Chris' Book Picks
I continue to receive many emails from listeners to my radio shows asking me for reading recommendations on the featured destinations – and on travel in general. This section of the website is for those listeners – and for anyone else looking to combine two great joys: travel and a good book. Some of the featured books are travelogues and guides, whilst others take us off into history, exploration, cuisine or whatever realm has a travel connection. These are my personal picks and reviews – I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.
Where To Go When
Walking to Camelot
Three Cups of Tea
Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist
Top 125 Unusual Things in Ontario
Southern Light – Images from Antarctica
On The Map
Tripping the World Fantastic
Costa Rica – The Complete Guide
Into the Silence
Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know
Echoes of Earth
The Great Game
Route 66 Still Kicks
Frommer’s Far & Wide
The Places In Between
Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents
The Khyber Pass
Crossing the Heart of Africa
The Rough Guide to Toronto
Panama: National Geographic Traveler
Atlas of Remote Islands
Travels with Charley
Best Hiking Trips in British Columbia
History Hunting in the Yukon
Letters to Zerky
The Greek For Love – A Memoir of Corfu
The Best of New York in Just 10 Seconds
One Year Off
Andalucía – A Portrait of Southern Spain
Frommer’s 500 Places To See Before They Disappear
Pilgrim in the Palace of Words
This section will build up over time – so check back often!
Title: Lonely Planet’s Where To Go When
Author: Sarah Baxter and Paul Bloomfield
Summary: This is an invaluable guide to helping you plan the right trip, to the right place, at the right time. How many times have you heard on your vacation, ‘You should have been here last month when the whales were in the bay’? Or: ‘If you were here next week, you could experience our wonderful fiesta’? With this guide in hand, such mistiming will be a thing of the past. For each month of the year, it presents thirty suggestions of destinations that are at their best during that month, in terms of their climate, value or special events.
Chris’ View: Without doubt, one of the most frequent questions I am asked by listeners to my weekly radio Travel Show about almost any destination is: ‘When is the best time to go?’ It’s important to get it right. You don’t want to miss out on experiencing The Day of the Dead festival in Mexico by just a few days, or arrive in Greece in January expecting to be able to laze on warm sunny beaches! This guide allows you to check out your prospective destination and plan your visit to make the most of your time there.
But more than that – you don’t even have to have a specific destination in mind. This book provides inspiration on places around the world that you may want to add to your wish list, all hung on the hook of the right time to be there. Have you always wanted to go gorilla watching? Then using this book, you can plan your trip in June in the knowledge that this is the start of the dry season in Rwanda when viewing is at is best. Want to go to the UK in March, but nor sure of the weather? Page 62 will enthuse you about North Wales in March being perfect for carpets of daffodils, spring lambs bounding in the fields and the countryside being at its greenest best.
The suggestions are comprehensive. Destinations range from the just-around-the-corner kind of destination to the once-in-a-lifetime journey. From Alberta in July to the Antarctic peninsula in January. They also capture every flavour of travel experience, from culture-rich city breaks and tropical beach holidays to adventurous road trips and wildlife-watching expeditions.
This books works superbly well for me on both levels. Firstly as an eminently pragmatic planning aid for trips to places on your to-do list and secondly as a dream destination idea generator… Mongolia in July anyone? You can see ‘men wrestling in shiny pants’?
Will Appeal To: Dreamers and doers. It is intensely practical, yet gorgeously suggestive. Whether you are planning a quick jaunt to Michigan (July) across the border, or a trip to Bhutan (October) in the Himalayas – this book is for you.
Contents: The organization of this book is innovative and very user-friendly. Part guide book and part flowchart, each month features thirty suggestions which begins with four pages of guidance with flow diagrams and graphs designed to take the reader to the destination that is the closest match to their needs. Each is signposted by duration (short break, one week, two weeks), by journey type (wildlife, adventure, cultural, relaxation, food and drink, value), by weather (temperature and precipitation) and by cost and family or couple quotients.
Following the logical guidance, each month has a couple of double page spreads that engage the emotive side of the reader in to a couple of recommended destinations with mouth-watering, large format photos to hook the wanderer in you. Then a series of other recommendations for each month follow, each also graded individually into travel types
Illustrations: One of Lonely Planet’s hallmarks are their wonderful ‘come hither’ photos and this book is no exception. Every page has tempting pics of the destinations covered and the double page spreads are especially sumptuous. Each month is also introduced with easy to use diagrams that guide the reader simply and effectively to the right choices.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Lonely Planet is the world’s most successful travel publisher, printing over 120 million books in eleven different languages with guidebooks and eBooks to almost every destination on the planet.
Publisher: Lonely Planet (December 2016); ISBN: 978-17865 7193 9.
Price: $22.49 US (hardback); 320 pages.
Walking to Camelot
Title: Walking to Camelot
Author: John A. Cherrington
Summary: The Macmillan Way is one of Britain’s much-celebrated long distance footpaths and the only one to slice diagonally across much of England’s most sublime countryside, from Boston on the North Sea Coast in Lincolnshire to Abbotsbury on the English Channel coast of Dorset. John Cherrington and his companion Karl Yzerman wander, meander and seriously hike the full 460 kilometers of the Macmillan Way and explore the history, landscape and people of Middle England along the way.
Chris’ View: The book’s subtitle is an appropriate observation: ‘A Pilgrimage through the Heart of Rural England’. For at times, the journey with John and Karl feels like a spiritual quest of the kind sought by walkers of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. At other times, it feels more like Bill Bryson’s hike along the Appalachian Trail that he recorded in A Walk in the Woods. And it’s this quirky mix that kept my interest throughout the journey.
At the time of the journey, John was a fifty-something enthusiastic hiker and his walking buddy Karl was a seventy-something express train of a hiker – both of which instill great hope in me personally that I have some long distance hikes ahead of me yet. The interaction between these two very different characters provides human interest to the story, as do the interactions with the English country folk en route. Some are dour, but most are delightfully warm and welcoming – occasionally overly so!
Reading the book is a comforting way to avoid the perils that John and Karl faced on their walk. These range from staying in clandestine brothels to belligerent bulls and stumbling over a very current serious crime scene to ghosts of past gory crimes. And then there are there are the close shaves with gentry on horseback, tumbles into ravines, the vagaries of the British weather and the perils of innumerable village pubs.
It’s also a walk through the history of the realm, one which takes us backwards and forwards from Iron Age burial mounds through Roman villas and Dark Ages hill forts to the medieval churches and manor houses that crowd the English countryside. The Author explains their place in the story of England and their significance in the social fabric of countryside life that continues into modern times. One of the highlights of the walk - and the Macmillan Way as a whole – is the hillfort of Cadbury Castle that is the likely location of King Arthur’s legendary last stand in the late 5th century against the Saxon invaders of the time.
Ultimately for me, the real hero of this journey – apart from the dogged determination of the writer – is the great British countryside. It’s revealed in all its unique glory in this book as the journey progresses from flat fenland to the rolling landscape of my home county of Northamptonshire and on to the picturesque villages of the Cotswolds and the West Country. This is what makes England so unique, so wonderful, such a fusion of people, history and landscape. And John Cherrington does an admirable job of bringing this magic to life.
Will Appeal To: If you enjoy the light-hearted, Bill Bryson style of travelogue - you will appreciate this book. As will enthusiastic hikers and lovers of Britain and its gorgeous countryside. And for all of us would-be long distance walkers, the great appeal of Walking to Camelot is that John Cherrington has done the hard work for us!
Contents: There are twelve chapters on our journey through Middle England, starting in Chapter One’s Lincolnshire Lanes and ending in the final chapter’s The Dorset Giant, Maiden Newton and Chesil Beach. There is also a reference section for all the quotes and literary associations that I found irresistible to chase down afterwards.
Illustrations: There are no photographs or illustrations in this book and in truth, none are really needed, as the Author’s prose paints pictures aplenty. However, an outline map of the journey would have been very useful as we progress with the Author through the English counties. Here is a link to a map of the journey: www.macmillanway.org/index_files/route_local.htm
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: John Cherrington is the author of three works of historical non-fiction, including Vancouver at Dawn which was awarded runner-up for the City of Vancouver Book Prize. He has done extensive work in heritage preservation and was awarded the 125th Anniversary Governor-General’s Medal for significant contribution to community and country.
Publisher: Raincoast Books (2016); ISBN: 9781927958629
Website: http://services.raincoast.com. Check out the Macmillan Way website: www.macmillanway.org
Price: $22.95 (paperback); 272 pages. Also available with: Amazon, Kindle, Indigo
Title: Three Cups of Tea
Author: Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Summary: This is a semi-autobiographical tale of how a failed attempt on K2 turned into a quest to bring education to remote villages in the tribal areas of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains. In the process, Greg Mortenson transforms from a drifter to an impassioned advocate of schools versus bombs as the means of winning the so-called 'War on Terror'.
Chris’ View: I have personally experienced the heart-warming hospitality of the tribal inhabitants of the daunting Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. So I was drawn to this account of how an American climber experienced similar kindness in a poor mountain village…and found a new direction for his life. What started as an easily given promise to build in a school in the village was fulfilled and then developed as a template for providing schools and other much-needed basic infrastructure in poor communities across the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Greg found that balanced, non-extremist education, for boys and girls alike, is the most effective way to combat the violent intolerance that breeds terrorism in this part of the world. To date, the Central Asia Institute which he helped create has constructed fifty-five schools, and work continues.
The three cups of tea referred to in the book’s title are a Balti saying in northern Pakistan: “The first time you share a tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honoured guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die”.
There has been controversy around this best-seller, so read up on both sides. But the bottom line is that there are schools where there were none in these beautiful villages of the Karakorum and Hindu Kush mountains and readers of this book are rewarded with a real sense of the unique landscape and people of this mountain fastness.
Will Appeal To: At times this book reads more like a thriller than a travelogue or humanitarian account. It is a gripping read as Greg navigates local corruption, fatwas from mullahs, the events around 9/11 and its aftermath as it played out in this volatile region. So it has broad appeal - as its many weeks on the best-seller lists prove.
Contents: The book spans 23 chapters which flow in chronological fashion. However, within each chapter, the co-author David Oliver Relin has adroitly juxtaposed events to provide a more gripping narrative. Sadly David died a few years after the book’s publication.
Illustrations: There is a single section of 22 black and white photographs that help put faces to some of the names of the characters in the book, as well as a couple of rather basic maps in the preface.
Where Have I Heard of Greg Mortenson?: For three years after the publication of Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson enjoyed huge success. The book was a number one New York Times bestseller for three years and his organization, the Central Asia Institute, grew rapidly from donations that included $100,000 from President Barrack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. Controversy over the book and his work has since arisen with criticism directed his way by CBS News’ Sixty Minutes and journalist Jon Krakauer (‘Into Thin Air’) and this continues to keep his name in the news.
Publisher: Penguin (2007); ISBN: 978-0-14-303825-2
Price: $19.00 (paperback); 350 pages. Also available with: Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Google, eBooks.com, iBooks
Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist
Title: Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist
Author: Lonely Planet contributors
Summary: Lonely Planet, the world's leading travel guide publisher, has compiled a list – in ranked order – of what it considers to be the top 500 places in the world to see. And it provides persuasive rationale in the form of photography and prose to back up their judgement. The result is a gorgeous travel book that will promote endless discussions as to the relative merits of the places on the list…as well as travel plans to visit many of these beautiful and intriguing places.
Chris’ View: Oh the attraction of top ten lists… So when a book comes along that purports to be a list of the top five hundred places in the world, the allure is irresistible! There can be no such definitive list of course, but that is part of why this book is so engaging: everyone will have their own opinions as to what should or should not be on this list.
It’s the opinions of the Lonely Planet community that have created this list. A mega-list was compiled of all the highlights in all the Lonely Planet guidebooks, then this list of thousands was focused down to a shortlist which was voted upon by the world travellers at Lonely Planet who each came up with their top twenty sights. These votes were counted to provide the ordering in the book.
This is a coffee table book that will promote endless discussion. Is the Great Wall of China a more stunning sight than Machu Picchu? What inspires the greater awe: the Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef? Why does no Canadian place merit a place in the top 100? This book provides the photography and thumbnail sketches of each of the 500 places to fuel the debate. I particularly enjoyed the later pages where some lesser known sites have their day in the sun. There’s Erdene Zuu Khiid, a Buddhist monastery in Mongolia at #498. And Erg Chebbi Dunes in the Moroccan Sahara at #204. And so many more places that rekindle the exploring spirit in me once again.
This is a culminating volume of the Lonely Planet team’s impressive travel expertise and deserves a place on the coffee table or bookshelf on anyone infected with a trace of wanderlust in their soul.
Will Appeal To: This is easy: everyone will be drawn into this book. Whether it’s the armchair traveller who wishes to be whisked away to grand sites known and unknown…Or the seasoned globetrotter who inevitably starts ticking off the places already visited and adding more to their to-do list…This collection has universal appeal.
Contents: The structure of this book is simple and appropriate: starting at the number one ranked place in the world – spoiler alert - The Temples of Angkor in Cambodia, the pages race through to the 500th ranked sight – Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia. Not all sights are treated equally: Angkor merits four pages, whilst others further down the list are six to a page. There’s an essential index with groupings by country and type. Plus there is a handy separate supplement in the form of a folded map of the world with the top 100 places marked.
Illustrations: Most of the 500 places on the Travelist are brought to life by vibrant photography which is cunningly designed to draw us, the readers, into the many destinations covered by this book. Some images are postcard-sized, some are full pages of visual bonbons. It’s a pleasure just leafing through and pausing when an image grabs your attention to find out more about the place itself. One small gripe: most images are not captioned and although it’s generally clear which of the 500 places each image is being illustrated, it would have been useful to have the specific details added.
