Book Review: The Traveler’s Atlas

The Traveler’s Atlas:  A Global Guide To The Places You Must See In Your Lifetime, by John Man, Chris Schüler, Geoffrey Roy & Nigel Rodgers

This book is perhaps an unintentional textbook example of why travel books have declined immensely in popularity, despite my own fondness for reading them [1].  In choosing a very limited group of places to encourage readers to see, the authors manage to create a book whose advice, if followed, would subject readers to immense dangers both in this life and in the judgment to come.  It is hard to tell whether the authors themselves are that idiotic, or whether they are writing to people they view as so lacking in cultural knowledge that they would need to be told that going to Muslim North Africa and engaging in public nudity there angered the locals, nor can it be underestimated how the authors’ ideas to travel to Aleppo would be a spectacularly disastrous move right now, or that the authors would think to recommend a place for tourists even though they warn “women travelers:  if not accompanied by a man, especially if fair-hared, expect constant stares and mild sexual harassment (169).”  Consider yourself warned–following this book’s recommendations could cost you your life, all the more reason to reflect on the short shelf-life of travel books in terms of the applicability of their advice and insight.

This book can be considered as a hipster’s tourist guide, and the authors would likely be proud of that label, considering that the travel recommendations included here tend towards two extremes:  big cities famous for their party scene or for their sophisticated urban culture or remote places off the beaten path where few tourists go.  Few areas are in between San Francisco, Vienna, Istanbul, Miami, Kyoto, and Venice on the one hand and Chamonix, the Zambesi and the Okavango, Timbuktu, the East African Rift Valley, and the Karakoram highway on the other hand.  The book is organized by region, so first the authors discuss North America, then Central and South America, Africa, the Mediterranean and Near East, Northern Europe, Northern Asia, Central Asia, India and Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and then the Pacific Islands over the course of just over 200 pages.  The book is full of beautiful pictures and the occasional maps, and it is obvious that the authors have a sense of adventure in their travels, although it is clear that this is not a book for the ordinary traveler but rather for a traveler of a particular type of stupid–smart enough to read this book but stupid enough to think of the authors as the authorities of anything, including the fact that they recommend going to San Francisco for its gay parade and think that Miami is the center around which Florida revolves.  One wonders who “ghosted” this book given the lack of brain cells on the part of some of its authors.

Of course, having traveled to four of the places discussed in this book, namely Florida, Chamonix, Istanbul, and Hawaii, and who has openly expressed a desire to go to several more, it is clear that my own well-known fondness for risk and danger are clearly not so far removed from the authors themselves.  It is striking to ponder in looking at this book just how much worse it could have been had the authors recommended visiting the charming ruins of Palmyra or the heathen rock statues of Afghanistan that no longer exist.  The authors point out, wisely and accurately, that travel expands our own understanding and that it indirectly influences other people, and the authors certainly do not undersell the risks of going to places, like the landmines near Angkor Wat to give but one example, but the authors fail to recognize that not everyone wants to take their lives into their own hands as tourists.  Not everyone wants to risk their lives to see the best the world has to offer, nor does everyone else have contempt for what the crowds like, nor should they.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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