Customer Reviews: The Ridiculous Race
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on September 5, 2008
I haven't laughed while reading a book as much as I did reading this one in a while. It is exactly what you would expect from a couple of television comedy writers (My Name is Earl and Family Guy!) who decide to race around the world without using airplanes. If you're not a fan of those shows/that type of humor, then you may want to stay away.

While their comedic talents really shine through in the book, the book is also fascinating from a travel and cultural perspective. For example, this is personally the most I've ever read about Mongolia. Of course, based on the descriptions in the book, it may also be the most I WILL EVER read about Mongolia, but it made for several very funny stories.

The book is a light, easy read, with no real chapters, but instead with short sections, alternating between the two authors. Easy to get through, very funny, very entertaining and very recommended for anyone who likes a little bit of humor thrown in with their travelogues.
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on June 3, 2013
The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran is a funny memoir about two men racing each other around the world. It's a bet to see who can circle the globe the fastest--without the use of airplanes. The prize: A bottle of the best Scotch (Kinclaith, 1969). The competitors: Two television comedy writers. The year: 2007. The outcome: Hilarious! The starting point is Los Angles and Steve heads west while Vali heads east. This book is their outrageous travelogue noting their separate adventures in Mexico, China, Brazil, England, France, Ulaanbaatar, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Egypt, Italy, and more. They try new things: Segway tour through Paris, ride a horse in Mongolia, ride on the Trans-Siberian railroad, four-wheel in Dubai. And of course, they try new food. Steve tried duck in China. Maybe he should have skipped that one. One memorable moment in the book (and there were many) was when Steve got sick attending an opera in Peking. Imagine, such a once-in-a-lifetime experience and here he is in the bathroom "in a frenzied head-shaking hurricane of violent vomiting." I smiled and laughed my way around the world with these two jokers. So did my husband. We both gave it a thumbs-up for a ridiculously fun read. Read other reviews at
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on July 16, 2012
I was enthralled with this book from the beginning to the very end. I laughed often and enjoyed it all. The guys personalities were so entertaining. I recommend this book to everyone. The adventures were wonderful, the travel was superb and the writing was humorous and interesting, kept me reading from start to finish and would happily read again and again.
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VINE VOICEon July 26, 2009
Book Overview

In 2007, two friends -- Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran -- embarked on a race around the world without using airplanes. Steve traveled West, and Vali traveled East. The first guy who circled the planet and make it back to Los Angeles would be declared the winner. The prize? A bottle of the finest Scotch they could find.

Not being just ordinary guys (both are writers for television comedy shows), they were able to get a book advance to bankroll their trip. The result was this book, which chronicles each man's journey.

Steve -- the more serious of the two and the one committed to racing by following the rules -- starts his trip on board the container ship Hanjin Athens. As such, he is able to definitively answer the question: Is fourteen days on the Pacific a grand, romantic adventure or crushingly boring? To quote Steve:

The short answer is "crushingly boring."

By the time we left port, it was clear that the greatest danger facing me wasn't pirates or storms. Or sharks. Or giant squid, Or flesh-eating jellyfish. Or being raped and stabbed by sailors. Or string rays.

It was keeping my idle mind from destroying itself.

After this journey, Steve takes a road trip through China (including a gut-wrenching but hilarious night at the Peking Opera) and ends up on a train that takes him through Mongolia (with a brief stop at Ulaanbaatar , which he affectionately dubs "A City for People Who Hate Cities.") Along the away, he becomes obsessed with drinking fermented mare's milk. (Wonder what fermented mare's milk tastes like? Here is Steve's description: "Get some half-and-half and a can of warm Sprite. Mix the two in a glass. Let sit for a few days on top of your radiator.") He then boards the Trans-Siberian Railroad and meets Vali at the "halfway" point in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Vali starts his trip driving to Mexico with a attractive woman he has hired to help him navigate and translate the country. (Did I mention they have a side bet on who can do the most awesome things during the trip -- The Awesomeness Contest? With "awesome" being defined as "meeting and romancing the most beautiful girls possible.") Vali's goal is to visit the world's premier designer of jet-packs, which Vali intends to purchase and use to fly across the oceans. However, jet-packs cost $250,000 and can hold only 30 seconds worth of fuel, so he is forced to scuttle this plan. After driving north back to the United States, Vali breaks the no airplane rule and flies to Brazil, where he joins a Brazilian graffiti gang. (In Rio, he begins having his trip-long problems with travel visas and document.) From there he jets to Europe and visits London, Paris ("Beneath my awestruck face my blood boiled. I was furious Paris was not overrated."), Berlin and Warsaw -- before meeting Steve in Moscow.

