Who settled Australia? How do people survive—and outlast—a war? What makes kids love (or hate) broccoli? The answers, plus a haunting novel of family exile, expand the horizon of the Brothers & Sisters star.
I come from a young country, Australia, which was first settled by the British in 1788, so whenever I go to a place whose history predates that, I find it incredible. I want to know what makes that place come alive, not just now but in years past. I really get off on seeing the layers of time in a landscape. I've learned that if you haven't read about the geology, geography, or history, then all you're seeing is a bunch of gravel in the sunset. So when I was living in London, for instance, I dove into the Georgians and early Victorians. I read the poets, the histories, books about landscape designers. When I went to Israel, I read a lot of early Christian history—Paul and the Romans. After that, seeing Jericho or the road to Damascus became more exciting and meaningful.

As much as I like to know what battle happened where, when it came time to make this list, I chose these books not just because of what I learned but because of the particular voices that wrote them. All of these writers have tremendous heart and passion.

As told to M Healey


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