When Patrick Leigh Fermor, the British polymath-author-soldier, was knighted in 2004, the BBC described him as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene.” On his death in 2011 at 96, The Times of London alluded to “a remarkable life.” That was an understatement.

In 1933, at 18, he decided to walk across Europe to Istanbul—with only a rucksack, mostly solo, often sleeping rough but with a handful of useful introductions that resulted in the occasional civilized stay in a castle or château. This journey was later recounted in the books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, discursive but marvelous examples of first-rate travel writing, and memorable not just for the adventures he describes but for the wistful glimpses of a world that was about to change forever.