Where Have I Heard of Lonely Planet?: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers the well-known destinations, but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.
Publisher: Lonely Planet and in Canada, Raincoast Books (2015); ISBN: 9781743607473
Website: www.LonelyPlanet.com and www.Raincoast.com
Price: $33.50 (hardback); 328 pages
Top 125 Unusual Things in Ontario
Title: Top 125 Unusual Things in Ontario
Author: Ron Brown
Summary: This combination coffee table and guide book takes you on a tour of some of the weird and wonderful things that can be found from one end of Ontario to the other. From Hell Holes and Serpent Mounds to Covered Bridges and Carousels. Each of the 125 quirky places is accompanied by glossy photography and directions to track it down. You are bound to find somewhere that you just have to go and see amongst the ghost towns and haunted lighthouses!
Chris’ View: Ontario is full of hidden treasures. Down village streets, in city lanes, and along quiet country roads lie its most unusual sights -- houses that seem to float, a river that disappears, log cabins in the centre of a major city. All await the curious explorer. Monuments to murders, massacres and mysterious spy camps bring to life the lesser-known aspects of Ontario's hidden heritage. This book features Ron’s pick of Ontario's top 125 unusual things to see. Most of the listings are easy to find and are open to the public. In this revised and updated edition, the places are grouped into four geographic regions. Maps pinpoint each location within the region. The curious can head out and discover whichever treasure appeals. Temples, towers and quirks of nature offer insight into an Ontario that few even know exists. And that's what looking for treasure is all about.
It’s a large format colourful paperback nearly 300 pages long and chock full of information about these 125 unusual attractions, each one illustrated with glossy photographs. But this is much more than a coffee-table book – this is meant to be taken on the road as well.
Among my personal favourites from the collection of 125 sights are: Ghosts of the Gold Fields: Ontario's Eldorado; It Came from Outer Space: The Holleford Meteor Crater; The Dune That Ate a Town; Lake Erie's Cold War Submarine: HMCS Ojibwa; The Ghost Squirrels of Exeter; and Grand Canyon North: Ouimet Canyon. But in truth, each one of these strange sights is worth the visit and I recommend keeping a copy of Ron’s book to hand for those days when you feel the urge to get out there and explore.
Will Appeal To: Ontarians wishing to get out and about with a purpose will relish this book. It gives a reason for that Sunday jaunt – to track down another of those 125 attractions. Anyone with a sense of the curious and access to a car will enjoy experiencing the fruit of Ron Brown’s investigations.
Contents: The book is divided into four regions of Ontario, each with its crop of attractions:
- Eastern Ontario, from the Quebec border to Peterborough
- South-Western Ontario, the region that lies between Lake Erie and the southern part of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay
- Central Ontario, from Georgian Bay to Niagara via Toronto
- Cottage Country and Northern Ontario, that huge swathe of land from Muskoka to James Bay and across to Lake Superior
Illustrations: Each of the 125 attractions is brought to life by large format photographs which tempt the reader as much as the text and are quite a feature of the book.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Ron has written over a dozen books on Ontario’s diverse sights, from ghost towns to natural attractions. His articles appear frequently in Canadian newspapers and magazines and he is often a guest on radio and television. He was my guest on a recent Travel Show and you can listen to the podcast here: www.chrisrobinsontravelshow.ca/RadioShows/PodcastPastShows
Publisher: Firefly Books (2014); ISBN: 978-1-77085-423-9
Website: www.Fireflybooks.com and Ron’s own online resource at www.RonBrown.ca
Price: $24.95 (paperback); 272 pages
Author: Michael Palin
Summary: Michael Palin's ambitious journeys have seen him circumnavigate the globe, travel from the North to the South Pole and circle the countries of the Pacific Ocean. This is his best-selling account of his journey in 2001 around and through the world’s most vast desert: the Sahara.
Chris’ View: From 2009 to 2012 Palin was the president of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in the UK - a considerable honour. His appointment recognized his achievements of popularizing travel and hence geographical study through his immensely successful TV and literary journeys around the world. As a Fellow of the RGS myself I can only applaud Palin’s recognition – even if he himself appeared fairly bemused by finding himself in the company of some of the world’s greatest explorers!
I have chosen Sahara as my personal pick because, although I have enjoyed all his books, this one seems to me to have presented the greatest challenges and to have brought out the finest qualities in Palin the Traveller. His occasional Python-esque flashes of humour are balanced by very real story telling strengths and all the while his humanity comes through in the ‘off-camera’ moments of insight. Palin makes very real efforts to penetrate the cultural and linguistic barriers with the people he encounters along the way.
His journey begins and ends on the Rock of Gibraltar. From there he hops across the Straits to Morocco, south through Mauritania to Senegal, east through Mali to Niger, northwards to Algeria and Libya, before closing the loop by travelling west through Tunisia to Algeria and Gibraltar again. Ninety-nine days and 16,000 kilometres of travelling through a wide range of landscapes that strikingly show that the Sahara is not just a vast sand dune. Instead he describes the rich and varied pattern of cultures and landscapes which is the real Sahara Desert.
His discomforts along the way are real, but not dwelt upon. The dangers were also real and the sad truth now is that Palin - or you or I - would not be able to repeat the journey today. Just over a decade on, this part of the world has become much more dangerous and its people that much more sadly betrayed by their leaders and local warlords.
Will Appeal To: This book has very broad appeal. It is great armchair travelling to a part of the world that is challenging if not impossible to visit currently. But perhaps its appeal can best be summed up by the writer’s own description of why he was drawn to the Sahara in the first place:
“Sahara is one of the most powerful and evocative names on the world map. As a child, the images I had of the Sahara were both frightening and intriguing - palm trees, camels, turbaned travellers reclining, whilst being poured sparkling water by urn-carrying maidens in flimsy veils. It looked fun. I also knew that most western explorers who tried to cross it never came back. The combination of seduction and severity appealed to me.“
- Michael Palin
If you enjoy his book – and I am sure you will – you may also want to catch the television series upon which the book is based.
Contents: The book contains 13 chapters: Gibraltar, Morocco, Algeria, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Gibraltar. Each chapter is subdivided by the days of travel, which makes for easy reading and continuity.
Illustrations: The 64 pages of colour photography by Basil Pao considerably enliven the narrative. Pao's photographs have been used in books and magazines all over the world and he has also produced a book containing many more of his pictures from this trip called “Inside Sahara”. There is also a double page spread map of his journey which I found myself referring back to regularly to see where Palin was taking me next…
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Michael Palin is one of the manic Monty Python team who blazed a comic trail across the world with Monty Python's Flying Circus before they all went their talented separate ways. Palin re-invented himself as a travel broadcaster and writer. A self-confessed dromomaniac (travel addict), he has written books to accompany his highly successful travel series. His other travel books include: Around the World in 80 Days; Pole to Pole; Full Circle; Hemingway Adventure; Himalaya; New Europe; 80 Days Revisited; Brazil.
Publisher: Orion Books (2010); ISBN: 9780297863595
Website: www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.palinstravels.co.uk
Price: $16.95 (paperback); 260 pages,
Southern Light – Images from Antarctica
Title: Southern Light – Images from Antarctica
Author: David Neilson
Summary: This inspiring collection of vivid images from Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic is the result of six journeys made to these southernmost lands by Australian photographer David Neilson. The areas covered include the Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, the Ross Sea, South Georgia and Macquarie Island. These outstanding landscape and wildlife photographs in both colour and black and white are a testament to the beauty and fragility of this great southern realm.
Chris’ View: This beautifully printed photographic journey provides a window into the awe-inspiring landscapes of the frozen continent.
The large format (305 mm x 295 mm) brings the images alive and enables the viewer to lose themselves in the vastness of this very special place. This is the very essence of Antarctica, from the various varieties of penguins to seals to humpback whales to snow-covered peaks to icebergs. Especially poignant are the relics left behind by the great explorers: Robert Scott's hut built in 1910 for his Terra Nova expedition, for example, or Ernest Shackleton's Endurance expedition campsite.
But it is perhaps the great empty landscapes that remain in my memory most vividly. The sheer, aching loneliness of this land is captured indelibly with a large-format view camera for maximum detail and tonal subtlety. Several are reproduced as panoramic gatefolds, showing the true vastness of this remote ice kingdom. The images of wildlife include emperor, king, Adélie, gentoo, chinstrap, royal, and macaroni penguins; wandering, royal, and grey-headed albatross; and Weddell and fur seals. There is also a narrative of the author’s Antarctic journeys, and on conservation and climate change, plus five full-page maps.
As a coffee-table book, this will promote gasps of awe from visitors. But it is a very weighty tome, so don’t take it to bed with you unless you plan on using it as breakfast tray – which would be sacrilege!
Antarctica has long been on my personal bucket-list and this book has powerfully reminded me why I need to go there.
Will Appeal To: Southern Light is a fitting gift for anyone who has visited Antarctica personally, as well as for those who prefer to admire its pristine beauty in the comfort of their armchair.
Contents: The book is organized geographically for the photo essays, subdivided into colour and black & white: the Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, Ross Sea and the Sub-Antarctic Islands are all covered with a smorgasbord of images. A section follows called “Footprints on the Ice” which documents Man’s fleeting presence in this wilderness. There are also essays on Antarctica and Climate Change; Journeys to the Realm of Emperors and Royals; and Protecting the Antarctic Environment. All this is framed by an effective Introduction and an excellent Bibliography.
Illustrations: This, of course, is what the book is all about. Over two hundred gorgeous photographs of the Antarctic regions that transport you to this amazing and unforgiving part of our planet that so few of us have the privilege to experience personally. A number of gatefolds expand the visual experience when just one page is insufficient to convey the vastness of the landscape. Five maps of the highest quality are a valuable inclusion to help place the images.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: David Neilson is an author and photographer of wild places. He has published three previous books on Tasmania, Australia and Patagonia’s wildernesses. He has received an Antarctic Arts Fellowship and worked for ten years for the Australian Conservation Foundation.
Publisher: Abbeville Press (2012); ISBN: 9780789211552
Website: www.abbeville.com and www.snowgumpress.com.au
Price: $85 (hardback); 306 pages, 135 full-colour illustrations, 100 duotones; 7 gatefolds. For a book of this quality, the published price is remarkably good – and much cheaper than travelling to Antarctica to see this beauty first-hand!
Title: On The Map
Author: Simon Garfield
Summary: ‘Why the World Looks the Way it Does’ is the sub-title of this book and it accurately describes what this book is all about. Simon Garfield takes us through, in a vaguely historical continuum, the ways in which humans have used maps to describe pictorially the way the world looks to them - from the dawn of human time to our current reliance on GPS technology.
Chris’ View: I have always loved maps. I can take virtual journeys through maps. They can explain historical and political issues often more clearly than any amount of written explanation. I also see them as objects of beauty. So the author’s meandering and episodic examination of how maps have shaped and reflected our understanding of the world around us is a real treat. I learnt a great deal; I chuckled fairly frequently too, because the writer has a nice sense of the absurd which often shines through the narrative.
Scrapings of pigments on cave walls started it all. Then the Greeks provided an astounding base of accurate mapping observations of the world. And then it was all mostly forgotten again as Europe floundered around in the Dark Ages. When European explorers started turning on the lights again in many of the dark extremities of the world, it triggered a colourful, fanciful, imaginative and occasionally accurate explosion of maps around the world.
Simon Garfield explores some of these in depth, often from slightly odd angles. We first encounter the famous Mappa Mundi, for instance, not in the thirteenth century of its origin, but in 1988 when it was about to be sold by the Dean of Hereford Cathedral in the UK. In tracing the uncertain path of the map in the 20th century, we learn the fascinating details of its origin as the modern drama plays out.
We dash, helter-skelter, from one sort of map to another and in the process learn not only about the maps themselves and their significance (did you know that it was essentially a map that stopped the great London Cholera Outbreak of 1854?), but also how our brains perceive maps and interpret them (there are gender differences that can be traced to brain morphology that explain why my wife looks at a map and inevitably chooses the wrong direction).
From those first cavemen markings to Google Maps – this is a spirited and enjoyable tale of that most essential tool of all travelers: the map.
Will Appeal To: This is a very readable book that will appeal to a broad audience of armchair and active travellers alike. It is far from a dry, academic tome and is actually funny, bizarre and instructive by turn. It is also a great source of conversational trivia for dinner party talk!
Contents: The book is organized into 22 chapters, which whilst loosely linked, are often more like individual essays than a continuous narrative. ..making it an easy book to pick and put down. The chapter headings reflect the author’s whimsical nature – here are just a few to tease you into searching out this volume:
- The Men Who Sold the World
- The Legendary Mountains of Kong
- Mrs P and the A-Z
- Casablanca, Harry Potter and Where Jennifer Anniston Lives
- Driving Into Lakes
- The Instant, Always-On, Me-Mapping of Everywhere
Illustrations: There are plenty of map images in this book, as one would expect, and most work reasonably well. But they are all black and white, and even though colour images would have increased the cost of the book, I would have gone this route as I found myself too often straining to make out impossible details on many of the fascinating maps that illustrate this book. I especially liked the Facebook map which adds an up-to-the-moment aspect to the book; you can see this one on the website page noted below.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Simon Garfield has written for UK newspapers such as The Independent and The Observer, and was named Mind Journalist of the Year in 2005. He is the author of several books including Expensive Habits: The Dark Side of the Industry, the Somerset Maugham Prize-winning The End of Innocence: Britain in the Time of AIDS, The Wrestling, and My Type, exploring the history of typographic fonts.
Publisher: Profile Books (2012); ISBN: 978 1 8466 85095
Price: $27.50 (hardback); 464 pages. Also available as an Ebook $12.99
Tripping the World Fantastic
Title: Tripping the World Fantastic
Author: Glenn Dixon
Summary: Glenn does for music what he did for language in his first travel book, which is also reviewed in this section. This time he combines his love of music with his love of travel and takes us on a trip around the world that links people and places in widely scattered lands with the brain functions that produce our global language called music. This book also has an extra dimension: an online resource of music clips that complements the text in an innovative and extraordinary way.
