The Citiescape Guides
Lonely Planet Publications
Over the past year we've seen the launch of a lot of new city guidebooks, the ones from Wallpaper and Moleskin being the most notable ones. Joining the party is Lonely Planet with their Citiescape guides. More salivation tool than guidebook, these are enticing little square books in hardcover that give a great overview of what makes the city tick. The generous photos are the best of the best from the LP vaults and despite the small size, the books manage to capture the essence of the city surprisingly well. Even residents will probably be happy with how well these short guides cover the highlights, but also shed light on what's going on under the surface.
The first batch of books covers ten cities in nine countries in Asia. (Both Delhi and Mumbai are included for India.) The books list for $10 each individually, or get the whole shebang as a box set for under $70. The latter would be an impressive splurge for a frequent traveler that actually has a permanent base where they can display these on a shelf. The individual ones would be a very thoughtful gift for someone heading to one of the destinations. Someone who reads the Bangkok or Tokyo book before heading to one of these cities will really hit the ground running in terms of knowing what to look for and how to drink it all in.
Yes, much of this material is repurposed content from the Cities coffee table book, but it's all in the packaging and this is a nice little package that really works.
* You can win a free boxed set of Citiescape Asia by submitting a photo that will blow us away. See the rules here.
The World Heritage
UNESCO's Classified Sites
By Patrick Bonneville and Philippe Hemono
Have you ever wanted to get the lowdown on every single UNESCO World Heritage Site without spending days clicking on a Web site? Well pick up this big coffee table book and it all at your fingertips.
This 464-page guide, loaded with beautiful photos, is a showpiece of what's worth preserving on Planet Earth. Arranged by continent, it provides a description of every single World Heritage site, illustrated with a representative photo. It is rather democratic in nature, deciding which sites get more space on a page based on the drama of the photograph rather than which sites are more popular or famous. So most readers are bound to be intrigued by places they didn't know about before. Even the most jaded and well-traveled readers among you are going to discover dozens of places that are new to you and a few that make you go, "Whoa—where is that!"
The only downside to The World Heritage is its availability. Despite the very professional presentation and printing, the title is inexplicably only available on one dedicated web site in Canada: http://www.worldheritageboutique.com/. So you can't order it through any Amazon site and in most cases your local bookstore can't get it. So be prepared to pony up plenty of shipping money and be willing to wait several weeks to get it.
*Editor's note: The above website is no longer in use, and the book is now available via Amazon. You can find it through our link on the right.
Tales from Nowhere
Various Writers, edited by Don George Lonely Planet Publications
Some anthology themes work better than others, but this one is a winner. It's a collection of travel tales set in nowhere. As editor Don George says in the intro, "Nowhere is a setting, a situation, and a state of mind. It's not on any map, but you know it when you're there."
Many of the writers come from the usual anthology stable of travel writers, such as Pico Iyer, Rolf Potts, Karl Taro Greenfield, Simon Winchester, Bill Fink, and Don Meredith. The nowhere theme is a good unifier, however, and makes this collection more coherent and philosophical than most. So we have a trip to Equatorial Guinea for the express purpose of visiting "the worst country in the world" and a trip puttering around the vague borders in rural Thailand. There's an entertaining romp through the nothingness (apart from animal road hazards) north of Perth, a visit to a tiny Louisiana town trounced by Hurricane Katrina, and a search for Pol Pot's toilet in rural Cambodia. One story covers a hitched ride on a cargo freighter in the middle of the vast Atlantic, while in another a passenger can't stand the freighter travel any more and disembarks on an island called Pig, 4480 miles southwest of Hawaii.
It's a solid collection of stories, some dreamy, some scary, some making the reader glad he or she is sitting on a comfy couch with a fridge nearby. If you dream of escaping to nowhere, read this first to figure out which definition of nowhere is heaven and which is hell.
Tim Leffel is editor of Perceptive Travel and author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune.