Customer Reviews: Holidays in Hell: In Which Our Intrepid Reporter Travels to the World's Worst Places and Asks, "What's Funny About This" (O'Rourke, P. J.)
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on March 16, 1999
No, this man is too much. I have never read anyone funnier or smarter. From his exalted brilliance in Parliament of Whores to his latest Eat the Rich, P.J. O'Rourke manages to make me laugh out loud on nearly every page. My husband is trying to sleep and I'm pulling his arm saying, just one more, let me read you just one more thing, and then we laugh till we cry. I don't know. P.J. should not be allowed to be this funny. His former editor in Rolling Stone told me that in real life he is every bit as mirthful. I will say that the cynicism has just got to end at EPCOT. I draw the line at Disney World. Everything else is up for grabs, Beirut, Warsaw, go ahead, yuck it up. But leave WDW alone; have you not been on the Maelstrom Ride?
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on December 12, 1998
Wonder what it would be like to travel to dangerous places as an American tourist? Places like Lebanon, El Salvador, The Phillippines, and Palestine (all during times of active insurrection, of course)? No need... P. J. has done it for you. Reading this book you really get the feeling of having been to these places. It's a miracle P. J. survives even just the opening chapter, a casual ramble across Lebanon during their civil war. His sense of humor through all this is reminiscent of Dave Barry, full of flippant remarks and strange juxtapositions, yet on a deeper level his observations are also deadly serious. (They are occasionally quoted in decidedly serious policy magazines such as "The Economist", for example.) Reading this book may explain for you a lot about why the third world is at it is, but it's also a fun read and a good adventure at the same time.
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"Holidays in Hell" was the first book to collect the travel writings of P.J. O'Rourke for Rolling Stone magazine. Though a bit dated taday (these stories were from the mid 1980s) it is still quite funny and full of classic P.J. He establishes his mantra here, basically that if you really want to know whats going on in a country you should never interview its politicians who will never tell you the straight story. In this book, P.J. travels to Poland, Lebanon, Panama and Heritage U.S.A. among other places. But the best essay is called "Through Darkest America: Epcot Center" that is an absolutely dead on drubbing of the so-called Magic Kingdom. Through it all O'Rourke reminds me of a more political and funnier Bill Bryson. This book is well worth a read.
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on July 21, 2002
I read this in 1989, but I still like to go back to it. It's a classic and I believe, the best of P.J.'s books (I have almost all). Though, it seems dated now, going back to '80's history feels like yesterday and I have never forgotten certain lines, like when he was in bleak Warsaw, how "commies love cement." And if you think he encounters only the bizarre international world, his chapters on "Heritage USA (remember Jim & Tammy Bakker's Christian theme resort?) and Epcot Center remind us that the good 'ol USA has some wackiness of its own. His ramble through Lebanon (post Beirut war) where "the beaches, though shell-pocked...are not crowded and ruins of historical interest abound, in fact, block most streets" displays his intelligent humor for places lacking any humor at all. In fact, it reads like some Fodor's Travel Horror Guide, where in El Salvador "you pick [your hotel] according to the kind of fear you prefer."
Whether it was because P.J. was young, fresh and writing for Rolling Stone and other mags at the time, I don't know, but he has never quite matched this level of writing he set up for himself. His "All The Trouble In The World" would be my second pick if you like this one and I just don't see how anyone can't love "Holidays In Hell."
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on October 9, 2001
Peege & I would probably never ever vote the same way, but he is one of the sharpest guys on the planet, and not afraid to toss barbs at his fellow conservatives when they deserve it. I own several of his books, but it's Holidays In Hell that I treasure.
The majority of these essays were published in Rolling Stone, and Revenge of the Euroweenies was the first of his essays that I read. That essay was so funny and so ... true ... that I found myself calling friends long distance to read passages to them. Soon thereafter, Holidays In Hell was published and I read it cover to cover with lightening speed, howling all the way. The thing about Peege is that he's not only witty and clever, but many of the essays are thought-provoking and insightful when you look past the funny surface.
The next summer I spent 3 months in Guatemala with an archaeological expedition, and found that Peege was right on the money about so many things. (The essay on driving should be handed out to all Americans upon arrival in any 3rd world country.) I've given this book as a birthday or Christmas present to everyone I know who's been to a trouble spot. Even though it's over 10 years old, and political situations change, it's still a hoot.
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on September 11, 2014
Whee! If I were inclined to travel to any of the places the author has gone to; I hope I would have his matchless sense of humor. Humor is the only thing that would get me to venture into Libya, Mali or any other turbulent country. Common sense keeps me home with this very funny and friendly book.
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on February 20, 2004
Hilarious, insightful and succinct. No word is wasted, and even the smallest throwaway jokes will elicit a chuckle. Even when faced with the most dire situations in the most foreign of lands, the author resists the impulse to grandstand or pander. O'Rourke is the 20th century's answer to Mark Twain or H.L. Mencken, but less of a blowhard than either of those two. This book is a seminal work of gonzo reporting and modern non-fiction, and should be required reading for anyone wanting to be a foreign correspondent.
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on May 14, 2012
The essay on America's Cup was laught out loud funny! I read a book by Bob Baer at the same time I read the story about Beirut. Interesting, in as much, as it was a look at events in a city in the same time period but from very different angles. Most of the book though just wasn't that humorous.
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on May 8, 2012
Although some of the entries are a little dated, the author does a fine job of communicating his experiences of being an intrepid reporter travelling the globe from hot spot to hot spot, commenting on what real life is like behind the scenes of chaos. I think many times we read about another bombing or violent protest in a far-off corner of the world, and we turn the page saying, "Well, that doesn't really have anything to do with me." The author helps us to see the impact of foreign policy decisions (and indecisions) on the lives of real people living in real circumstances all over the world. Yes, he is a smart aleck and many of his sidebar comments are clearly "politically incorrect," but he wrote for Rolling Stone and many other similar publications, so what do you expect? He shares many foolish and almost life-threatening actions he took in pursuit of a hot story, but many of his quieter observations are even more telling, particularly when he travels behind the scenes to some of the world's greatest architectural treasures and reports on how they are being devastated by political actions. He is humorous and wry, but he also shares some real truths in his sarcasm. Perhaps the real message of this book is "The more things change, the more they stay the same." If only we had learned some lessons from the kinds of things the author experienced.
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on July 21, 2016
Do you know the easiest way to time travel? Buy a book on current events that was written decades ago. If you don’t know where to begin, “Holidays in Hell” could be a good start.

Back in 1980s, P.J. O’Rourke worked as a foreign correspondent; or rather, he was “a trouble tourist”. He visited remote places and witnessed “insurrections, stupidities, political crises, civil disturbances and other human folly”.

Since then, global living conditions significantly improved, so author’s observations of some places are not relevant anymore. Still, daily life for average people in many parts of the world (including the ones the author haven’t mentioned) remains bitter and even ugly.

“Holidays in Hell” may strike you as politically incorrect. He sneers at snobbish Europeans. He insists that in most cases, sufferings of the Third World nations are self-inflicted. He laughs at idealists: “Half of the world’s sufferings is caused by earnest messages contained in grand theories bearing no relation to reality”.

P.J. O’Rourke observations and opinions will probably be offensive to many of modern social justice warriors. But if you would like to break free from dishonest constraints of the current mass media narrative, this book will be like a breath of fresh air for you.

“Holidays in Hell” is neither a book of explanations, nor a book of recipes. The author observes and often laughs, but have no intention to sermonize. Still, I would not dismiss him as an idle joker. I can only agree when he says, “Civilization is an enormous improvement on the lack thereof. We are fools when we fail to defend civilization”.
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