Chris’ View: What is music? Why is music? Where did it come from and why is it so important to us? This book takes us on a musical bumper car ride around the world and if it isn’t able to provide definitive answers to these questions, it certainly sheds some fascinating and well-informed light on many of the issues and theories that surround our current thinking on music.
At one level, this is simply a good travelogue. Glenn Dixon is a man I enjoy travelling with. He listens to people, he is open to experiences, he revels in other cultures…in short he is a very Canadian traveller abroad. He is also an excellent writer who is capable of whisking you away to a far-away place with a phrase or description that sometimes is more effective than an airline ticket.
This travelogue is given deeper meaning and interest by the inner journey that parallels it. For the author structures his travels to explore the music that he encounters along the way. And each important musical experience is available as an online resource to listen to and absorb what it teaches us about the importance of music to humanity. This is a fascinating journey to the edge of current thinking in brain physiology: how does music work in our brain? There are some fundamental revelations happening right now in science that Glenn helps explain in the context of what he experienced and what we are able to listen to on his website.
It’s also a journey through time as we listen to the earliest music instrument yet discovered (a primitive flute that is an unbelievable 42,000 years old), the earliest written music (from a clay tablet in Syria), the first vocal harmony (as performed in an ethereal concert in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris) and reconstructed Maya music. Listen to the audio files as you read and it’s as though the book has an additional dimension. It’s a great idea well executed. Thanks to Glenn I have a deeper understanding of music in the world and, thus better informed, I will seek out musical facets to my journeys more avidly.
Will Appeal To: All armchair travellers will find this a good read. Wherever we travel, music plays a part in the experience and this book explains how that came to be and why music is such a fundamental part of the travel experience. Music fans and readers interested in how our brains work will be especially hooked by the discussion on how we perceive music and how our brains register and manipulate sounds.
Contents: The book is divided into four parts that follow the author’s journey around the word both in space and time and these parts are consistent with the online resource as well:
- Part One: Music and Evolutionary Psychology, takes us to Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, France and Spain
- Part Two: Music and the Social Animal, sees us in Africa, Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico.
- Part Three: Rituals of Sound, wings our way to the South Pacific, Indonesia, India, Russia and Eastern Europe.
- Part Four: Musical Intelligence, concludes our journey in Austria, Ireland and Scotland.
Illustrations: Minimal – a few poorly reproduced black and white photos. But who cares when you have the online selection of audio and image files that are an integral part of this book?
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: I reviewed his first book Pilgrim in the Palace of Words here: ChrisBookPicks. Glenn has published travel articles in major publications such as National Geographic, the New York Post, The Walrus, the Globe and Mail, and Psychology Today. He is also an expert on language with an M.A. in socio-linguistics.
Publisher: Dundurn Press; (2013); ISBN: 978-1-4597-0654-5
Website: www.tripping-the-world.com This is a fundamental part of this travel tale and ideally should be accessed and listened to as you read the book..
Price: $26.99 (paperback); 312 pages. Also available as an Ebook $12.99
Costa Rica – The Complete Guide
Title: Costa Rica – The Complete Guide
Author: James Kaiser
Summary: Costa Rica is a wonderful country to visit and explore – this brand new guide book fully does this land of ‘eco-adventures in paradise’ justice. The author sets out to provide a guide that will allow visitors to make the most of their vacation in Costa Rica and succeeds gloriously, vividly with a mix of I-want-to-be-right-there photography and text that is both practical and beguiling. In short: a tour de force in travel guides.
Chris’ View: I read many, many travel guides. In researching my almost one thousand radio shows on travel destinations all over the world, I still use travel guides as much as the internet. So when I am captivated by a guide book – as I was with James Kaiser’s Costa Rica – it’s a red letter day! I confess I stifled a yawn as I opened my review copy (I have at least half a dozen other guide books on Costa Rica) …and then was unable to close it until I had sampled all its many splendours.
This is how guide books should be constructed. The text is personal, rather than that distant, third-person style that many espouse. It is full of the Author’s own recommendations and viewpoints which I found to be fair, balanced and certainly well-informed. His advice on ways of avoiding cultural misunderstandings is both helpful and amusing (close car doors gently – who knew?). His enthusiasm for soft-ish adventures is infectious and pragmatic: canopy tours, canyoning, rafting, surfing and more. But damn him: now I have another mountain to add to my Bucket List – the 3,400 meter peak of Chirripo.
The regional chapters as he tours us around the country are made up of short and very readable essays on the main sights and experiences within each region. With the National Geographic quality images, he brings each to life and so makes it difficult to decide where to focus one’s trip planning. I can live with such difficulties, because the journey is rich and fascinating. Where I have been to the places covered in this guide, I am left content that he has done a great job in guiding the reader there. Where I have not been, I am left with an urge to see the beaches, the mountains, the towns, the people that he covers.
One reason why this book reads so well is that it is not cluttered with endless lists of accommodations. This is avoided by referring the reader to his website which I think is very effective. Throughout the pages of this guide, the Author’s love of Costa Rica is apparent and warms the prose. It lifts this guide from ‘just’ a guidebook to something bigger and better. As you will have gathered: I recommend this book very strongly. But be warned – I see a trip in the not-too-distant future for anyone who opens up that first page.
Will Appeal To: One of the great attractions of Costa Rica is its accessibility to regular travellers – you don’t have to be a backpacker or a luxury-seeker to plan a trip to this part of the world. So this brilliant guide will have a very broad appeal to travellers of all kinds, from one week all-inclusive package tour takers who want to plan a few excursions, to those who plan to spend some serious time exploring this beautiful country.
This book also walks the talk of eco-friendly travelling. It is printed on recycled paper (but with no loss of quality on the photography) and a percentage of the profits from the book sales go to organizations that aid Costa Rica’s future biodiversity.
Contents: This guide is in two parts: the first provides the context to the country and its people, the second is a comprehensive tour around the country, region by region. The context includes an introduction, practical matters, adventures, culture and background. The regions are San Jose and the Central Valley, Northern Mountains, Southern Mountains, Nicoya Peninsula, Central Pacific and South Pacific.
Illustrations: It is difficult to know which is the more successful in luring readers into that happy state of planning a trip to Costa Rica: the text or the photography. The quality of the photography is simply superb, whether of misty rainforest, spectacular waterfalls, or the engaging profiles of the local Ticos. And there’s lots of it! There is almost as much space devoted to the visual guide as there is to the written guide, which is an unusual but effective balance to strike. The flora and fauna is well represented (check out the endearing photo of the mother sloth with her baby as you open the book) and every corner of the country is covered with these photo essays. And to cap it off: even the copious maps are clear, useful and well-drawn…High praise from me, as readers of these reviews well know!
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: James is an award-winning travel writer and photographer who now lives in Costa Rica. I will be trying to find copies of his previous Complete Guides to… Acadia, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and one of my favourite US National Parks, Joshua Tree in California.
Publisher: Destination Press; (2013); ISBN: 978-0-9678904-8-7
Website: www.ipgbook.com and www.jameskaiser.com.
Price: $25.95 (paperback); 498 pages
Title: Into the Silence
Author: Wade Davis
Summary: This book was the winner of the 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize, the most prestigious literary prize for nonfiction in the English Language. It is a richly engaging account of the three 1920’s attempts by British expeditions to climb into the unknown on the newly discovered highest mountain in the world.
Chris’ View: On June 8th, 1924, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were seen less than a thousand feet below the summit of Mount Everest, climbing steadily. Then clouds swept over the summit ridge obscuring their distant figures…and they were never seen alive again. This tragically heroic scene and the question as to whether they made the summit before perishing, has spawned so many books and films over the intervening years that I really didn’t think a new book on the subject could take my understanding of the event much further. I was very wrong. This book is a superlative evocation of that climb ‘Into the Silence’ that left me wanting yet more than the 600+ pages had already served up.
The book’s subtitle, “The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest”, is an indication of the importance of the context of this undertaking to the adventure on the mountain itself. Almost all of the players in the dramas of the three expeditions were participants, witnesses and survivors of the Great War. The unutterable blasphemy of that conflict spawned men that were all too familiar with death. They were not only able, but almost enthusiastic about staring death in the face. Urged on by a wave of redemptive emotion from a country that desperately needed to recapture a lost national pride and purpose, these flawed heroes strove toward the highest peak that exploration and conquest offered.
What a story! And what a story teller! The Author has melded endlessly detailed and painstaking research to epic yarn telling to produce one of the truly great books of modern nonfiction. By exploring the individual expedition members’ wartime experiences and fleshing out the players’ characters through the copious journals that each kept, Wade Davis brings them to life. You care about them. You become involved with them, sharing their sense of wonder, their disappointments, their hopes. It’s truly a great read.
As a school kid I met John Noel, the ground-breaking filmmaker on the 1924 expedition, whose memories of that legendary climb were still fresh, though he was in his eighties. My university undergraduate years were spent at Magdalene College, Cambridge – Mallory’s college – overlooking the Courtyard that is named after him. So I have always felt a personal empathy to this greatest of all mountaineering stories. This book has brought me to a closer understanding and reverence of all the people involved in this undertaking than I would ever have thought possible.
I look forward with great anticipation to Wade Davis’ plans to publish “Sheets of Distant Rain” in 2014, an edited volume of the journals and letters of Oliver Wheeler, the first Canadian on Everest and key participant in this great adventure.
Will Appeal To: History buffs and armchair travellers will become engrossed in this book. Anyone who loves a meticulously detailed and researched work of nonfiction will be in awe. And anyone who has become sucked into the great mystery of Mallory and Irving will find answers here…but not, of course, the answer to the Ultimate Question: did they or didn’t they?
Contents: Thirteen chapters take us through our journey from a gathering of the great and the good on Great Gable at 2,949 feet in the English Lake District in the first chapter to the well-known disappearance of Mallory and Irving somewhere between 28,200 and 29,035 feet on Everest in the final chapter. By an extraordinary coincidence, this great altitudinal and geographical distance is joined together in time: both events took place on the same day in 1924.
Illustrations:There are several pages of excellent maps at the start of the book which I found myself constantly referring back to as I read the book. It’s such a pleasure to see such well thought out maps that add immeasurably to the text. There is also a section of 41 black and white photographs, mostly from the 1920’s, that add often enigmatic portraits of most of the main characters in the book.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Wade Davis currently rejoices in the title of Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic in Washington DC. He is an award-winning anthropologist and has written fifteen books and counting. This book was celebrated as a Sunday Times Best History Book and a Financial Times Best Travel Book. You can view his National Geographic presentation on this book here: www.youtube.com.
Publisher: Vintage Canada, Random House; (2012); ISBN: 978-0-676-97920.
Website: www.daviswade.com. Click on this link just to enjoy some of his stunning photographs.
Price: $22.95 (paperback) $16.99 (Kindle edition); 656 pages
Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know
Title: Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know
Author: Ranulph Fiennes.
Summary: The title refers to the description of the author by his protective prospective father-in-law, who aptly summed up this eccentric, foolhardy, but ultimately heroic explorer whilst Ranulph Fiennes was courting his daughter. The author ultimately wed his childhood love and this romantic thread shines through all the stories of his crazy expeditions to link the many travels in this very readable travelogue autobiography.
Chris’ View: This book will convince you that armchair travelling is sometimes much to be preferred over going to the sorts of places covered in this book!
Ran Fiennes is a throwback to the swashbuckling British explorers of the past and is living (just) proof that the age of exploration is not yet dead. There will always be extreme regions of the earth that can be reached in more extreme ways.
The early chapters are a revealing insight into what makes this man tick – although in many ways the reader is left suspecting that the love of his life, Ginny, is really the only other person who truly knew him. Fiennes's father was killed in the Second World War, he hated his time at Britain’s most prestigious school Eton, he saw service with the Royal Scots Greys, and was expelled from the SAS before his expedition life took off.
Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know is chiefly the account of these post-1987 expeditions. Remorseless derring-do ends with crotch rot, kidney stones and a grim catalogue of other physical suffering which reaches a climax in 2000, in a way that sent shivers down my spine and is too grisly to recount here.
Most of his expeditions focus on the Polar Regions, both north and south. Just when you think that every conceivable way of travelling in these brilliant but deadly regions has been accomplished, Fiennes comes up with another ‘first’. In recounting these adventures, he paints a wonderful portrait of parts of the world that we will be unlikely ever to see first-hand. It is a privileged view, but at times a harrowing one, as he and his companions suffer greatly along the way.
Besides polar missions, the book also features interludes in the desert of Oman and even a hunt for a Nazi criminal. A heart attack does not stop him from running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, and even attempting to climb Everest via the Tibetan north side. He actually got to within a few hundred meters of the summit before turning back in a rare display of self-preserving good judgment; he returned to successfully complete his ascent after this book was published.
For me, the most exciting and brilliantly descriptive chapter in this book is when he decides to tackle his lifelong problem with vertigo (yes, seriously) by mastering the techniques of rope-work in his mid-60s, and with frost-bitten shortened fingers making a successful guided ascent of one of the great mountaineering challenges – the North face of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps.
Ultimately he has raised more than $15m for charity across his expeditions and continues to do so as he plans further adventures in unforgiving places. Read this book – you will not put it down until the “Murder Wall” is conquered.
Will Appeal To: The author is not only a first class travel writer, but he is also a master yarn teller too. So this book will appeal to anyone who likes a rollicking tale of adventure far beyond the bounds of normal men. If you have a fascination for the Great White North and South too, then you will not be able to put this down.