In Moscow, the two meet for a "truce day," in which hijinks, practical jokes and obscene amounts of drinking set the tone. They then depart and go their separate ways.

Steve hits St. Petersburg and Finland before visiting Sweden, where he spends some awesomeness time with a lovely Swedish lass named Ingrid. He then takes a week-long jaunt around Western Europe before boarding the Queen Mary 2 (or "How I Crossed the Atlantic, or, Six Days Trapped on the World's Most Luxurious Floating Nursing Home!"). (This part of the travel narrative includes a guide to "Paris for Weirdos.") Once he reaches New York, the final part of his journey is accomplished via Amtrak and riding with a long-haul trucker.

Meanwhile, Vali hits his stride and travels to Cairo, Amman, Palestine and Dubai -- wrapping things up with an eye-opening stay in Cambodia. (His description of the temples of Angkor made me want to add it to the list of places I must go someday.) He then jets home to Los Angeles.

Who makes it to LA first and wins the race? Who cares? It is the journey that matters.

My Thoughts

This is not your standard travel narrative. This is a travel narrative written by two very funny, sarcastic men who will remind you of every immature doofus you've ever known. Thank Goodness!

This book was such a fun read -- I was pretty much laughing throughout. Although there are moments of seriousness and you'll learn a bit about the countries they visit, the goal of this book is not to educate -- it is to entertain. And the authors are wildly successful. (The book flip-flops between Steve and Vali's accounts of their trip so you get a roughly approximate feel for what they were doing at about the same time during the race.)

I just loved this book. I don't think there is anything more to say about it -- I tried to include a taste for the spirit of the book in the book overview so you'll have a taste of what you are in for so if what you read was appealing, get the book today. OK ... here is one last excerpt just to whet your appetite. It is from Steve and describes "The Cultural Wonders of Ulaanbaatar." I picked this part (though I pretty much could have opened the book anywhere and started typing) because I think it perfectly captures the tone of the book and the mocking relationship between Steve and Vali.

There are only three things in Ulaanbaatar worth seeing. One is the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, which, according to my guidebook, has "an extraordinary array of stuffed animals." I did not visit it. I can see stuffed animals in Vali's bedroom.

Second is the Museum of Natural History. The dry air of the Gobi Desert is good for preserving fossils, so this museum has its pick of dinosaur skeletons. It's totally awesome. Probably. I can't say for sure, because it was closed when I went. I tried the old "but I'm a famous paleontologist from the prestigious United States Institute of Dinosaurs who has traveled all the way here to see the dinosaur skeletons but am only here for one day!" routine, but the guard understood me just enough not the believe me.

The third thing to see in UB is the Gandantegchilin (or you can just get away with "Gandan") monastery. This is the only one to which I can give my wholehearted personal endorsement.

My Final Recommendation

A hilariously funny read. I loved it and recommend it wholeheartedly. If you are seeking a straightforward travel narrative, this is not for you. However, if a well-written, tongue-in-cheek, smart-ass, laugh-out-loud travel narrative disguised in the form of a race around the world is your cup of tea, this book is a no-brainer. Buy it now. You'll love it!
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on September 17, 2008
This book started off with a bang. It follows the story of two young men, Vali and Steve as they first make a wager to travel the world without airplanes, and then commence their journey.

But as the book labors on, I got the feeling not only did Vali give up on the integrity of the race, but also gave up trying to write a book. Which is a shame, as he is the more gifted of the two writers.

This book had some very funny moments, some that made me laugh out loud, but honestly it felt like homework reading this book at times.
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on May 2, 2011
One of the authors, Steve Hely, sent me a copy of this book after he read a book that I wrote (Crossing the Darien Gap.) I thoroughly enjoyed Steve and Vali's book to the point where I would look forward to having a spare hour in the evenings devoted to reading about their adventures.

The Ridiculous Race is a journal of the authors' separate circumnavigations, with a witty flair that is expected since both of the authors have worked as comedy writers in Los Angeles for popular TV shows. I especially enjoyed Steve's escapades in China, Italy and the Swedish Ghetto. I appreciated Vali's experiences in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt.

Instead of highlighting well-known touristy places (though they did visit some) their journeys uncover the daily quirks of traveling in foreign lands, often hundreds of miles from typical tourist destinations - why the food on the Siberian railway is scary; how the lavatory in some regions is a mere hole in the floor instead of a toilet; the challenge of renting a car in China to drive across the country. Anything outside the usual life experience of the author or the reader becomes amusing, confusing or hilarious.

Having two writers with separate journal entries is also refreshing. If one writer's current travel narration doesn't interest you then you only have to endure it for a couple of pages before the other writer's journal entry describes somewhere else. Then after a few more pages they each journey onward to describe new countries.

Readers will discover that The Ridiculous Race is both enlightening and entertaining.
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on December 2, 2008
This book is not a classic travel memoir, but it is quite funny. I particularly enjoyed the vastly different perspectives of the authors. In order to have a good time reading this book, I believe it's important to recognize that it's really a contest about two things. One is the linear concept of going around the world, and the other is a little more difficult to define: the awesomeness quotient.

The authors are immature at times and not the paragons of good taste. But they are comedy writers. And it's rare to find a book that truly makes you laugh so hard that others are looking at you as if to say, "What are you reading?"

It also makes you truly want to travel, and that is the most important thing about a travel book in my opinion.
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VINE VOICEon June 23, 2009
The Ridiculous Race is an aptly titled hilarious travel narrative of two friends racing around the world in opposite directions for an expensive bottle of scotch. The twist is no airplanes are allowed. Both authors are comedy writers on different major shows. Hely for American Dad and Chandrasekaran for My Name is Earl. Judging from the writing I would have thought they'd be writing for the opposite shows just based on how off-the-wall Chandrasekaran antic's are and how grounded Hely seems. Chandrasekaran is most definitely not against pulling something underhanded and starts off shamefully with a scene involving a pair of hand-cuffs.

The Ridiculous Race grew out of one Steve and Vali's friendly get-togethers in which they always try to out do one another. One almost thinks that they actually wanted to write a book together before they decided what it would be. Nevertheless, the outcome is a hilarious journey around the world by two guys without a clue. The narrative switches between Hely and Chandrasekaran from their sometime immature points of view, which makes this a very breezy read. Chandrasekaran certainly causes a lot of comedic scenes along the way as it seems like he would love to cause an international incident, while Hely is a little too planned out at times although about halfway around the world he loses the drive in the race and decides to just have a good time. Not to say Hely is less funny than Chandrasekaran as Hely certainly has a way with words. When he described a sauce he tried as turtle mucus I couldn't stop laughing for a couple pages. Yeah it is that type of humor at times.

