After a slow start, the market for guidebooks about Central Asia and beyond is slowly filling out. Here is a 1-page overview of the best travel guidebooks for the Silk Road. See the links below for more thematic guidebooks and country-specific reviews.
Trip planning: If you are just planning your trip, don’t know much yet and want to get some inspiration, the Insight Guide to the Silk Road is a great source. 100s of pictures and detailed overviews per country that get you dreaming, without the boring practical details (there are other books for that).
Multi-country: Lonely Planet Central Asia is the best here: clear and concise, mentioning both highlights as more off the beaten track destinations. If you are planning your first Central Asia tour, spending a few weeks in each destination, this is the book to get.
Kazakhstan: Bradt Kazakhstan, originally written by the venerable Paul Brummell, is the best guidebook to Kazakhstan. It mentions almost everything there is to see in Kazakhstan with great detail and humor. A must if you are planning a serious discovery of Kazakhstan.
Uzbekistan: The Golden Road to Samarkand is the best guidebook I ever read, and if you are interested in really discovering Uzbekistan, there is no better companion. In-depth, exceptional writing that lays bare the history and present while unearthing the real Uzbekistan.
Kyrgyzstan: No better accomplice to an extended stay in Kyrgyzstan as the Bradt guide to Kyrgyzstan. I find it difficult to improve on.
Tajikistan: Despite the recent Bradt guide, Robert Middleton’s Tajikistan and the High Pamirs remains the gold standard. Heavy, but a must if one wants to start learning about Tajikistan.
Turkmenistan: The most in-depth guide remains Bradt Turkmenistan, poking around in every tiny village for a trace of a Sufi saint or ruined caravanserai. It has not been updated in a decade, though. For a good, more concise, but up to date version, Simon Proudman’s guide to Turkmenistan is recommended.
Iran: Best option we found so far is the Lonely Planet Iran. Well-researched, with clear, well thought-out advice. An issue with many emerging destinations is that you will see everyone carrying the LP. There is plenty of exciting stuff to discover in Iran outside of the advice in the LP, so if you want to avoid the crowds, buy it (or read it on their website) to know where not to go. The Bradt guide is focused less on backpackers, with more space for especially architecture.
Transsiberian: I thought the Trailblazer guide was better informed, better structured and more in-depth than the Lonely Planet, but the last time I was on that train was in 2010 and both have published a new edition in the meantime, so things might have tipped in the other direction now.
Birdwatching: There is a great volume from Helm guides that combines all species in Central Asia including Afghanistan. The other option: Combine the 3 standard field guides of the European region, East Asia, and the Himalayan birds: Birds of East Asia by Mark Brazil, Birds of Europe by Svensson and Birds of Nepal by Inskipp & Grimmett. Birdlife produces interesting volumes called Birds of (insert country) that you might want to seek out: no bird descriptions, it’s all about habitat and IBA’s.
Botany: There isn’t much out there, but a few outstanding volumes should be mentioned. Endemic plants of the Altai is an actual field guide into this wild area straddling 4 countries. Flora of the Silk Road and Steppes are too weighty to bring on your trip, but are sure to get out of the house.