Contents: The 20 chapters generally focus on individual expeditions, although the first handful take the reader through his early life and are particularly helpful as an aid to understanding his subsequent motivation. There is also a series of Appendices which include a fascinating family tree from 1144 AD and some outline tips on organizing Polar Expeditions – although it’s unlikely that you will be considering doing so after reading this book!
Illustrations: There are 15 rather grainy photographs included which do not add much value to the narrative, but the nine maps help locate his various expeditions.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Ran Fiennes – or to be more formal, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE – has seldom been out of the news for long in the last forty years. He has led numerous expeditions from the White Nile in 1969 to his current polar expedition (Jan 2013) and has written over twenty books. In 2009 he became the oldest Englishman to climb Mount Everest.
Publisher: Hodder; (2008); ISBN: 978-1-444-71181-3
Price: $5.67 Amazon.ca (paperback); $9.76 e-book; 404 pages
Title: Echoes of Earth
Author: L. Sue Baugh.
Summary: Sue Baugh and Lynn Martinelli combine prose and photography to capture the mysteries of the oldest geological formations exposed on Earth.
Chris’ View: This book brings together two of my passions: travel and rocks. There are just a few places on our planet where the most ancient rocks of Earth’s remotest past have been exposed. The author travelled to these places to experience what it feels like to walk on rocks that whisper echoes of that past from billions of years ago. She found that they were more than just old rocks, that the places where these emerge from under the younger detritus of the ages have an almost mystical resonance with the human psyche. The reader journeys with her as she comes to recognize this and involves us in this unique quest.
The prose is brought to life by the visual presentation of these wonderfully remote places. The excellent photography is amplified by an innovative use of page formats with cutouts, half pages and complex foldouts that make the photos somehow larger than life.
This is a very evocative book…yet it is also a scientific one too. It provides a very effective way of wrapping our brains around the unimaginable age of the earth and the insignificance of our own time on the planet. Yet it also ties us inextricably to this eons-old story through our very bones and bacteria.
Will Appeal To: You don’t have to be a geologist to appreciate the beauty of this volume. In fact, that is one of its achievements: it takes the lay person on a guided tour of exotic places that are at the heart of our own existence and illustrates them innovatively. It’s a coffee table book for sure, but one which will grace any home and provoke wonder and a hankering to travel to some of these destinations.
Contents: There are 9 chapters, six of which whisk us away to exotic destinations in Australia, Greenland, Canada and the United States. The remaining three provide a human context in which to fit these places. There are also sections on the journeys, resources available and a timeline for the Earth.
1. Mt. Narryer, Western Australia
2. Akilia Island, Greenland
3. Blacktail Canyon, United States
4. Acasta River, NWT Canada
5. Great Slave Lake, NWT Canada
6. Shark Bay, Western Australia
7. Ancient Minerals Within Us
8. Ancient Life Within Us
9. Art and Science of Earth History
Illustrations: The photography is what makes this book soar. Close-ups and aerial shots, landscapes and satellite pictures combine to provide the reader with a real sense not only of the place, but also of the wonder that the places evoke. In some ways, this is a picture book, as the illustrations dominate the volume, but the text works in harmony to produce a heady cocktail!.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Sue Baugh has a background of creative writing, editing and illustrating.
Publisher: Wild Stone Arts; (2012); ISBN: 978-0-9838576-3-1
Price: $40 (hardback); 212 pages
Title: The Great Game
Author: Peter Hopkirk.
Summary: “The Great Game” is an apt description of the explorations and conflicts in 19th century Central Asia as the Russian and British Empires slowly closed the gap between their borders and in the process spawned some of the most remarkable explorer-spies ever to venture into the unknown.
Chris’ View: This book should be required reading for all current leaders and politicians who believe that the current war in Afghanistan is “winnable”. History says otherwise. There is a moment in this riveting narrative that recounts how a British army of 16,000 marched into Afghanistan from India at the height of the Imperial Empire’s power, occupied Kabul, couldn’t control the tribes in the countryside, and eventually retreated back to India…minus 15,999 members of the army.
Aside from the political lessons this book can teach, it really is a damn fine read as well! It’s a rollicking tale of real-life heroes prepared to do-or-die for their Queen or Czar as the two most powerful nations on earth at that time, Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia, fought a little-known war in the lonely passes and deserts of Central Asia. Rudyard Kipling called it "The Great Game," and when it began at the opening of the 19th century, the two rival empires lay nearly 2,000 miles apart. By the end, at the dawn of the 20th century, some Russian outposts were within 20 miles of India.
As the game played out, adventurers disguised as holy men or native horse-traders mapped secret passes, gathered intelligence, and sought the allegiance of powerful khans. Some never returned from the vermin-infested pits into which they were cast. The violent repercussions of the Great Game are still convulsing Central Asia today.
This is an epic tale of the fall of princedoms, impossible courage under fire; besieged cities; history made and destroyed…all set against a backdrop of some of the most savage yet majestic landscape on the planet. 'Peter Hopkirk is truly the Laureate of the Great Game' says Jan Morris. I agree entirely.
Will Appeal To: Anyone who wants to make sense of the news from this part of the world, especially Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan. And to all who like ripping yarns of Boys Own Adventure style…which just happen to be real history of a fascinating time and place.
Contents: There are 37 chapters grouped into three sections:
- The Beginnings: covers the period from when the Russians shook off the yoke of the Mongol hordes to the start of the Victorian era of British Empire blooming in the 1830’s
- The Middle Years: is an account of the individual heroes and villains of the Great game from both the Russian and The British sides through to the mid 1850’s
- The Climactic Years: follows the rapid expansion of the Russian Empire eastwards and southwards and the British Empire’s reaction to this perceived threat to India through to the dawn of the 20th century.
Illustrations: My Folio Society edition of the book (a handsome, but expensive, hardback edition $89.95 at www.foliosociety.com) features 50 full colour illustrations of the main players of the Game and contemporary sketches and photographs which add considerably to the narrative. There are also six invaluable maps – I found myself constantly referring to the end-paper map in particular to keep my bearings in the narrative.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Peter Hopkirk has travelled widely in the regions where his six books are set - Central Asia, the Caucasus, China, India and Pakistan, Iran, and Eastern Turkey. He has worked as a UK news reporter and for twenty years on The Times. He has twice been held in secret police cells and has also been hijacked by Arab terrorists. His works have been translated into fourteen languages.
Publisher: John Murray Publishers Ltd; (2006); ISBN: 978-0-71956-4475
Price: $15.70 (paperback); 592 pages
Title: Driving Home
Author: Jonathan Raban.
Summary: Driving Home’s subtitle is “An American Journey”. This is a journey through not only the physical landscapes of America’s Pacific Northwest, but also a journey through the psyche of Americans. The journey makes real the mountains, deserts and ocean of Washington State…and also the people who live there. And more broadly still, the book illuminates American society as perhaps only a book written by an insider/outsider really can.
Chris’ View: Jonathan Raban – an established writer in his late 40’s – moved on impulse to Seattle in 1990 from England and has lived there ever since. And ever since, he has used his writer’s eyes to observe America: its people, landscapes, literature and history. This book is the personal journey of the author as he seeks to come to terms with America in order to become American, to fit into the social landscape in which he finds himself.
This is not a traditional travelogue. It is a collection of essays that taken together insightfully come closer, in my view, to making sense of America than any book on America since Steinbeck’s ‘Travels With Charley” (see below for a review of this classic). This is the thread that connects these essays, even if the thread becomes comprehensively knotted on occasion. But that’s OK, as Raban’s writing is always witty and entertaining, even when he takes off at a tangent. The tangent usually involves the ocean, as he has an infectious affinity with all things nautical which can even tempt a landlubber like me to think of taking to the water.
The essays range from true travelogues to analyses of current political events and past historical explorations; from autobiographical musings to the ultimate question for globetrotters: “Why Travel?” And somewhere along the way I realized that I had been gifted a better understanding of why America is the way it is. It’s a gift well worth receiving.
Will Appeal To: If you seek to make sense of our often bewildering neighbour, who is so close to us in many ways and yet doesn’t even spell ‘neighbor’ the same way as we do…then this book will be both entertaining and enlightening.
Contents: The chapters are really short stories or essays – 44 of them in total. Most are pithy observations of less than a dozen pages, but the book launches with a sixty-page ‘mother story’ that sets the context for what follows.
Illustrations: There are none.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Jonathan Raban is a much-respected author of both fiction and travel works. I also particularly recommend “Passage to Juneau” and “Old Glory”.
Publisher: Random House; (2011); ISBN: 978-0-307-37991-7
Price: : $34 (hard cover); 512 pages
Title: Route 66 Still Kicks
Author: Rick Antonson.
Summary: You’ve been bombarded by the ad campaign for “The Land of Dreams” – this book will take you along “The Road of Dreams” that winds through that Land of Dreams. Route 66 has many monikers, including “America’s Road” and Rick takes us down just about every mile of every route variation that remains accessible. For, as the song says: “If you ever plan to motor west , Travel my way, take the highway that's the best, Get your kicks on Route sixty-six, It winds from Chicago to LA - More than two thousand miles all the way: Get your kicks on Route sixty-six”.
Chris’ View: Wherever my travels in the US have connected with America’s Road, I have sought it out and always enjoyed the ride, however brief. Missouri, Kansas, Illinois and California – just brief snapshots of the 2,400 miles of this cross-section of America.
Rick does so much more than this on his journey on all the remaining bits of Route 66 he can find. He has two companions. One is Peter (who turns out to be Peter Armstrong, Exec Chairman and Founder of Rocky Mountaineer). Peter is a very different character to the author, leading to a thread of on-going banter that enlivens the narrative throughout - sometimes to the point of involuntary chuckles-out-loud. The other companion is their Mustang convertible, which develops a tolerant but much-abused character of its own… so much so, that Peter ends up talking to it as much as he does to Rick.
The journey that Rick relates is paralleled by their journey through American society. It sparkles with the people they meet on their way, and with intriguing historical sketches of past characters whose lives became entwined with Route 66, such as Al Capone, Mickey Mantle and John Steinbeck. And of course Bobby Troup who wrote the song lyrics, referenced in the book’s title and above, that launched the trajectory of a stitched-together highway into The Road of Dreams.
This is an easy, good natured, well-researched and entertaining read about an American icon that taps a rich vein of American nostalgia. As Rick says in his Epilogue, “Travelling Route 66 is not about understanding America; it is about contemplating America. The difference is vast. America is not to be understood”.
Will Appeal To: If you like road trips, then you’ll have fun with this book!
Contents: The chapters follow Rick’s progress from Chicago to LA with an Introduction, twelve chapters and an Epilogue, plus a useful Chronology of Route 66.
Illustrations: The scattered black-and-white images are not the reason you will buy this book, nor are the maps. The photos work best when they focus on the two protagonists experiences - nowhere more so than when Rick is up to his armpits in mud as they seek to escape from another muddy swamp whilst trying to follow parts of the old Route 66 that are sinking into oblivion.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Rick Antonson is the President and CEO of Tourism Vancouver and the author of several other travel books. I recommend his “To Timbuktu for a Haircut: A Journey Through West Africa”; if you enjoy Route 66, you will enjoy this travelogue too.
Publisher: Dundurn; (2012); ISBN: 978-1-45970-436-7
Price: : $26.99 (soft cover) $12.99 (Ebook); 336 pages
Title: Frommer’s Far & Wide
Author: A number of respected writers have contributed to this book, including two I am happy to call friends: Jillian Dickens and Helena Katz.
Summary: The sub-title of this book is a neat summary: ‘A Weekly Guide to Canada’s Best Travel Experiences’. A clutch of much-respected and experienced travel writers present their recommendations for adventure, culture, history, nature, events, festivals, quirky corners, relaxation and rejuvenation. Over 350 in all, each grouped by timing throughout the year.
Chris’ View: One of the most often-asked questions on my radio Travel Show is, “When is the best time to go to this destination?’ Now there’s a comprehensive answer – at least if your destination is Canadian.
This latest concept guide book from the market leading Frommer’s is a clever idea. Take some of the best minds in travel, ask them for their favourite Canadian travel experiences and then group them by week of the year to provide a guide to the best of Canadian travel. Oh, and add some dramatic photography to brings the recommendations to vivid life. This guide works as a coffee table book, but it’s also an effective planning tool for any Canadian who thinks grumpily, ‘What to do?’ toward the end of a long, hard winter (Answer: March, week 4: Get a taste of spring at a countryside sugar shack in rural Quebec!).
Will Appeal To: Every Canadian with a heartbeat. Really: if you can’t find a place, an event or an experience in this book that doesn’t absolutely hook you, then you are either the most fortunately well-travelled Canadian that I have ever come across, or you are without an imagination! All ages, all levels of adventure and culture – there’s something for everyone.
Contents: This guide is organized not by place, but by time. There are monthly chapters, January through December, each split into four weeks. For each week, one headline experience is recommended, followed by six other choices. All are supported by website links for further information and all are plotted on a map at the end of each monthly chapter. There’s also a handy index of all the recommendations at the start of the monthly chapter.
Illustrations: This is a brightly visual guide, with full colour photographs on every page. Because this is a fairly large format book (21 x 27cms), the photographs are also expansive and picked to illustrate the main recommendations throughout the year. In fact the images are so eye-grabbing that they are an effective way of deciding which of the events or experiences to plan for – just flick through the guide until one stops you in your tracks.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Frommer’s are my go-to guide book company and they have a guide for every sort of traveler. They currently publish around 300 guides with sales of over two million every year.
Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Canada; (2011); ISBN: 978-1-118-09168-5
Price: : $34.95 (soft cover); 320 pages
Title: Tschiffely’s Ride
Author: Aimé Tschiffely
Summary: In 1925 at the age of 30, A.F. Tschiffely (as he was better known) decided to undertake a journey by horseback from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Washington DC. At the time, and to this day, most would assume this could not be done. He wrote about his ride in this bestselling book in which he recounts his epic almost three-year journey from 1925 to 1928 on two native horses named Mancha (meaning Spotty) and Gato (meaning Cat), direct descendants from the first horses brought to the new world.