If you've been in the mood for some traveling and can't get away this will give a good flavor of travel abroad as each author visits many wonderful places and describes them differently than most other writers ever would. I give The Ridiculous Race 7.5 out of 10 hats for the pure entertainment value. Also, if you are into humor it will certainly leave you chuckling here or there. Chandrasekaran certainly has a slapstick style of humor all his own.
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"Even in the late 1990s, the Khmer Rouge would occasionally kidnap and murder tourists. Now over a million tourists visit the country every year, almost all of whom visit Siem Reap. (It would be a great ironic twist if the tourists started kidnapping and murdering Khmer Rouge members, but nobody I spoke to had ever heard of that happening. My attempts to be the first went nowhere.)" - Vali Chandrasekaran on Cambodia

"I reeled my head back, and with violent, uncontrollable contortions, I launched a spray of yellow, soupy duckfoot vomit into the air ... I (didn't see) where my regurgitated lunch had ended up after it'd been blasted from my throat. I booked it out of the now-befouled Chang'an Theater as fast as possible. (My guide) found me fifteen minutes later trying to look as casual as it is possible for a six-foot-two curly-haired white guy to look in a Beijing theater." - Steve Hely on the Chinese theater-going experience

While under the influence of a "bottle of ninety-nine cent wine", Vali and Steve, late twenty-something friends living in Los Angeles and writing jokes for television productions, come up with THE RIDICULOUS RACE, i.e. that they will race each other circumnavigating the globe without using airplanes, the first one back home to enjoy a bottle of the most expensive scotch available.

Steve goes west via Korea, Shanghai, Beijing, Mongolia, Lake Baikal, Novosibirsk, Moscow, Stockholm, Italy, Paris, London, and the American mid-West.

Vali goes east via Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, Jericho, Amman, Cairo, Dubai, and Phnom Penh.

My favorite travel essayist-humorist, Bill Bryson, can rest easy with my assurance that neither Steve nor Vali are in his league - nowhere near it. However, as they skate across the surface of the various cultures and countries they transit, they do exhibit a sort of reckless and clownish superficiality that has its own charm.

Of the two, Steve is perhaps best at writing with an easy, self-deprecating humor. Vali can be funny, also, but his wit often seems forced, as if reading his colleague's portion of the book's pre-publication manuscript compelled him to try and match Steve's drollness chuckle for chuckle. Both snipe at each other throughout the book as only two good, male pals will do; this is engaging.

The volume is illustrated with several near-caricature drawings of the two travelers. Only one photo (of Steve) is included. In this age of small digital cameras, it's a wonder (and disappointment) that the volume doesn't incorporate more images.

As a travel narrative, THE RIDICULOUS RACE fails because it doesn't accomplish what I think such should do, i.e. inspire a burning desire to visit or avoid the place being described. However, as a book of humor, it's better than average for a stint of light reading and amusement.
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on June 7, 2009
This travel book by two television comedy writers is a fun idea that is poorly executed. The two decide to race around the world going opposite directions.

The main problem is that you don't believe a thing they write because everything they write is sarcastic. How do you know whether to believe any of these events occurred or if the stories are made up? They don't take themselves seriously, so it's hard as the reader to take them seriously.

Another problem is that one of the writers is better than the other. Steve tells better stories, does a better job with the written word, and apparently actually followed the "rules" of no flying. The other guy doesn't seem to take the whole thing seriously. Or is that just the way they wrote it to give themselves interesting characterizations in the book?

Then the style of the book is really frustrating. It's unorganized. So instead of going back and forth between the two of them and their different stories, they'll tell a Steve story, then make it look like the other guy wrote something but it's really another Steve story. Then a new heading makes you think they switched again but it's really another Steve story. So you have to keep checking to see who is writing what and it gets so frustrating (and boring) that you'll skip through entire sections of the book just to get to the end.

And the ending is interesting--Steve actually claims to have learned something from a truck driver he met who is a Born Again Christian. While his Hollywood friends laugh that he was stuck for three days with a Bible thumper, Steve concludes that the guy was happier and more real than any person he ever met in Tinseltown. That was nice to hear.

I wish Steve would have written this book by himself and that it not have been a silly race with no real reward. He had some interesting experiences (if you can believe him) and appears to have learned things along the way. He could have used the pages on his own to expand his trip details (he summarizes going across country in the U.S. in about two pages!). So the best advice is to scan the book for the good parts.
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