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Travels with Herodotus (Vintage International) Paperback – June 10, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In 1955, just starting his career as a reporter, Kapuscinski wanted to travel just beyond the border of Poland. His editor sent him on assignment much farther afield, to China, Iran, and Africa, with a gift of Herodotus' Histories. In this amazing memoir, Kapuscinski compares his own wanderings to those of the Greek historian. He wonders about the motivation behind Herodotus' journeys, recounting how his own were spurred by unrest in Poland. Calling Herodotus the "first globalist," Kapuscinski uses his volume as comfort, solace, guide, and inspiration. He intersperses Herodotus' writings throughout his own musings at the modern world, comparing ancient Persia's Darius with the then shah of Iran. As he reads about and dreads the war between the Greeks and Persians, he covers the war in the Congo. Liberated by his travels, Kapuscinski nonetheless feels the impenetrability of the "Great Wall of Language" in China and all the barriers to overcoming xenophobia and nurturing an appreciation for diverse cultures. Kapuscinski's recollections are intimate and vibrant in his embrace of a broader world. Bush, Vanessa --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Luminous. . . . Like Herodotus, Ryszard Kapuscinski was a reporter, a historian, an adventurer and, truly, an artist.” —The Wall Street Journal“Enchanting. . . . Underneath its shimmering prose beats the unquiet heart of a fundamentally decent man and an uncommonly gifted observer. . . . It has a startling clarity and power.” —The New Republic“A work of art: so eloquent, so simple, that you find yourself marveling at its prose….a travel book that all students of writing and of literature ought to read.” —The Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 275 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400078784
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078783
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #480,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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119 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on July 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As a young reporter in Poland in the 1950's, Ryszard Kapuscinski wondered what it would be like to cross the border. For someone living in a totalitarian society this would be a privelege. His goals were modest: he simply wanted to cross the border and come right back. He asked his editor at the Polish News Agency for permission to go to Czechoslavakia, instead they sent him to India with a clothbound copy of " The Histories" by Herodotus. The book fired his imagination and became a standard for his own travels. Although Herodotus live 2,500 years earlier, they shared many passions, the central one being an insatiable curiousity about foreign lands and peoples. During the course of his life and travels, Kapuscinski would experience 27 coups and revolutions, and be sentenced to death 4 times.

Kapuscinski has written some remarkable books, most of which have been translated into English. He reported from Tehran after the fall of the Shah, he chronicled the life of Haile Selassie, and he was in Angola when Portuguese colonists pulled up stakes and left the country, beautifully described in "Another Day of Life."

"Travels with Herodotus" is more personal and introspective than his earlier works. Some critics have questioned his purported use of Herodotus as a lifelong guide when he was never mentioned before in his 30 year career as a journalist. Jack Shafer of "Slate" has written an essay entitled "The Lies of Ryszard Kapuscinski," arguing that a sharp line must be drawn between journalism and fiction. In Kapuscinski's reporting the line is never clearcut. Many of his admirers claim that he has earned his poetic license and is therefore entitled to embellish a little.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By M. Drudzinski VINE VOICE on July 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read most of Kapuscinski's books and I have to say that this is among the best, simply because this text gives readers even more insights into the man. Kapuscinski had an erudition you rarely find in reportage and what's more, he had what so many journalists these days lack: limitless curiosity.

In our age of 24/7/365 media coverage of everything under the sun, most journalists are simply out there looking to create stories where there really aren't any or follow what other agencies are reporting on. Kapuscinski, on the other hand, follows his own instincts and digs beyond surface appearances around him -- whether at home, in Africa or in the Far East -- to give his readers details that are at the heart of cultures other than his own.

Kapuscinski, perhaps because of his youth spent in post-War eastern Europe, had a great eye for irony and the tendency for history to repeat itself, often with devastating effects. But in spite of his witnessing of the absurb, the violent and the wasteful, Kapuscinski never stops digging for truth, never stops pushing himself beyond the familiar, just as his forebearer Herodotus did centuries before.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Occam's Toothbrush on June 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kapuscinski's final book is equal parts travel diary and meditation on Herodotus' Histories, apt because the Herodotus RK celebrates shares much the same virtues as RK: an unmistakable humanity and literacy that shines through in their reportage. Having received a copy of Herodotus' great work from an editor as a suggested travel companion early in his career, RK came back to the work again and again during his own travels, and this book is the story of how his love for Herodotus illumined his own travels.

A very fitting final word from, without a doubt, the finest journalist of the 20th century, and a very beautiful book, befitting the best of RK.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
TRAVELS WITH HERODOTUS has two aspects: first, a reader's guide to Herodotus and "The Histories", and second, a sort of memoir, which, by virtue of the fact that Kapuscinski made his career as a global journalist, is basically a travel memoir. The book has been very favorably received by Amazon reviewers, but I don't understand what all the hullabaloo is about. TRAVELS WITH HERODOTUS pales in comparison with the one other book of Kapuscinski's that I have read, "The Shadow of the Sun." Maybe people are more favorably inclined towards the book because it was published posthumously, after Kapuscinski succumbed to a fast and virulent cancer, but the truth of the matter is that it is at best an average book. (The childhood tale of the emperor's new clothes comes to mind.)

My biggest problem with TRAVELS WITH HERODOTUS is Kapuscinski's style. Basically, he talks down to his readers; it's as if the book were written for his grandchildren or adolescent schoolchildren. There are isolated passages that approach the "literate reportage" that Kapuscinski is noted for from his other works, but there is far too much drivel, such as the following two examples:

"Herodotus is silent on this subject, but it is an important moment to consider--one cannot live in the desert without water; deprived of it, a human being succumbs quickly to dehydration."

"What sort of child is Herodotus? Does he smile at everyone and willingly extend his hand, or does he sulk and hide in the folds of his mother's garments? Is he an eternal crybaby and whiner, giving his tormented mother at times to sigh: Gods, why did I give birth to such a child! Or is he cheerful, spreading joy all around? Is he obedient and polite, or does he torture everyone with questions: Where does the sun come from?
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