Island Dreams

October 2020, Canongate Books

Shortlisted: Waterstones Book of the Year

With Island Dreams, Gavin Francis journeys into our collective fascination with islands. He blends stories of his own travels with great voyages from literature and philosophical exploration, and he examines the place of islands and isolation in our collective consciousness.

Island Dreams compares a life of freedom of thirty years of extraordinary travel – from the Faroe Islands to the Aegean, from Antarctica to the Andaman Islands – with a life of responsibility as a doctor, community member and parent approaching middle age.

Maps show us the ways islands have been understood and imagined over the centuries, and demonstrate how island communities connect to broader currents in science, seafaring and society. It’s often said that it’s easier to feel socially isolated in the city than it is in a small island community, and Island Dreams riffs on the twinned poles of rest and motion, independence and attachment, never more relevant that in today’s perennially connected world.

Beautifully illustrated with maps throughout, this is a celebration of human adventures in the world and within our minds.



'A delightful hymn to the many attractions of islands... There are so many riches and
delights in this book that there is scarcely a page that does not invite quotations so I can best advise that you buy it and treat it as an anthology or a box of delights. It will set you dreaming and have you thinking'


'Composed of koan-like snatches of prose, [Island Dreams] wanders between memoir and
literature, steered by Francis's adventurous past and eclectic reading , Illustrated with a gorgeous array of maps, pictures and diagrams'


'In his elegant, questing book, flavoured by wide learning and deep experience, Francis offers a fresh look at a perennial paradox; whether we live gregariously in a city or remotely on an island, a part of us is always wondering and fantasising about the Other'


'Not just a paean but a meditation. Drawing on psychology, philosophy and literature, Francis examines the appeal of separation and remoteness, and recounts his own trips over the years, to the Antarctic, the Hebrides and beyond ... He writes in brief, elliptical paragraphs, each as ornately designed as the diagrams that accompany them'


'Full of intriguing insights, wonderful description, well-researched detail and interspersed with a large number of historical and contemporary maps... A wonderful, thoughtful and endlessly engaging piece of work'

Big Issue

'For those who have missed travelling this year, and for anyone who has pondered the meaning of "isolation", there is an ideal present — a beautiful and highly illustrated book called Island Dreams, by Gavin Francis, exploring the place of islands in our psyche'

Hilary Mantel

'Blending memoir and nature writing in a free-form style, the book combines stories of his own travels with reflections from psychology, philosophy and literature and features a broad range of maps'

Irish Times

'It is a particular pleasure to read this book now, when we are not travelling, when we have had to become our own islands ... Island Dreams provides a reminder of isolation's wonders, as well as an extraordinary tour of some of the most remarkable places on our precious Earth'

New Statesman

'Highly absorbing ... Francis combines memoir from a lifetime of travel and the practice of medicine, observations on the geography and history of islands across the globe, and reflections on how islands illuminate his own life and the human condition'


'An enjoyable tour both of the longing for isolation and of islands in culture, punctuated by antique cartography and inspired by a childhood love of maps'

Financial Times