Perceptive Travel Book Reviews November 2015
by William Caverlee

In this issue: A career of traveling through war zones, a collection of Don George's own travel writing works, and another big globe-covering Big Trip thick book from Lonely Planet.

It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War
By Lynsey Addario

For most of us, the perils of travel involve things like arguing with a ticket agent or losing your luggage. But beyond such irritants is the world of extreme travel: the life-or-death exploits of mountaineers, blue-water sailors, long-distance trekkers, and—at the top of the list—war correspondents.

American-born Lynsey Addario is a photojournalist and war correspondent, who has been on the road more or less nonstop since her twenties. It's What I Do is her memoir and autobiography—true-life tales from conflict zones.

I dropped to the ground and lay flat behind the cover of the log. I was straight up above the troops along the ridgeline, out of their sight and all alone. I tried to dig myself as deep as possible into the ground—to get as much cover from all sides. Bullets whooshed past, over the cover of the tree, from several different directions. In the midst of an ambush it was always nearly impossible for me to tell what direction the bullets were coming from. . . .

Addario has reported from wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo, Lebanon, and Darfur. She's traveled to Argentina, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Sudan, and Libya. She has risked her neck countless times: sometimes under fire (as in the excerpt above), other times in proximity to famine, disease, drought, or revolution. She's been kidnapped twice.

Her writing in It's What I Do is engaging, frank, modest, humorous, and terrifying. I go to pieces if my flight is delayed ten minutes, while Addario, all five feet-one inch of her, throws herself into the most dangerous places on the planet—again and again. Her portrait of the high-wire act of war correspondents confirms much of what we've heard about them from movies and documentaries: Here are plenty of adrenaline addicts, risk-lovers, and ego-trippers.

With admirable honesty, Addario doesn't hold herself above some of these less-than-edifying traits, but, taken as a whole, It's What I Do is a journey toward adulthood. The book is illustrated with numerous examples of Addario's excellent photography—she is a long-time contributor to The New York Times, National Geographic, and Time.

While reading It's What I Do, you will find yourself re-living moments from the two Iraq wars, the war in Afghanistan, and various conflicts in Pakistan and Libya. The list of wars unrolls as a lexicon of violence and hatred: Taliban, insurgency, IEDs, Qaddafi, attack aircraft, collateral damage. . . . All of us can be grateful for the courage of reporters like Addario who have returned from hell with their hard-won mementos of truth.

The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George
By Don George

Every spring, journalism schools seem to release about a million or so newly hatched reporters onto the job market, a large number of whom dream of becoming travel writers. Such neophytes would do well to sit at the knee of Don George, whose résumé includes stints at the San Francisco Examiner, Salon, National Geographic Traveler, BBC Travel, and Lonely Planet. Anthologies he has edited have been reviewed by Perceptive Travel here, here, and here.

The Way of Wanderlust is a selection from George's many hundreds of dispatches—from 1977 up to the present, from Mt. Kilimanjaro to Japan, Yosemite, Greece, Pakistan, Paris, Peru, and on and on. George is an excellent writer and a reliable guide to far-off lands and peoples. In The Way of Wanderlust, we travel to the Galápagos for a close encounter with a giant tortoise; to the Outback for a day of sheep-shearing; to the Cook Islands for a dance competition.

In "Conquering Half Dome," George mocks himself in classic American style. (Think of Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad.)

After about fifteen wooden planks, my son and I paused. My wife Kuniko looked down from a perch a few posts ahead. "How are you feeling, Jeremy? Do you want to keep going, or do you want to stop?"

Say you want to stop, Jeremy, I prayed. For the love of God, tell her you want to stop!

He was undecided. I was probably green in the face. "How are you doing, honey?" Kuniko asked, concern creasing her face.

"I don't know," I said.

We looked around and saw bulbous black clouds blowing swiftly in.

"Maybe we should head down," Kuniko said.

Yes! Yes! A little voice inside me said.

"I want to keep going!" Jenny said.

"No, I think we should head down," Kuniko said.

"I think so, too," I said, whining with as much authority as I could muster. "I don't like the look of those clouds.”

Would that George employed his comic voice more often. On the whole, he is an exponent of the travel-as-transformation school of writing—the dominant strain of travel writing these days, whereby a journey to Machu Picchu is the turning point in one's life, and one becomes a more open, generous, spiritual, and loving soul as a result. (George calls himself a "travel evangelist.")

George had his own Machu Picchu encounter: "The trails wound on and on, I realized, some into the cloud forest vastnesses, some into the secret cities of the soul. Then I thought back to that dawn moment when some inexplicable energy had stitched the sun to all—and on that lonely, well-trod mountain trail, I finally felt whole."

Nearly every chapter in The Way of Wanderlust ends in an epiphany—which makes for a somewhat over-cooked book in my view. What's wrong with an old-fashioned trip to Europe in which one's profoundest desire is to see Paris or just get away from the kids?

The Big Trip: Your Ultimate Guide to Gap Years and Overseas Adventures
By George Dunford, Matthew D Firestone, Anthony Ham, and Vivek Wagle

The third edition of Lonely Planet's The Big Trip is filled with hundreds of travel tips and enough glossy color photography to qualify as a coffee table book. While aimed at the youth-backpacker market, The Big Trip will make a useful resource for any traveler.

The book is divided into two broad sections: (1) a general-purpose collection of travel advice; and (2) guides to the major geographic zones.

As usual for such books, The Big Trip is filled with enough sidebars, graphs, tables, testimonials, and links to keep you busy for months planning a journey. For worrywarts, there are entire chapters on passports, insurance, expenses, health, and safety.

Even the clearest, cleanest water can harbour the nastiest illnesses, so water purity will be an issue in many countries. Water can carry diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid, particularly in countries where infrastructure is limited and shared water may not be actively monitored.

Also to consider are immunizations, debit cards, money belts, terrorism, war, antimalarial pills, scams, backpack essentials (which should include "sewing kit, eye wear, batteries, gaffer tape, lighter/matches, earplugs, glue stick, calculator"). . . .

Glue stick? Really? In the 1970s, I hitchhiked across Europe with a change of clothes, a passport, and a few travelers checks stuffed into my boots. Back then, if I had read the first half of The Big Trip with its 150 pages of dos and don'ts, I probably wouldn't have ever gotten off the sofa.

For those youngsters today who manage to correctly outfit their backpacks and get to the airport on time, the second half of The Big Trip redeems the first. Here are destinations aplenty: India, China, Mexico, Southeast Asia. Here are terrific photos: Victoria Falls, Mt. Fuji, Monument Valley. Plus page after page of youth-oriented activities: mountain-biking, snowboarding, rafting, kayaking. Go for it, kids! The world is one big party.

William Caverlee is a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including The Oxford American, The Christian Science Monitor, Aviation History, Cimarron Review, The Florida Review, and Louisiana Cultural Vistas. He's the author of Amid the Swirling Ghosts and Other Essays.

See the last round of book reviews from William Caverlee

Also in this issue:

It's What I Do

Buy It's What I Do at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

The Way of Wanderlust

Buy The Way of Wanderlust in your local bookstore or online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

The Big Trip

Buy The Big Trip at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

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