the voyages of adventurers such as Charles Darwin, Francis Drake and David Livingstone.
Remarkably, he claims only half a dozen people have seen his collection. “If you want a real conversation killer,” he says, “you tell people you buy and sell old books.”