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The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean Hardcover – October 17, 1995

4.0 out of 5 stars 88 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Paul Theroux has developed one of travel writing's most identifiable styles: always the foreigner, always a bit apart, slightly irascible, but perfectly observant. At last he has ventured to one of the most traveled places on earth, and returned with his most exhilarating, revealing, and eloquent travel book. In this modern version of the Grand Tour, Theroux sets off from Gibraltar, one of the fabled Pillars of Hercules, on a glorious journey around the shores of the Mediterranean.

From Publishers Weekly

The difference between a tourist and a traveler, says Theroux, is that the tourist knows where he's going. Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar), a traveler, as half a dozen of his popular books have attested, had no design for this adventure, no advance ticketing nor any commitment to stay or go anywhere. His only aim was to explore the Mediterranean coast without resort to airplanes. As a result, he found himself in unfamiliar villages on untraveled roads, acquired unexpected companions and slept in an assortment of inns, from fleabags to Hilton hotels, in Gibraltar Spain, the Riviera, Croatia, Sardinia, Greece, Albania, Morocco, the Levant and Israel. His pictures, like those of a wanderer with a sharp eye and an informed intelligence, though a large measure of condescension as well, are fresh even when he lands in well-reported places. Although most of his informants are casually met, now and then he interviews the famous, among them Paul Bowles in Morocco, Naguib Mahfouz in Egypt. This is a Mediterranean coast few know, as exotic and tumultuous now as throughout history.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 511 pages
  • Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons; First Edition edition (October 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399141081
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399141089
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #825,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is the first of a few Theroux books I have read. I absolutely loved it. The book provides an excellent portrayal of people in the context of their history and culture. He travels to cities and regions along the Mediterranean that many of us wouldn't otherwise give a thought. One really gets a feel for what life is like in each town. This book, like his others, highlight the difference between a traveler and being a tourist.

I've given the book only 4 stars because your ability to enjoy the book will depend on how you feel about Theroux's voice. As other reviewers have indicated, he is a critical individual with a huge ego. If you find this tone off-putting, you may not enjoy the book. He does seem more annoyed in this book than in others, probably because there are more tourists around. Personally, I was so wrapped up in Theroux's excellent prose that I hardly noticed.

I am not sure why reviewers complain about this not being a good guide - it isn't meant to be a guidebook. Look to Fodor's, Frommer's, Rick Steves, or Lonely Planet for European guidebooks.
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Format: Paperback
THE PILLARS OF HERCULES by Paul Theroux is a record of one man's journey around the Mediterranean. The journey took several months and included two separate phases. Theroux tells of days of hiking, traveling by train, sailing a night steamer in a storm-tossed sea, and crusing through the sunny Greek islands on a fancy yacht. He travels light with a change or two of clothes in a backpack. He washes his clothes out by hand in the B&B's and cheap hotels he frequents. He grabs meals here and there.
Along the way he notes the writers who have passed before him, Robert Groves who lived at Deya with his WHITE GODDESS, Lawrence Durrell who knew Gaul well, the ancients including Herodotus. He stops to talk with living writers and reflect on the conditions of the areas he visits.
Theroux has written about his travels in many parts of the world, and though I've read some of his other works, I enjoyed PILLARS the most--probably because I am familiar with some of the places he describes along the coast of the "sea in the midst of the land" and I maintain a connection to the area.
Beginning in Cadiz Spain, founded by the Phoenicians 4,000 years ago on the Atlantic--where the real Pillars of Hercules probably existed--Theroux follows the coast from Spain to Italy to the Dalmatian Coast onto Greece the Levant, Egypt and then across North Africa. He relates his pleasure with one of the modern pillars of Hercules--Gibralter--the huge limestone rock jutting from the coast of Spain into the Straights of Trafalgar. Hundreds of British sailors and marines from the Napoleonic Wars are buried on this little spit of land England bought with blood and Spain wishes to reclaim.
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Format: Paperback
Mr. Theroux is making an attempt to achieve something very difficult; to make a trip through lands of different culture, history and political status and describe their people, mentality and way of life. I followed his path step by step. Sometimes feeling like a secret fellow traveler somewhere hidden in the same bus, the same train the same ship. I passed through lands I have never visited and his eyes became my eyes. I was discovering paths and myths I had never encountered. New worlds revealed to me: Spain, Sardinia, Croatia, Albania, Turkey. Apart from that, I was expecting to cure my homesickness; to virtually visit my motherland Greece and walk together with Paul Theroux into the same streets I had grown up, look the same sunsets and smell again a scent, just a scent, of the classical dream.
On the contrary his view on our country frightened me. Through his eyes the sun became black and the people ugly, aggressive, illiterate and dirty. Through his descriptions monuments became pissed stones. In his 200 Km bus trip, only shepherds existed.
It is not my intention to judge a famous and distinguished writer whose writing always excited me. The writer has the freedom to reflect his thoughts into the paper and his eye is always valuable and welcomed whatever unfair we feel it is. I would only like to discuss certain parts which I find to be politically incorrect and kindly contribute some ignored information.
In page 326 the author claims that 'The Greeks were not Greek, but rather the illiterate descendants of Slavs and Albanian fishermen (sic!)' and 'Beyond the headland was the Greek island of Chios, where Homer was born - if there was a Homer (sic!)' (p.355) According to that, not only the modern Greeks do not exist, but probably not even the ancient ones.
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By A Customer on June 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
...and not just for the reader. I had the impression that Theroux himself was tired of his journey about halfway through, and his cynicism and displeasure became increasingly evident throughout the latter portion of the book. Still, it was well-written, and I enjoyed it enough to read The Kingdom By the Sea. I'll keep reading, but I'll take him and his attitudes with a grain of salt.
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Format: Paperback
Paul Theroux has produced a stunning book here, his recounting of an ambitious tour along the Mediterranean coastline, starting at Gibraltar and ending in Morocco across from "the Rock," along the way visiting just about every place in between, including Spain, France, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, mainland Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus (both sides), Israel, Malta, Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia. He tried to visit Lebanon but was unable to, and was warned off from visiting Algeria. He never seriously attempted to visit Libya. Vowing never to take a plane, he travels along the coast and to the various islands by train, bus, taxi, ferry and cruise ship (both luxurious such as the $1000 a day Seabourne to the more decrepit, workaday Turkish vessel Akdeniz).
Though Paul seems at time a romantic, quotting descriptions of places from epic poetry, the Illiad, or modern works of fiction, time and again he finds something different, and often that is a great deal more gritty, spent, or to use some of his massive vocabulary, enervated, melancholy, moribund, or lugubrious (I had to use a dictionary several times in reading it, but hey, I learned something). Though some of it comes off as depressing, some quite depressing, I wouldn't have it any other way; he tells it like it is, describing the places he really saw and the people he really met. Avoiding the tourist's Mediterranean, not wanting to just see ruins, castles, and pretty beaches, Paul shows us in this work how the people live, work, and play in the countries of this great "Inner Sea." Expressing "traveller's guilt" at times for being a "voyeur," Paul observed often times the sorrows, tragedies, and miseries, but also the joys and the friendliness, of the inhabitants of this part of the world.
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