Chris’ View: This was the book that I hated most to leave out of my Top Ten Travel Books of all time at Chris' Top 10 Travel Books. I read this book as a lad, as a youth, as a travel professional and I will continue to no doubt to read this into my bath-chair dotage, so I am taking this opportunity to introduce others to this most charming of epic travellers.
Tschiffely had been teaching in an English-American school in Argentina for almost a decade when he conceived his audacious plan: to travel from Buenos Aires to New York-16,000 kms-on horseback. In April 1925, Tschiffely set out with two native Argentine horses, Mancho and Gato, and with unwavering determination, the trio traversed the Pampas, scaled the Bolivian Andes, struggled through Peruvian deserts, swam the crocodile-infested rivers of Columbia, and fought their way through the jungles of Panama. They crossed Central America through countries devastated by years of war to finally reach Washington D.C. where he was greeted by US President Coolidge. The three had been together, exclusively, for more than two years; during that time, Tschiffely developed a touching relationship with his horses-an affinity that has seldom been equaled.
With humour, acute observation and under-stated bravery, the author envelops the reader not only in the places that he passes through but also in the time period of his journey – almost a century ago. His personal armoury was particularly impressive – and necessary at times – yet his views of the people, governments and especially the Church were ahead of the times. At times a rollicking adventure tale, at times descriptive genius and always warm-hearted, this colourful account is a true classic of travel literature and perhaps one of the greatest animal stories ever written.
Will Appeal To: If you love animals and books about animals, you will adore this book. If you love to read of epic journeys, you will not be able to put this book down. If you love both of these, you will be in seventh heaven!
Contents: It depends upon which of the many editions you read, but my old hardback copy dating back to 1945 has innumerable short mini-chapters with such wonderful titles as “Landslides-A Detour-A Mountain Storm”, “Into the Green Labyrinth”, “Through Mighty Quebradas” and “The Great Swamp Barrier”.
Illustrations: My copy (see above) has 26 evocative black and white photographs of the journey – but don’t expect the pre-Incan site of Tiahuanacu to look like that anymore…There is also a full page map of his route through the Americas.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Tschiffely was a Swiss-born, Argentine professor, writer, and adventurer. He was a household name in North America during the 1930’s, meeting with President Calvin Coolidge and appearing in National Geographic Magazine and earning a lucrative living from his popular book sales. In 1937 he returned to South America and made another journey, by car, to the southern tip of the continent, recording his experiences in This Way Southward (1940).
Publisher: Originally: Heinemann (1933); Currently Pallas Athene (UK) ISBN - 10:1873429703 and ISBN - 13:9781873429709
Price: : $27.95 (paperback) on www.indigo.ca ; 296 pages
Title: The Places In Between
Author: Rory Stewart
Summary: This is an account of an epic walk across the mountainous face of Afghanistan in a brief window of opportunity immediately after the Taliban were pushed from government in Kabul. With understated lucidity, the author brings to life the beauty and the savagery of the people and the landscapes of the Hindu Kush. It is deeply personal, totally engaging and evocatively written. No one who reads this book could believe that it possible or appropriate to impose a Western-style form of centralised government on the people who have successfully protected their tribal independence for milllenia.
Chris’ View: This is a magnificent book on many levels. It succeeds hugely as a travelogue, a thoughtful personal account of a journey through a strange land and stranger people. It radiates humanity, even when the author is stoned or refused a shelter for the night. It’s a tragic love story featuring a dog as a character who grows more and more real as the pages are turned. Full of gentle self-deprecating humour and understanding, the respect which the author holds for all the people he encounters (as well as his obvious language skills) enables him to interact with his hosts in a way that brings each short chapter to life.
Rory Stewart is a brave man, for this is a journey that few would have seen through to the end. He insists on walking the whole way, through desert, mountain passes, settlements destroyed by warring factions, snows over his head and tribal lands fraught with danger. His life was saved by the generous hospitality of the people he encountered (as well as by his new-found dog, Babur) and it was threatened by the people he encountered.
In between these personal interactions, he conjures up a landscape that remains as a vivid backdrop to the reader as his journey progresses. I have been fortunate enough to travel to just a few of the places described in this book in earlier, less anguished times and I can vouch that his is a truly authentic account of the wonders of this part of the world that has become so familiar to us for all the wrong reasons.
If only our politicians had read this book before engaging in the current ten year war in Afghanistan, countless lives may have been saved. For it becomes clearer with every hard-won mile that he treks, that there can be no prospect of any meaningful centralised government being imposed upon these independent people – whether it be the inhumanity of the Taliban or the well-intentioned democratic ideals of the West. If you want to see behind the headlines in the daily newscasts, this is the book to read.
I can give this book no higher praise than to say it ranks with and reminds me of “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush” by Eric Newby which I have listed in my Top Ten Travel Books elsewhere on this site: Chris' Top 10 Travel Books.
Will Appeal To: Adventure travel readers, newshounds, animal story lovers, history buffs.
Contents: The book is organised into seven parts as we follow the author’s journey across Afghanistan, each commencing with a map and a relevant quotation or two. Each part is divided into short chapters with often enigmatic titles such as “Salt Ground and Spikenard”.
Illustrations:There are three sorts of illustrations in my edition: maps of the Author’s route, a photo section and line drawings by the Author. In combination, they add considerably to the enjoyment of this book.
Where Have I Heard of the Author?: Rory Stewart has written for the New York Times Magazine, Granta, and The London Review of Books. A former fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire by the British government for services in Iraq. He is also the author of The Prince of the Marshes.
Publisher: Harvest Paperback Original; (2006); ISBN 0-15-603156-6
Website: www.rorystewartbooks.com www.penguin.ca
Price: $18.00 (soft cover); 320 pages
Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents
Title: Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents
Author: Elisabeth Eaves
Summary: Is this a travelogue or an autobiography? In truth, it is both. Follow the author through the world and through her life and she moves over 15 years from student backpacker to woman of the world.
Chris’ View: In some respects, reading this book is like watching a train wreck in slow motion…And yet somehow I very much enjoyed the experience. It is a mesmerising rite of passage, a 21st century global “Cider with Rosie”. Now there’s a compliment!
It is a brutally honest account of the writer’s roller-coaster ride from adolescence to maturity using travel and relationships as the twin catalysts. We, the reader, are the psychologist on the couch listening to the revelations along the way as she weaves her way through places and men to cathartic stability.
It’s quite the story. And it works so well because of the author’s honesty and contagious enthusiasm for travel. This is not only great armchair travel reading, but also great armchair relationship reading too! Her prose is alternating shocking and beautiful. At times, it’s like watching a child chasing butterflies as she recounts countries and men that she falls in love with and leaves in bewildering rapidity. Spain, France, Egypt, Yemen, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Mexico, Pakistan, Tonga, New Guinea, Graham, Pepe, Stu, Kamran, Mark, Nathan, Justin, Raphael, Paul…All fly by in a whirl of colourful flashes, the places and the lovers somehow so intertwined that it seems natural to leave both behind when moving on.
Wanderlust is well named on many levels, but at its heart is the writer’s tangible lust for wandering the globe, wherever the winds of education, career, relationships and even literal ocean winds blow. In doing so, we discover her, and she discovers herself. It’s a journey worth taking.
Will Appeal To: Younger travellers who have ‘ants in their pants’ will truly get this book and older travellers will gain a better understanding of the very different world view of the next generation! But not a book for your maiden aunt perhaps…
Contents: The book is organised into 34 short chapters, some only two or three pages long, and these chapters are sorted into three progressing parts:
Part One: Liberation
Part Two: Luck
Part Three: Momentum
Illustrations: There are no photos, illustrations or maps…except an enigmatic photo of the writer at the very end of the book.
Where Have I Heard of him?: Elisabeth Eaves' travel essays have been anthologized in The Best American Travel Writing, The Best Women's Travel Writing, and A Moveable Feast: Life-Changing Food Adventures from Around the World. Her writing has also appeared in numerous publications, including Forbes, Harper's, the New York Times, Slate, and the Wall Street Journal, and she holds a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University
Publisher: Seal Press (2011); ISBN 13: 978 -1 -58005-311-2
Price: $16.95 (soft cover); 304 pages
Title: Maya Roads
Author: Mary Jo McConahay
Summary: This beautifully written and evocative book takes us on a journey through time and space to gain a privileged insight into the culture, past and present, of the Maya people. Mary Jo McConahay is brave, sympathetic, a brilliant observer of the small detail that paints a picture of a people who are at once noble, complex and tragic. This is the story of the Maya…and of Mary Jo herself.
Chris’ View: This is not a dry history book or an self-centred travelogue, but rather a sensitively observed and timely chronicle of a woman falling in love with a people whose spirit somehow survives through historical cultural collapse and modern crimes against humanity. It is timely both because the Maya people need the international support that writing such as this book evokes, and because we are approaching the pivotal Mayan calendar date of 188.8.131.52.0., the end of the Fourth Age of the World, which translates into December 21st, 2012.
The Author’s journey along Maya Roads began in 1973 in Mexico City at the National Museum of Anthropology at an exhibit on the Lacandon Maya Indians. From there, the roads seemed to lead inexorably to the border regions of Mexico and Guatemala, the Lacandon homeland. Over the next nearly forty years, her mostly solo journeys through this Maya heartland, its mysterious vestiges of past cultural glories and macabre sacrifices, takes the reader through a journey of discovery about the Maya people, the abrupt implosion of their great cultural flowering and, most importantly perhaps, the position of the surviving Maya people in today’s Central American political maelstroms.
Her writing has stirred a renewed interest in the Maya for me. I feel guilty about my lack of awareness of the atrocities perpetrated upon these people in the recent past and all-too-unknown present. I am in awe of how she is able to place the Maya people that she meets on her journeys at the centre of her narrative – never herself. Even so, this is very much a personal account, an autobiographical love affair with a people whose virtues and character demand so much more of our modern society than they have received.
Sad, yet joyous. Angry, yet sensitive. Flowery, yet factual. Travel the Maya Roads with Mary Jo and you will be swept along with her on her journeys through this unique part of our continent. .
Will Appeal To: Travel, history, geography, political journalism, autobiography…if any of these genres appeal to you, you will likely love this book. And if you have ever been to Cancun or the Riviera Maya and visited one of the nearby Maya sites and, like me, wondered just who were these enigmatic Maya people, then read on…
Contents: The chapters flow into one another like the river of dreams in the book, mixing time and place in a quilt-like pattern that moves the reader through the wonders- and the horrors – of the Maya world.
Prologue: Into the Lacandon
1. Looking for Itzam K’awil
2. Usamacinta, River of Dreams; or, The Man They Killed
3. The Skulls of San Jose Itza
4. Equal Day, Equal Night
5. Voices from the Well
6. Dead Birds, or, The Return to Naha
7. Welcome Aboard
8. They Never Came, They Never Left
9. The River, the Stars
Epilogue: Clearing the Breath from the Mirror
Illustrations: Not the reason that you will read this book – apart from a few line drawings at the start of each chapter and a very basic map of the region in the introduction, there are no illustrations or photographs, which is a shame, as the Maya people are colourful and Mary Jo ably reminds us of this throughout her book.
Where Have I Heard of her?: Mary Jo was a war correspondent covering Central America in the 1980’s; her writing has appeared in Vogue, Rolling Stone and the San Francisco Chronicle. Maya Roads is National Geographic Traveler's Book of the Month for August 2011.
Publisher: Chicago Review Press (2011); Distributed by Independent Publishers Group (1-800-888-4741) ISBN978-1-56976-548-7
Website: www.chicagoreviewpress.com www.ipgbook.com
Price: $18.95 (soft cover); 260 pages
The Khyber Pass
Title: The Khyber Pass
Author: Paddy Docherty
Summary: This book is a compelling vision of the armies and civilizations which have been compelled to funnel through the ancient route of the Khyber Pass over thousands of years on the way into and out of the Indian subcontinent. It covers over two and half thousand years of history, from the ancient Medes to the Taliban – all focused on this wild mountain pass between Central Asia and India.
Chris’ View: Nowhere does geography and history collide more spectacularly than here in the Khyber Pass, which links modern day Pakistan to Afghanistan. Travel in time as well as space with the author as he takes us from the mists of pre-history through to tonight’s news headlines via the threads of history that link many of the world’s great civilizations. It’s an amazing tale of great warriors, kings and emperors, of cruelty and savagery, of cultures that blossomed into sublime literature, science and architecture. And as you travel with Paddy Docherty, you see the physical landscape of the Khyber and its people through the eyes of a traveller as well as a historian.
For he is no dry, armchair historian. He spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2003, sometimes disguised as a local, which helps to bring alive the descriptions of invasions channeling through this narrow defile. Like the author, I have travelled the Khyber Pass, but back in 1975. It was a wild place back then too, and in some ways nothing has changed. Landi Kotal, the town at the top of the pass, was lawless in the 1970’s, with every man (and most boys) carrying rifles over their shoulder. But in the space of even these few (comparatively) years, the Communists took control of Afghanistan, the Russians invaded the country, the Mujahideen ejected them, the Taliban took over, the 9/11 tragedy was hatched and the West invaded…
In this desolate but beautiful part of the world, everything changes… and nothing changes.
