Kapuscinski was a young journalist in Poland in the 1950s, with a great desire to cross a border. Not to leave Poland forever, but just to experience what it would be like to cross a border, into, say, Czechoslovakia, and then to return. He mentioned this desire to his boss, who must have been a very understanding and helpful person. The boss, knowing that Kapuscinski wanted to travel, arranged for him to be sent to China on a journalist exchange program, and gave him a draft copy of the first Polish translation of the Histories by Herodotus.
The China trip turned out to be a minor disaster, but as a result of it Kapuscinski became the de facto foreign correspondent for his magazine, and was soon sent to India for an extended tour, and later to the Middle East and to Africa.
During all of his trips, Kapuscinski brought his copy of Herodotus. Herodotus’ journeys were a counterpart to his own, his inquiries into the customs and stories of other people a model and prototype for social research and reportage.
The book is a set of very short chapters, essays really, telling the author’s story on his journalistic travels, and also telling Herodotus’ stories, and reflecting on what sort of person Herodotus must have been like, and what it was like traveling so very far in that time 2500 years ago.
The first thing that struck me when reading The Histories was Herodotus’ open-mindedness, his completely non-judgmental attitude towards the people he met and their customs. Kapuscinski also remarks on this, and it is clear from Kapuscinski’s own reports of the people he meets that he has, consciously or otherwise, adopted Herodotus’ attitudes. This, above all else, makes this an appealing book. Given his origin in a tightly-controlled, economically and politically devastated Poland, his ability to rise above that and to take an open and accepting attitude toward the world is remarkable.
It is not a prerequisite to read Herodotus before reading this book, but it would be helpful. If nothing else, this book might inspire you to pick up The Histories. Find a good translation and an edition with maps and your time will be well rewarded.