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Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0307394651 ISBN-10: 0307394654

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Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism + Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer + To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307394654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307394651
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #746,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Invoking Hunter S. Thompson is a risky proposition for young writers, who can be gulled into thinking that chemical intake and sketchy reporting are substitutes for the gonzo great’s keen insight and lacerating wit. Fortunately, although Kohnstamm plays the Thompson card on his first hand, documenting a monumental pub crawl with a coke buddy called “the Doctor,” he soon finds his own voice. Scratching a bite from the travel bug, Kohnstamm walks away from a Wall Street cubicle to accept a poorly paid, impossibly deadlined job updating the Lonely Planet guide to Brazil. Sharp writing and self-deprecating wit add spice to a chronicle of the sometimes absurd world of guidebook writing. (In one memorable scene, he gets thrown out of a hotel he is researching because he looks—accurately—too poor to stay there.) There’s food for thought, too, about Lonely Planet’s journey from backpacker tip sheet to faux-hobo itinerary and the aftereffects of the travel it promotes. Kohnstamm’s hedonism is heroic, but it’s his willingness to think about hedonism’s consequences that makes this worth reading. --Keir Graff

Review

"A comic rogue who seems to have modeled his life and prose on Hunter S. Thompson’s… I could not get enough of the most depraved travel book of the year."
The New York Times

"Hilarious"
The New York Times Book Review

"the shot heard 'round the travel world…"
The Washington Post

"A guidebook writer reveals the truth about his trade, in detail that will shock and awe."
Outside

"It’s Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but with tourism"
The New York Observer

"Kohnstamm is nobody's model travel journalist, except maybe Hunter Thompson's… [he’s the] sudden enfant terrible of his field… Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? is the best-written, funniest book of travel literature since Phaic Tan."
The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Sharp writing and self-deprecating wit add spice to a chronicle of the sometimes absurd world of guidebook writing."
Booklist

"Readers will relish the countless stories of the author's misadventures, but Kohnstamm brings more than just anecdotes: He offers a solid understanding of the mechanics of the travel-writing industry and a unique ability to illuminate that world to readers. Notable for its spirited prose and insightful exploration of the less-romantic side of travel writing. Kohnstamm is one to watch."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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Customer Reviews

This is a very entertaining book.
D. Martin
I believe that is about 25% into the book and I hadn't learned anything about travel writing yet and completely disliked the author as a disgusting drunk.
Clark
I loved his vivid descriptions of all the crazy characters that he met on the road and he gave us some great travel narratives of Brazil.
Tymala

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Jackson McQuigg on April 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
Several weeks ago, I was shocked to hear the news media reporting that Lonely Planet author Thomas Kohnstamm fabricated his research for LP's travel guides and had now written a tell-all book.

Moreover, I was flatly angry. I used the 2005 Lonely Planet Brazil guide which Kohnstamm contributed to for two trips to that country. I even followed his thoughtful (albeit a bit preachy) regimen for "responsible travel" while there.

And now all his contributions to the Lonely Planet Brazil guide were turning out to be a pack of lies? What a jerk!

Needless to say, I simply had to read Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? If nothing else, I felt compelled to read it in order to justify my anger, or perhaps redouble it.

The book wasn't what I had expected. As it turns out, Kohnstamm turns out to be an extremely conflicted guy. His standards are high, but he is disillusioned by the business of travel writing-- its deadlines and budgets in particular. He tries to build himself up as the cool guy who gets all of the women, yet his description of many of them is overwhelmingly sentimental (see the passages on ex-girlfriend Sydney in the introduction, if you doubt me).

So, did Kohnstamm fabricate some of his work? Did he take free meals and lodging? Yes, and yes, although not nearly to the extent that the media has reported. That's right: the press got it wrong!

This guy is no slouch (he has a Master's in Latin American studies from Stanford), but he does let himself become one at various points in the book. Kohnstamm takes us along for the ride, from Rio to Olinda, and various places in between.

You've got to admire Kohnstamm for putting himself out there like this in such a frank way.
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Jenkins on May 25, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kohnstamm sets out to expose the soft underbelly of travel writing, but often tells more about himself than about travel, and that's often more than many readers may want to know. Compared to some other reviewers, I didn't find the book that "carnal", although I could have done without knowing the details of Kohnstamm's many hangovers. The book begins with the author departing a tedious job, shredding a relationship with a woman he allegedly cares about and flying to Rio. He basically tells us that he likes traveling on someone else's dime and his life sounds like something more typical of the aimless and affluent 70s than the present day. Later in the book, Kohnstamm tells us that his flight into travel writing is based on ideals. Which is it--chucking responsibility, traveling on someone else's money or "ideals". I tend to doubt the latter.

Kohnstamm actually is at his best describing people and places, which is the bread and butter of travel writing. Despite being an experienced traveler, he seems to get himself into obviously problematic situations. A "model" who's on her way to work in a minor, touristy provincial capital is likely to be in the sex industry. A fellow American with an all cash business is likely to be selling drugs. These aren't difficult to expect and, in addition, Kohnstamm shares various misadventures from past travels which suggest that he's one of those people who "doesn't benefit from experience". Either that or he's embellishing. It's not unreasonable to assume that someone who can't keep his motives straight may not be credible in other ways.

I was drawn to the book partly because I used the Lonely Planet guide which Kohnstamm had helped revise. It was a mess.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By George Purcell on December 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
I must say I am surprised by the positive reviews given to this awful book.

I purchased it thinking it would be a good insight into the reality of travel writing. What I got instead was a cartoonish tale of a succession of drunks, brawls, and sordid sex that told me nothing other than the fact that Messr. Kohnstamm was a very poor hire indeed. His thesis seems to be the following:

1) Lonely Planet didn't pay me enough;
2) Lonely Planet didn't give me enough time;
3) Lonely Planet had a change in editorial policy marketing that made the work more difficult than I imagined.

Because of this, the author decided the logical thing to do would be to blow most of his advance on booze and women. Indeed, over 20 percent of the book is devoted to a single night carousing in New York City. He presents virtually no evidence that the constraints he supposedly endured led to his inability to do the job for which he was contracted.

There is a great book to be written by a serious author (Joe Cummings, perhaps?) on the trade-offs made in writing a travel book like Lonely Planet. This joke of a title is not that work, however.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Erik Olson VINE VOICE on May 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
I recently read another "tell-all" book on travel writing called "Smile When You're Lying." I found it to be quite enjoyable (see my review), so when I heard about "Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?" I figured I'd give it a shot. This lurid tale of the guidebook industry was worth reading, although I preferred the other book because that author was more relatable as a person. Much more relatable.

Once upon a time, Thomas Kohnstamm was a highly educated twentysomething cubicle drone stuck in a real-life version of "The Office." One day he decided to chuck the whole thing and became a travel writer for guidebook colossus Lonely Planet. With no real writing background, he got the job and was dispatched to update an LP guidebook for Brazil. Our boy headed south and proceeded to party his way through a couple months of "travel research." He even found time to actually write here and there, although he did most of his best work close to deadline while fighting hangovers and struggling to make ends meet in less than virtuous ways.

The author has a frat-boy vibe that I found a bit hard to bear at times, due to two parts disgust and perhaps one part envy. During his assignment he drank like a fish, did various drugs, partied with eccentric locals and dodgy travelers, and fornicated his way through Brazil like an Ugly American freight train. In between debaucheries, Mr. Kohnstamm makes travel guidebook writing seem about as appealing as chugging stale bong water in a Mexican jail. He ultimately hammers Lonely Planet's policy of underpaying its writers and offering them little support in the field while literally and figuratively expecting the world of them.
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