Will Appeal To: Anyone who loves history, well told and researched, spiced with personal travel in one of the wildest regions of the world. This book is a must-read for anyone who thinks that there is a simple solution to the challenges in modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Contents: Each major invading civilization or barbarian horde that has erupted through the Khyber Pass features in their own chapter in this book:
1. The First Persians
2. Alexander the Great
3. The Mauryan Empire
4. Greeks and Nomads
5. The Kushans
6. Sasanian Persians and White Huns
7. The First Muslims
8. Genghis Khan and Timur
9. Mughals and Sikhs
10. The British Raj
Illustrations: A colour plate section of 16 photographs adds a splash of colour to the book and there are occasional black and white illustrations throughout the book. My favourite photo is an 1879 picture of the Afghan King meeting a pith-helmeted British delegation in posed indifference.
Where Have I Heard of Him? The Khyber Pass was chosen as a Financial Times Book of the Year. He was born in Scotland, educated in England and has lived in Africa, the Middle East, and Prague. He has been a ranch hand, chef, oil & gas consultant, internet entrepreneur, shipbroker and investment banker. Oh – and a historian and author too of course.
Publisher: Union Square Press, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co. (2008) ISBN13: 978-14027-5696-2
Websites: www.sterlingpublishing.com and www.paddydocherty.com
Price: $24.95 (hard cover); 261 pages
Crossing the Heart of Africa
Title: Crossing the Heart of Africa
Author: Julian Smith
Summary: Ewart Grogan is one of the unjustly forgotten names of African exploration. Prompted by the need to prove himself worthy of the hand of the woman he loved, he disappeared on a remarkable journey of exploration, survey and hardships into “darkest Africa”, reappearing triumphantly by the skin of his teeth two years later to claim his sweetheart. Inspired by this, travel journalist Julian Smith uses his parallel journey not only as the basis of this narrative, but more importantly as a journey toward his own commitment to his sweetheart.
Chris’ View: This book is so much more than a travelogue – excellent though it is on this account too. Superficially, these journeys parallel each other in time through some of the wildest parts of Central Africa. But these journeys also parallel each other through the respective relationships with their partners who wait for them, thousands of kilometers distant.
Ewart Grogan was a swash-buckling product of the late Victorian age. Denied the hand of his beloved Gertrude by her father, who thought him a feckless adventurer, he decided to perform a deed of such reckless fortitude that he could not be denied his prize. And so in 1898 he undertook perhaps the last great journey of exploration through Africa - from Mozambique in the south following the great African rift valleys northwards to the Nile and hence to Egypt. Companions perished, cannibals were narrowly avoided, elephants charged, starvation and thirst lurked closely and yet Grogan won through with bravado, guts and the utter conviction that the ultimate prize was worth the privation.
It’s an epic tale of travel that is ably told by Julian Smith and interwoven with his own travelogue, which is equally epic in its way. Not because it was equally dangerous – though it was certainly not easy travel, even in the 21st century – but because the author’s journey is itself a parallel journey: through Africa and through his relationship with his own love of his life, Laura.
This is a highly personal tale that works really well because of Julian Smith’s openness and honesty. As much as I admired his journey through self-doubt in his ability to commit to a life-long relationship, I also ended up equally admiring the wisdom of Laura, his long-time love, to facilitate this wild trip just a few months before their planned marriage. I’m a sucker for happy endings, and this has two. Read it and enjoy them both. .
Will Appeal To: Readers who do not normally pick up non-fiction books of any kind - let alone travel books - will enjoy this account of two journeys. For anyone struggling with commitment phobia in themselves or in others close to them, this account of one man’s journey through this land of wraiths and uncertainties to a sunnier place will be both encouraging and uplifting. The book also works more simply as a well-written, rollicking tale of adventurous travel and two journeys separated by more than a century.
Contents: Twenty-five chapters take the reader through Africa on these journeys in time and space, supplemented by a photo section and an excellent Bibliography. It’s a certain sign of a good read that I was left at the end of each chapter wanting to move on immediately to the next.
Illustrations: There are 34 black and white photographs in a special section of this book that reflect the parallel journeys of Ewart Grogan and Julian Smith through Africa, including an iconic image – the first in this section – of Grogan clad in a bush hat and with an elephant gun tucked nonchalantly under his arm. But the most interesting are the last two images of the respective couples: Ewart and Gertrude, and Julian and Laura. One gripe: the single map of their journeys is inadequate and had me delving frequently for the Africa pages of my Times Atlas.
Where Have I Heard of him?: Julian Smith writes for National Geographic, USA Today, Washington Post, New York Times and has written several travel guidebooks. This book has won the 2011 Outstanding Book Award for memoir/autobiography from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Publisher: Harper Collins (2010) ISBN 978-0-06-187347-8
Price: $14.99 (soft cover); 328 pages
The Rough Guide to Toronto
Title: The Rough Guide to Toronto
Author: Helen Lovekin and Phil Lee
Summary: One of the Rough Guides’ 200+ destination guides, this one covers off Canada’s biggest city of Toronto, providing all the information visitors will need to make the most of their time here.
Chris’ View: This is the best guidebook to Toronto. I am confident about this claim as I have read all the others – and I live in, and love, the City of Toronto. It is witty, eclectic, comprehensive, colourful and authoritative. The recommendations from the arts to family eateries are spot on. If you are planning a visit, or if you live here, my advice is the same: get a copy and enjoy!
Will Appeal To: Visitors to Toronto, and those living in the city, who wish to go beyond the obvious attractions and experience the more subtle reasons why Toronto is regularly lauded as one of the best cities on the planet.
Contents: The guide begins with colour photographs of the city to whet the appetite. No ordinary guidebook photography either: here and throughout the book, the images add real texture to the copy.
The first section of the guide, ‘Basics’, covers all the nuts and bolts of travel to and within Toronto.
The heart of the book is the Guide section, which is organized into five parts: 1. Downtown Toronto; 2. Uptown Toronto; 3. The Waterfront and Toronto islands; 4. The Suburbs; 5. Day Trips from Toronto. I particularly liked the Uptown and Suburb chapters, which are parts of the city often missed by other guide books.
The Listings section does a great job for accommodations, food, the social scene, lifestyle, shopping, sports and festivals.
The final section is a very readable review of historical and literary Toronto.
Illustrations: Unlike so many guide books, the illustrations serve the guide well. Two colour photography sections bookend the guide, the first to hook the potential visitor with the top twenty things not to miss in the city, while the last brings to life the chapter on Canadian art. A third colour section pops up in the middle of the book to provide visual evidence of the architectural vitality of Toronto. Black and white photographs are used sparingly throughout the book. Maps are a real litmus test for me for any guide book’s effectiveness, and this guide is well blessed with excellent examples that provide the reader with real direction in the city. In particular, the colour maps at the end of the book are really excellent.
Where Have I Heard of the Authors?: The co-authors are clearly an effective duo who skills have merged to produce this winning guide. Phil Lee is a prolific British travel writer with over a dozen Rough Guides to his name. Helen Lovekin has written only this guide book, but as a native Torontonian, her love for the city shines through the pages and her infectious enthusiasm wins over the reader repeatedly. I have also had the pleasure of having Helen as the guest on my radio shows as an eloquent and stylish spokesperson for Ontario Tourism.
Publisher: Rough Guides (2009) ISBN 978-1-84836-074-7
Price: $22.99 (soft cover); 250 pages
Title: Global Warring
Author: Cleo Paskal
Summary: Global Warring is an apt play on words, because as the author looks beyond the increasingly obvious science of climate change inevitability, she takes us on a tour of the consequences of global warming at a macro level around the world. In doing so, she explains what is happening geopolitically now and what we will have to cope with in the near and medium-term future.
Chris’ View: I travelled with Cleo some years ago on a media trip to Hong Kong for Chinese New Year and our boisterous debates on world politics were a highlight of that trip. So I looked forward to reading this book greatly. I was not disappointed. There’s much of the author’s character in these pages. Opinionated, but hugely informed. Strident, but with dry humour studded throughout the narrative. This is an engaging and concerned overview of what climate change means to international relationships both now and in the future. Cleo is very much plugged into some of the key players and institutions that constitute the chess pieces on the global board – especially in India, which along with China, is clearly going to play an increasingly important role in what is to come.
This book is at its best when it examines the very different ways in which the leading power blocs react to global climate change developments: the US, the EU, Russia, China and India are all very differently placed to cope with the changes and to plan for the changes. There are many wake-up calls for readers in the Western World. The implications of an ice-free Northwest Passage are of particular interest to Canadian readers of course. She also contrasts the obvious failures of the US to cope effectively with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with the ruthless efficiency of China in the following year when it was hit by a series of nine typhoons and evacuated 1.5 million citizens to safety. But she also points out the Achilles heel of China’s centralized planning system which may ultimately lead to suffering on a tragic scale as climate change unfolds in Asia.
Whilst this is not a travel book in the classic sense, this is a book that is relevant to all travellers, armchair or globetrotting. Read it. Join the debate. And let’s get our politicians to actually do something to mitigate the effects of climate change. The clock’s ticking. As Cleo says, finally, “We have adapted to environmental change before, and we can do it again. It would just be nice, if this time around, there weren’t quite so much human sacrifice involved”.
Will Appeal To: All readers with a world view will find this book worthwhile. If you have a passion for politics writ large; if you are constantly trying to make sense of China’s international strategies; if you are concerned about the growing number of natural catastrophes; if you want to know more about where we are going as a global community…Then this book is for you.
Contents: The book is arranged in four parts, eleven chapters, an introduction and conclusion:
Introduction: Been There, Done That, and All I Got Were These Lousy Extinctions (I told you that Cleo has a wry sense of humour…)
Part One: The USS Sieve
Part Two: The New Geopolitical Icebergs
Part Three: Precipitating Change in Asia and Beyond
Part Four: The Turbulent Pacific
Conclusion: Weathering the Change (I’ll forgive the awful pun, Cleo…)
Illustrations: Not the strong part of the book, but there’s a handful of basic maps that help the reader get their bearings as they flit from country to country across the globe.
Where Have I Heard of Her?: Although Cleo Paskal’s scholarly associations include universities in India and the UK and organizations in Europe and the US, you probably know her from her award-winning writing in Canada’s national newspapers, including her current column in The Toronto Star.
Publisher: Palgrave MacMillan ISBN: 978-0-230-62181-7
Price: $27 (hard cover); 288 pages
Panama: National Geographic Traveler
Title: Panama: National Geographic Traveler
Author: Christopher P. Baker
Summary: If you are thinking about Panama as a potential destination for your next trip, this is the guidebook for you. It’s great for planning a trip of many weeks touring the country, or for the one week packaged tourist who just wants to research a couple of excursions to see the real Panama away from the beach.
Chris’ View: I have just “road-tested” this guidebook during a family trip to Panama. My copy of the book is now a little damp from the rainforest, a little gritty with sand from the Pacific beaches and a little scrunched around the edges from constant use – in short it looks the way a good guidebook should look if it has been useful! And useful, it certainly was.
My trip was planned around three components to keep everyone in the family happy: the beach, the Canal and the rainforest. For each of these, the guidebook opened up opportunities to understand and see more that we would otherwise have imagined. Clear, precise text supported by enticing photography is a potent combination, and one that led us to see more than we would otherwise have done. This to me is the mission of all good destination guides.
For the beach component in Playa Farallon we learnt of local restaurants outside of the all-inclusive resort that were within walking distance. Activities such as surfing that were available just half an hour away. And which excursions into the mountains that were worthy of consideration. For our partial transit of the Panama Canal, we read about the heart-breaking history of its construction and how the great locks work as our boat rose from the Pacific Ocean to Gatun Lake, 85 feet above sea level. And for our stay at Gamboa in the Parque Nacional Soberania, the guide suggested hikes and activities which were a joy to experience.
I recommend not only Panama as a memorable destination, but also Christopher Baker’s guidebook as an effective key to unlocking the marvels of this beautiful country.
Will Appeal To: Panama is becoming more and more accessible to ‘ordinary tourists’, as mass market tour operators in Canada (such as Nolitours and Sunwing) introduce the destination into their mainstream brochures. So this guidebook is a hand-luggage sized (21x13cm) companion for the flight down to Panama and will inspire readers to explore much farther than the glorious pacific Coast beaches of this fascinating country.
Contents: The guide flows naturally from an introductory section on the history and culture of Panama, through eight chapters on the different regions of the country and ending with practical information for travellers in the ‘Travelwise’ section. The regional chapters include special features such as the wild cats of Panama and driving the Interamerican Highway.
Illustrations: With a guide produced by National Geographic, you might expect that the photography would be a highlight of the book – and you would be absolutely right. Gilles Mingasson as the photographer has done a magnificent job in bringing the destination to life with his vibrant pictures of the people and the country which are liberally sprinkled throughout the guide. The National Geographic team of artists has also produced clear and useful maps of the country and its regions, plus touring maps and illustrations of special features, such as the Panama Canal.
Where Have I Heard of Him?: Christopher Baker is a prolific travel writer – his work has appeared in over 150 publications around the world. He has also written the national Geographic Traveler guidebooks for Costa Rica and Cuba, as well as the excellent Moon Travel Handbook on Costa Rica.
Publisher: National Geographic Society (2007) ISBN -13: 978-1-4262-0146-2
Price: $29.95 (National Geographic Society soft cover); 274 pages
Title: Atlas of Remote Islands
Author: Judith Schalansky
Summary: Not an atlas – or at least, not only an atlas – this is a collection of fifty short essays on obscure islands around the world. But that’s like describing “Travels with Charley” (see below) as a trip across the States. This is a world-girdling flight of fancy peeking into windows of time over weird and wonderful oceanic rocks, all packaged up in a sumptuously illustrated and typographed book that is a pleasure to spend time with.
Chris’ View: I’ve shot my bolt with the summary above. For this is more than a travel book: it a small work of art. The author not only wrote the essays, but she also designed and typeset the book. And if, like me, you thought that typesetting was largely irrelevant to your enjoyment of a book – read Atlas of Remote Islands. It’s just gorgeous to open and leaf through.
And then there are the fifty essays. Each one is just a few paragraphs, but each provides a flash of light on otherwise little known islands in all five oceans. The tales are quirky stories of people and places lost in time and oceanic swells. The islands themselves range from the tiny Tromelin (at less than one square kilometre) to more substantial, but equally unknown, Semisopochnoi (at 222 square kilometres), and from uninhabited chunks of rock and ice like Peter Island in the Antarctic to crowded arks like Brava in the tropical Cape Verde Islands with over 6,000 souls. All fifty are intriguing dots in atlas maps of the oceans. For all fifty the author has discovered and explored briefly a moment in time when these dots played an important role in the lives of people – explorers, castaways, convicts, madmen and scientists.
Perhaps the most poignant of all the tales is that of Takuu, a Pacific atoll that rises barely a meter above high tide. It is home to 560 people but is being inexorably lost to rising sea levels consequent on global forces that they neither impact nor understand. The next edition of Atlas of Remote Islands may contain one less essay.
Will Appeal To: Atlas of Remote Islands has broad appeal that extends far beyond armchair travellers. It’s an easy read and best dipped into a few islands at a time. I found myself rationing my reading so that I didn’t end my journey too quickly. It would be a perfect gift for a friend – or for you!
Contents: There is both a logic and a delightful randomness in the way this book is organized. An all-important introductory essay launches us into the author’s world of whimsy – it is essential reading to make sense of where she takes us next. The island essays are grouped by the oceans that surround them but within their oceanic settings we dart around all over the place, erratically and effortlessly.
- Arctic Ocean
- Atlantic Ocean
- Indian Ocean
- Pacific Ocean
- Antarctic Ocean
Illustrations: All fifty island essays are accompanied by an exquisite map of the island, each drawn to the same 1:125,000 scale. Each is headed by a timescale of significant events and a global positioning pictogram.
Where Have I Heard of Her?: Judith Schalansky was born and educated in East Germany. The Atlas is Judith’s first travel book and it has been recognised as the most beautiful German book.
Publisher: Penguin Books (2009) ISBN 978-0-14-311820-6
Price: $35 (Penguin hard cover); 144 pages
Title: Travels with Charley
Author: John Steinbeck
Summary: In 1960, when he was almost sixty years old, John Steinbeck set out to rediscover his native land. He felt that he might have lost touch with its sights, sounds and the essence of its people. Accompanied only by his dog, Charley, he travelled 10,000 miles all across the United States in a pick-up truck called Rocinante. His journey took him through 34 states, and he saw things that made him proud, angry, sympathetic and elated – all described with his trademark honesty and insight.
Chris’ View: I love this book. It surprised me when I first read it – I hadn’t really discovered Steinbeck as a novelist. It delighted me – this is travel writing as it should be, not mere travelogue, but a profound and insightful analysis of what the traveller experienced. It amused me – the literary and companionable device of taking his French poodle Charley along lightens his sometimes black musings.
He started his travels in his specially built camper van in Long Island, New York roughly following the outer border of the United States, from Maine to the Pacific Northwest, down into his native Salinas Valley in California, across to Texas, up through the Deep South, and thence back to New York. He describes his experiences in a kaleidoscope of people and places, with prose so perfect that it brings time and place alive. These vibrant descriptive passages are interspersed with essays on American life that are as pertinent today as they were 50 years ago. But it’s his ability to paint pictures in words of what he sees on his trip that lives in my mind. So much so, that I had to read passages aloud to my wife for the sheer joy of what word-crafting can achieve. From grizzly bear encounters in Yellowstone to the serenity of the Wisconsin Dells, from racists in Louisiana to travelling actors in Minnesota, Steinbeck is never less than masterful: a great writer at the summit of his powers.
At the outset, Steinbeck states that the purpose of his journey was to reconnect with America and Americans. Ironically, I believe that he achieves this more effectively for his readers than he does for himself.
Will Appeal To: It is difficult to think of anyone who would not enjoy this great book. Even if you didn’t like being made to read Steinbeck in school, treat yourself to this tour of the United States as it was in 1960 – I guarantee that you will not regret it.
Contents: Four Parts covering different regions of America. My Folio Society edition also has an informative Introduction by Jay Parini.
Illustrations: My edition of this book is a handsome Folio Society boxed edition (2004) which is evocatively illustrated by John Holder’s drawings of scenes from the travelogue with11 full-page drawings and numerous vignettes.
Where Have I Heard of Him?: You have heard of John Steinbeck! He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and East of Eden (1952) and the novella Of Mice and Men (1937). He wrote a total of twenty-seven books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and five collections of short stories. In 1962, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He also wrote another travel book: The Log from the Sea of Cortez describes his experiences in 1940, when he went on a voyage around the Gulf of California with his influential friend Ed Ricketts to collect biological specimens.
Publisher: Penguin (2001) ISBN: 9780141186108
Website: www.penguin.ca and www.foliosociety.com/book/TCH/travels-with-charley
Price: $18.99 (Penguin soft cover); 240 pages
Best Hiking Trips in British Columbia
Title: Best Hiking Trips in British Columbia
Author: Christie Pashby, Darlene West, Chloe Ernst, Anne Templeton-Kluit, Judi Lees, Amanda Castleman, Andrew Hempstead and Judy McKinley
Editor: Gene Shannon
Summary: An excellently organized and very readable guide to the hiking delights of a region seemingly designed for hikers. It covers nearly sixty trails of varying challenge and time all over the most visited parts of the province. Each is clearly presented with all the facts needed to choose between them. It also summarises accommodation and restaurant options for each and includes GPS coordinates to locate the trailheads.
Chris’ View: I’m dusting off my hiking boots as I post this review! Such is the effect of the enthusiasm that comes across so tangibly from the group of local writers who have combined to make this guide book such a good read as well as an eminently practical guide. It’s a tough act to pull off, this combination of usability and readability and I suspect that the success of the book in this regard owes much to the editing of Gene Shannon. The book successfully makes the match between the reader and the right hike for their abilities which is so crucial in a hiking guide. This is done through a summary table of all the hikes, by the first chapter in which the best hikes for each ability level are noted, and by the commentary within each hike’s coverage.
Naturally, I turned first to the few of these hikes that I have already enjoyed. I found each one to be accurate, appropriate and well pitched in terms of its main attractions. Having got in the groove, I thought I would just dip around the guide into a few more of the hikes…and before I knew it, I had covered all 59 of them! And started off the aforementioned dusting of the boots.
If you enjoy this book as much as I do, check out the three other titles in this series to date: Hawaii, Northern California and Scotland.
Will Appeal To: All visitors to BC (and residents too, I suspect) who love getting out in the fresh air; as the trails range from 2km saunters to multi-day wilderness hikes, there’s interest here for all levels of hikers.
Contents: Nine chapters covering six hiking regions plus all the practical information needed to plan your trip to BC.
1. The Best Hiking in British Columbia
2. Planning Your Hiking Trip to British Columbia
3. Suggested Itineraries
4. Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast
5. Vancouver Island
6. Whistler & Sea-to-Sky Country
7. Cariboo Country, Chilcotin, Coast & Northern BC
8. The Okanagan Valley
9. The Canadian Rockies & the Kootenays
Appendix: Fast Facts, Toll-Free Numbers and Websites
Illustrations: All photographs are grouped together in the front of the guide in a 16-page colour section that covers general hiking scenes and selected flora & fauna of BC. Each hike is also accompanied by a simple map and elevation graph that is clearly related to the text and is consistent throughout the book.
Where Have I Heard of Him?: Gene Shannon is the Frommer’s Best Hiking series Editor and has been a guest on past Chris Robinson Travel Shows. He edits all Frommer’s guides to Canadian destinations, as well as ones for more far-flung destinations such as Buenos Aires, Poland and Texas and is an expert in soft adventure and outdoor activities.
Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Canada (2009) ISBN: 978-0-470-15990-3
Price: $23.99 (soft cover); 274 pages
History Hunting in the Yukon
Title: History Hunting in the Yukon
Author: Michael Gates
Summary: This is a collection of short essays providing bite-sized insights into the last 120 years or so of Yukon history. It’s a fun book to dip into - as each essay is independent of the others - but taken together, they provide a colourful, funny and occasionally tragic tapestry of this uniquely beguiling part of Canada.
Chris’ View: This book had a special appeal to me as I began reading it on my plane trip back from a week in the Yukon that had touched on many of the places mentioned in the book. But you don’t have to have been to the Territory to appreciate this collection of essays. The author’s enthusiasm for history in all its forms is contagious This applies to chapters where history is writ large – such as surreptitious attempts by the Americans to annex the Yukon. And also where it is writ so small that most of us would overlook it – as in the knowledge that can be gained from the old tin cans discarded along the trail by the gold rushers.
I have had the privilege of seeing the old gold dredges, the SS Klondike sternwheel riverboat and, yes, even some of those old tin cans beside the Chilkoot Trail in an otherwise pristine wilderness. And this is what I love about Canadian history, particularly in the Yukon: it’s still so recent you can reach out and touch the ghosts of the past. This is what Michael Gates does particularly well in this book: he brings to life a whole panoply of historical characters and experiences from the Yukon’s recent history in a cascading series of vignettes. If you haven’t yet visited this wonderful land, this book might just persuade you to do so.
Will Appeal To: Anyone who agrees with my general view that Canadian history is seldom boring. Of course, the great Klondike Gold Rush and the exploration of the Yukon is an exciting palette for any historian - and if you plan a trip to the Yukon or have visited the Territory, you will enjoy these essays.
Contents: 49 essays range from “Death on the Chilkoot Trail” to “Robert Service’s Secret Love Life” and are grouped into seven broad chapters:
1. First Nations
2. The Early Days
3. The Klondike Gold Rush
4. The Dalton Trail
5. Legendary People
6. Extraordinary Events
7. History, History Everywhere
Illustrations: There’s a map of the Yukon to start the book which is helpful in placing the locations of the essays. Following this are a good number of black and white photographs throughout the book which illustrate the essays well. A number of the photographs date back to the Gold Rush days over 100 years ago.
Where Have I Heard of Him?: Michael fell in love with the Yukon nearly 40 years ago, becoming Cultural Resource Manager for the Yukon field unit of Parks Canada in Whitehorse. He is also the author of “Gold at Fortymile Creek” as well as a regular column in the Yukon News.
Publisher: Harbour Publishing Company (2010) ISBN 978-1-55017-477-9
Price: $18.95 (soft cover); 256 pages
Title: Letters to Zerky
Author: Bill Raney
Summary: In 1967 Bill and his wife JoAnne set off around the world with their baby Zerky and their dachshund Tarzan in a journey that would take them and their Volkswagen campervan around Europe and across much of Asia in a 12-month trip through a different world. The tale is told through JoAnne’s diary and in the letters that Bill wrote to Zerky whilst on the trip in an attempt to ensure that baby Zerky would know what he experienced.
Chris’ View: This is a refreshingly different way of approaching a travelogue. Most of the narrative is in the form of poignant letters written to his infant son Eric Xerxes (the eponymous letters to Zerky). These letters lay forgotten for 40 years and so their publishing now gives them a time-vault dimension too. It’s a gloriously reckless, spontaneous romp through Europe and Asia with glimpses of the familiar Europe and the less familiar parts of Cold War countries. But the tale really becomes most engaging when a spur of the moment decision in Greece prompts them to drive into Asia through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nepal. Their adventures along the way with Zerky turning 12 months and Tarzan, their typically characterful family dachshund, are funny, adventuresome and even nostalgic.
It’s a tale that I closely identify with personally in many ways. I travelled a similar path across Asia a few years after Bill, JoAnne and Zerky. And I also took time off when my first son was born and travelled around the world for several months with Dara, my wife, and Pip aged a few months. In both instances I recognize that youthful spirit of adventure, wonder and invincibility that flows from the pages of this book. The poignancy of these letters is the greater because tragically, horribly, both JoAnne and Zerky passed away shortly after their journey. This aftermath hasn’t stopped Bill from travelling and his mantra remains one I wholeheartedly endorse: “Just go!”
Will Appeal To: Armchair travellers, of course…but also to anyone who contemplates travelling with a baby. There is a strong nostalgic pull too for Baby Boomers such as myself, as the book describes travelling in a more accessible and innocent world. The book is also perhaps a testimony for anyone who has suffered unimaginable loss that there can be – and must be – a life worth living afterwards.
Contents: 32 chapters describe their trip, from Germany to China, and a number of prefaces and appendices provide a starting point and the postscript to the story.
Illustrations: There’s a generous mix of colour and mono photographs throughout the book which are well chosen to add a visual dimension to the travels described. Best of all, there are tons of maps throughout the book that show you where you are in the world – a requirement in travel books that’s sadly often omitted or minimized.
Where Have I Heard of Him?: Bill built and owned the Nickelodeon Theatre in California and lived on a 42 foot trawler for eight years off the western coast of North America.
Publisher: Nickelodeon Press (2009) ISBN 978-0-9821384-0-3
Website: www.LettersToZerky.com and www.WaltzingAroundTheWorld.com
Price: $16.00 US (soft cover) $27.00 (hard cover) 436 pages
The Greek For Love – A Memoir of Corfu
Title: The Greek For Love – A Memoir of Corfu
Author: James Chatto
Summary: An intensely personal account of falling in love on - and with – Corfu, one of the Ionian Islands in the west of Greece. The Greek way of life gently envelops both the author and the reader as the narrative progresses; I can think of no better entry to Greece other than going there in person.
Chris’ View: The Travel Books I read are more normally guide books, or adventurous tales of travelling through strange lands, or history/geography combinations that span civilizations. And yet I was beguiled by this book of personal experience of coming by chance to one of the most ‘touristy’ of Greek islands, Corfu. He came as a tourist, he fell in love with his companion and they together fell in love with the little village, its people and the Greek way of looking at life. It’s an emotional roller-coaster of a read as he takes us through their gradual acceptance of a different way of life and their gentle but inexorable absorption into the village community. Almost without realizing it, the reader also drifts into this sense of what it is like to be a part of island life in this lovely region of Greece – this is the skill and the accomplishment of the author. I laughed and I cried whilst reading this book…and at the end vowed to return to Greece as soon as possible.
Will Appeal To: This is a perfect pre-trip read for anyone heading off to Greece as the reader is seduced into the Greek view of the world along with the author. If you enjoyed Nicholas Luard’s Andalucía (see the review), you will certainly enjoy this book.
The book flows gently through…
Prelude November 1982
Epilogue August 2004
Where Have I Heard of Him?: You have probably read James Chatto's articles on travel, food and wine in Canadian newspapers and magazines; he has written several cookbooks and a nonfiction book, The Man Who Ate Toronto.
Publisher: Random House Canada (2005) ISBN 0-679-31313-3
Price: $34.95 (hard cover) 316 pages
The Best of New York in Just 10 Seconds
Title: The Best of New York in Just 10 Seconds
Author: Peter McGarvey
Summary: A fresh new approach to city guidebooks: snappy, practical, bright and breezy. This is the opposite end of the spectrum from the door-stopper tomes you’re used to – this is a take-anywhere, website-on-the-go guide to one of the world’s great city destinations.
Chris’ View: This is a fun guidebook! Visually appealing and very pragmatic, it’s a good combination to enhance any trip to one of the best city break destinations on the planet. I like the fact that there’s no advertising and the publisher doesn’t accept money from the places listed in this guide, so the inclusions and views are unbiased. Those inclusions, which are organized by the basic section headings listed below, are insightful and eclectic. In a city of such vast proportions, it is a considerable achievement to impose a feeling of simplicity in a guidebook, but the team at Baffled by Travel has done exactly that for New York, one of the most complex cosmopolitan centres imaginable. A terrific strength of the book is the section on New York’s neighbourhoods. Their descriptions of Central Park, Chelsea, Chinatown, East Village, Greenwich Village, Little Italy, Lower East Side and SoHo/TriBeca effectively describe one of the highlights of any trip to the city and make it easy to choose which ones to explore. I look forward to exploring the future titles planned in this series.
Will Appeal To: Perfect for travellers taking a city break to the Big Apple who want to get the most of every hour of their trip.
Divided into sections for:
Illustrations: Tons of colour illustrations throughout, from illustrative to impressionistic; the numerous maps are particularly clear and useful.
Where Have I Heard of Him?: The first of a new series including London, Paris, San Francisco and Chicago, as well as apps for the Apple iPhone, Apple iPad and BlackBerry.
Publisher: Baffled by Travel (2009) ISBN 978-0-9784476-0-1
Price: $22.95 (soft cover) 246 pages
Title: One Year Off
Author: David Elliot Cohen
Summary: A lively and amusing account of a common travel fantasy: leave it all behind and take off for a year to travel around the world…in this case with three young children.
Chris’ View: Admit it. You have thought about it, haven’t you? We all have. Just dropping everything and flying off to see the world. Not many people actually do it of course – and this book is the tale of one man who did. Or an entire family to be exact. David and Devyani sold their home, their cars, their possessions, they closed their business and yanked their three kids – aged 8, 7 and 2 – out of school and travelled around the world for over a year. The book is at its best when it throws light on the interactions within the family and I would like to have seen this explored further. As someone who has done a scaled-down version of this (I and my wife travelled around the world for three months with our first-born aged 10 weeks), I know that this is where such travel becomes life-altering for the better…or for the worse. Travel vicariously with them to the volcanoes of Costa Rica, the French waterways, Greek islands, African safaris, the sights and sounds of Asia and the wonders of Australia. You see: it can be done…but only by experiencing all that such travels can throw at you – both good and bad. It’s a happy and sometimes very funny read and so much easier than taking the leap yourself. But be warned: to those susceptible, this book might just be the catalyst to taking the decision to go for it. Leave it on your desk at work and see what your boss’ reaction might be!
Will Appeal To: Daydreamers and anyone keen to read about it so they don’t have to do it.
1. What Have We Done?
2. We Never Get to Go Anywhere
3. The Sex Life of Butterflies
4. Pura Vida
5. Those Lovable French
6. Awkward Moments
7. Speak French or Die
8. Finding Our Stride
9. Gluttony Without Tears
10. A Tough Day on the Road
11. Next Time We Take the Bus
12. The Museum of Torture
13. Autumn of the Gods
14. Your Wife Doesn’t Love You
15. Kara’s Shangri-la
16. ‘In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle…’
17. Flight of the Damned
18. The Most Beautiful Place on Earth
19. Another Planet
20. The Middle of Nowhere
21. Heads or Tails
22. Land Mines and Temples
23. The Lesson of the Buddha Cave
24. Was It All worthwhile?
Illustrations: 26 black and white photographs capture key moments of the trip.
Where Have I Heard of Him?: A well known author and publisher, and creator of over 70 photography books, David Elliot Cohen is best known for the hugely successful Day in the Life series.
Publisher: Simon and Schuster (1999) ISBN 0-684-83601-7
Price: $35.50 (hard cover) 302 pages
Andalucía – A Portrait of Southern Spain
Title: Andalucía – A Portrait of Southern Spain
Author: Nicholas Luard
Summary: An intensely personal account of the Author’s love affair with Andalucía, where he lived with his young family amidst a timeless landscape.
Chris’ View: This is the book to read if you want to immerse yourself in the timeless atmosphere of Andalucía, Spain’s immensely evocative southern region. It’s a seductive portrait of a destination that far too many visitors only glimpse behind the high rise condos and resorts of the Costa Del Sol. Nicholas Luard moved with his wife and four young children to become a part of village life and an Andaluz community nestled in an idyllic valley not far from Gibraltar. Reading this book you become a part of their immersion in a way of life that has changed little in response to the mass tourism just over the horizon. As an armchair read, it’s pleasurably successful in conveying the essence of this region and its people. As a pre-trip read, it will guide the traveller off the beaten tourist paths of Andalucía to the real Spain, to the real landscapes of the south. And most importantly, it will facilitate an understanding of the warm Andaluz people that a traveller will encounter whilst exploring this very special part of Europe. Nicholas Luard’s book stands the test of time and is well worth seeking out.
Will Appeal To: Readers with a wish to get under the skin of this gorgeous region of Spain, moving beyond guidebooks to an experiential account that provides an insight into what makes this part of Spain so unique.
18 chapters covering everything from history to the landscapes and the Andaluz people that live there.
Illustrations: Delightful line drawings illustrate each chapter.
Where Have I Heard of Him?: Nicholas Luard passed away in 2004, but was a well known writer, politician and environmentalist; he also wrote another book on Spain: Landscape in Spain with riveting photographs by Michael Bussele. Nicholas Luard was also a fellow alumnus of mine from Magdalene College, Cambridge.
Publisher: Century (1984) ISBN 436269015
Price: $8.20 at www.Amazon.ca (soft cover) 290 pages
Frommer’s 500 Places To See Before They Disappear
Title: Frommer’s 500 Places To See Before They Disappear
Author: Holly Hughes
Summary: Tempting descriptions of five hundred of the world’s most threatened attractions, together with practical visitor information and guidance as to how these precious places can be preserved for future generations.
Chris’ View: I’m a list aficionado, I admit it. Hence my own “Top Ten” lists which are often published and you can see at Chris' Top 10 Lists. This book combines such a collection with the expertise of my favourite guide book series: trusty Frommer’s. That sounds like a winning combination – and so it proves. This well-chosen list of places that may not be there much longer includes such well-known threatened wonders as the snows of Kilimanjaro and the much-encroached-upon Pyramids of Giza. But it also extends to such esoteric gems as boobies in Little Cayman and Peru’s Chan Chan ruins. There is even an amusing group of ‘Disposable Culture’ wonders that chronicles the fragile existence of the mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs and Doo-Wop and Wigwam Motels. And this book is not all gloom and doom by any means. Holly Hughes ensures that there are pointers as to how these wonders can be preserved and how we, as sensitive eco-tourists, can play our part in their survival. There are lots of places that I would add to this list and others that are in Frommer’s 500 that I would dispute: but that’s the fun of a book like this – it sparks lively debates and so achieves its principal aim of heightening awareness of the need to protect the wonderful world around us. If you like this book, then check out Frommer’s other books in this series:
Frommer's 500 Adrenaline Adventures
Frommer's 500 Extraordinary Islands
Frommer's 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference
Frommer's 500 Places for Food and Wine Lovers
Frommer's 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up
Will Appeal To: Anybody who is aware that too many of the world’s most wonderful sights are crumbling, being spoiled, or just plain lost and who wants to see them – and maybe even a hand in saving them – before it’s too late.
1. Big Pictures
2. Sea & stream
3. From the Mountains to the Prairies
4. Big Skies
5. Going to Ruins
6. City & Town
7. Where History Was made
8. Tarnished Gems of Architecture
9. Disposable Culture
Illustrations: Each chapter has a handful of black and white photos of many of the 500 places.
Where Have I Heard of Her?: Holly is a Frommer’s globetrotter: executive editor, series editor and author with Frommer’s.
Publisher: Wiley Publishing (2009) ISBN 978-0-470-18986-3
Price: $21.99 (soft cover) 474 pages
Pilgrim in the Palace of Words
Title: Pilgrim in the Palace of Words
Author: Glenn Dixon
Summary: Glenn combines his love of language with his love of travel and takes us on an eclectic but fascinating tour of many of the languages of the world and the people who speak them.
Chris’ View: I approached this book with trepidation, as I am unfortunately not a gifted linguist. I need not have worried. If you have any interest in words and how they came to be, this book will grab and hold you as it did me. Glenn alternates vignettes of his travels around the world with his insights on the languages of the people he interacts with. Each element adds to the interest of the other. And then he leaps on to another place, another people, another language. We travel from the Bolivian Altiplano and Tibet to the Amazonian jungle and the aspirational islands of the South Pacific via Cambodia and the Arctic. In each experience he adds an extra dimension with his knowledge of the linguistic links, origins, oddities and poetic beauty of the people and their language. There is self-deprecating humour and even a little excitement in the tales. In his Epilogue, Glenn brings us gently and movingly back home to a schoolroom in Calgary where he uses his travel experiences and his humanity to bring this book to a very satisfying conclusion. The subtitle of this book is ‘A Journey Through the 6,000 Languages of Earth’; we may not encounter all 6,000, but the journey is tremendously worthwhile.
Will Appeal To: All armchair travellers, especially those who want to learn a little on their travels; anyone interested in the languages of the world: how they can to be and why they are as they are.
1. Climbing the Tower of Babel
2. At the Gates of the Western World
3. And Empires, Too, Shall Perish
4. Genghis Khan Rides Again
5. On the Roof of the World
6. The Heart of Darkness
7. One Thousand Words for Rice
8. Island of the Many-Coloured Waters
9. See You at Machu Picchu
10. The Headwaters of the Amazon
11. The Lost World of the Maya
12. Haida: The Surface People
13. May You Walk the Trail of Beauty
Epilogue: The Unimaginable Future
Illustrations: Minimal – a few photos and line drawings.
Where Have I Heard of Him?: Glenn Dixon is a much published writer of travel articles from National Geographic to the Globe and Mail; he also has an M.A. in socio-linguistics.
Publisher: Dundurn Press (2009) ISBN 978-1-55488-433-9
Website: www.dundurn.com and www.pilgrim-in-the-palace.com
Price: $24.99 (soft cover) 350 pages.
Title: The Milepost
Author: Kris Valencia, Editor
Summary: The most comprehensive road trip guidebook imaginable to Alaska, Yukon, NWT and Northern BC and Alberta.
Chris’ View: It’s been over 20 years since I first used this guidebook on a trip to the Alaskan Panhandle. Without it, I would have been unaware of the memorable spectacle of hordes of grizzly and black bears fishing for salmon in Fish Creek and the awe-inspiring but little-known Salmon Glacier Road. Ten years later I trusted The Milepost to guide us on a hugely enjoyable family RV trip through and Alaska that included the Top of the World Highway and Chicken, Alaska (including the signpost that read: “Chicken. Population 24 - and one old grump”). The guide is organized by northbound routes, both by sea and by road, from BC/Washington and Alberta/Montana to Alaska, Yukon and NWT. Mile by mile, the detailed log lists all the practical information travellers need such as gas stations, stores, road surfaces and accommodations from lodges to campsites. It also methodically lists all the fun stuff too: attractions great and small, vistas and viewpoints, history and geography, hot springs, fishing spots and local outfitters and soft adventure operators. Even the advertisements get the juices flowing for an adventure ‘Up North’…Who can resist the allure of the Bonanza Gold Motel or Beluga Lookout RV Park? Even armchair travellers will enjoy following the routes as they wind up into the back of beyond. In the words of Robert Service: “There's a land where the mountains are nameless, And the rivers all run God knows where; There are lives that are erring and aimless, And deaths that just hang by a hair; There are hardships that nobody reckons; There are valleys unpeopled and still; There's a land - oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back - and I will.”
Will Appeal To: Anyone planning a trip to this part of the world who wants to travel safely and to see it all.
1. Introduction; How to use the Guide; Travel Planning
2. Marine Access Routes
4. The Inside Passage
5. Major Highways
6. Other Routes
Illustrations: Plenty of photographs and 100 practical maps.
Where Have I Heard of Him?: The Milepost is famous as the best-in-class road trip guide, published regularly for over 60 years.
Publisher: Morris Communications Company (2010) ISBN 9-781-892-154-279
Price: $34.95 (soft cover) 786 pages.