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The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today by [Conover, Ted]
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Length: 352 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

[Signature]Reviewed by Jeb BrugmannIn The Routes of Man, Conover, author of the NBCC award–winning Newjack, reveals globalization's neural system growing along the world's expanding and connecting road systems. Governments and smugglers, armies and insurgents, and the local poor and international NGOs negotiate their ambitions at border crossings, checkpoints, and dives. Tracing the route of rare mahogany from Peru's illegal jungle logging camps to Manhattan's brownstones, he examines how highways connect the fates of forests, untouched tribes, and finicky antique collectors. In the Himalayan frontier of Kashmir, highways are ventures of national territorial control, and in China a growing superhighway system underscores the disparity between the haves and have-nots. Conover's voice is that of a sobered Kerouac, tamed by a bigger conscience, and on an open road increasingly controlled by corporate, government, and military interests. His acclaimed narrative gifts are on full display in a wonderfully evenhanded treatment of the roadway in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Highways have been co-opted for Israeli settlements, and Palestinian professors, engineers, and migrant laborers construct ever-shifting back-road routes and taxi-hops to earn their living. With Conover as our guide, we move through Israeli checkpoints in Palestine's West Bank and witness the daily indignities faced by corralled Palestinian commuters and the psychological angst of Israeli soldiers. There is no open road here, just a gritty, fractured infrastructure of hatred that strangles both nations.More subtly, Conover reveals the highway as common social territory, particularly as the meeting place between men and women. His treatment of east African truck drivers—whose travels are suspected to be linked with the global spread of AIDS—avoids stereotype and sensationalism. He is as attentive to and interested by the drudgery of transporting goods as with the truckers' polygamy or encounters with sex workers and police bribery. We meet truck drivers who are true gentlemen and tough, articulate women fully capable of negotiating roadside life. Conover maintains a commitment to accurate portrayal and embraces the whole world, not only its dramatic aspects. The Routes of Man seeks to describe more than to explain this ever-connecting world. It does the former with an agility that leaves the reader anticipating the next adventure. But the narrative fails to build the argument posed in its subtitle: that roads themselves have become a source of change in the world, independent of the nations, armies, and cities that build, control, and fill them with trade and traffic. But this many-textured journey is not to be missed. Conover deftly navigates the romance and harsh reality of a world intent on a real and not just a virtual connectedness.Jeb Brugmann is author of Welcome to the Urban Revolution: How Cities Are Changing the World.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Reviewers were generally happy to follow Conover as he brought to life some of the world's most interesting and dangerous routes while managing to steer clear of the thousand "road-as-life" metaphors that could have congested the work. But they tended to criticize him with their own transit analogy: Routes of Man, many wrote, lacks the promised path connecting Conover's adventures perhaps because many of the essays originated as magazine articles in National Geographic, the Atlantic, and other publications. For some critics, this was no issue; the [hardcover's] subtitle, they argued, was clearly an imposition by the marketing department and shouldn't detract from the book. But others wanted more reflection from an author whom they respected for traveling so far and learning so much.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2134 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (February 4, 2010)
  • Publication Date: February 9, 2010
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0036S4DAQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #367,127 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Thorndike on February 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
We love roads, and we come to hate them. "Anyone," writes Conover in his opening paragraph, "who has benefited from a better road--a shorter route, a smoother and safer drive--can testify to the importance of good roads. But when humans strive, we also err, and it is hard to build without destroying."

That contradiction, that tension underlies the book. A road from Peru's Altiplano into the jungle allows access to valuable mahogany trees, but also threatens primitive people and an established ecology. In East Africa, a road that is a clear economic boon to many has also helped the spread of AIDS, via truckers and prostitutes along its length. Roads are integral to development, and development can look disastrous.

There is nothing armchair about Conover's reporting. He clearly has a library and has read widely, but each of the six chapters is written from inside a culture, whether the author is zipping along the new highways of China or riding inside an ambulance through the teeming, chaotic city of Lagos, Nigeria. It's a book full of people, and the conflicts are inevitable. Why, a friend asks the author, would he go to Lagos, a city which Conover admits has "few museums, not too many antiquities, only a handful of public spaces or buildings of note, and stunningly little natural beauty. It does, however, have a reputation for crime, and lots of lots of people." Because people are interesting, Conover says, and "So is crime."

So are the politics of Israel and Palestine--and the chapter on the roads of the West Bank is the best piece of journalism I've ever read about that conflict. Conover explores the Israeli checkpoints in the company of both Palestinians and the Israeli soldiers who try to control them. It's degrading to both sides.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ted Conover is the ideal travel companion. He seems equally comfortable standing in a swanky apartment in the Upper East Side, and tramping through the rain forest of Peru. In this book he takes us to places we'd otherwise never see: One day we're riding a mahogany raft down the Mother of God River in Peru, another day we're being herded through a dusty check-point in Ramallah. We get to know people we'd never otherwise meet: an African truck driver, teenagers from a remote Himalayan village, and an ambulance crew in Lagos, Nigeria. Roads connect these people. So does Conover's unerring eye for detail, and his pitch-perfect ear for language. This book is more than just an adventure: it's an invitation to understand each other and to know the world in which we live.
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Format: Hardcover
Quick warning ... This is not the wide-ranging study you'd think it would be from the title. Instead, it's really just a series of vignettes set on the road somewhere throughout the world - a driving club in China, a truck route in East Africa, hiking a frozen river in Tibet, following the trail of mahogany from the jungles of Peru, riding along with an ambulance through the traffic jam that is Lagos, Israeli blockades in Palestine ...

Now, these vignettes are mostly great. Conover is quite a gifted writer. He really gives you a feel for the places and people involved, and he does so without his own personality ever really intruding. (Some were better than others, though, with the Peru and Lagos ones seeming a little meandering.)

That this book is presented as anything more than a random collection of tales, though, is a joke. Conover makes an effort, but it's simply not there.

I found his little intermezzos between stories especially annoying in this regard. Instead of relating another story, they're mostly random musings and gatherings on some vague topic. One, called "Double-Edged Swords," manages to discuss Napoleon, Baron Haussmann, the Trail of Tears, Bataan, J.M Coetzee, Dino Buzzati, Afghanistan, Eisenhower, Mad Max, and Cormac McCarthy all in the space of 5 pages.

His métier is really just retelling his very interesting experiences. Along these lines, I highly recommed Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes,
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I downloaded this to my Kindle after reading a positive review in The New Yorker.
Each of the pieces in this book have a different feel, all presented a different view on a subject I had read about many times before - the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, the spread of AIDS and corruption in Africa, the emerging middle-class in China, the interminable violence on the West Bank and so on, but these stories give a much more intimate, personal feel to those stories, an opportunity to feel it up close - to give you a sense of personal experience.
The piece on the West Bank is one of the best pieces of reporting I have read in years.

Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"While Conover examines troubling issues that road-building can entail--pitting development against environmental concerns, or isolation against connectivity and possible erasure of local cultures, for example--it is his strong sense of life's clock ticking all around him that lifts his reporting above the ranks of travel-as-usual literature . ."

The building of new roads provokes mixed feelings for the wilderness that they replace and the never ending question of whether this is really progress. Roads change landscapes and both add and detract from the lives of the people nearby. In rich detail Ted Conover explores six routes and the impact of new roads. Included are just a few powerful pictures and thankfully some maps. But it's not just the geography and economics: he keeps a strong focus on the hopes and fears of those who travel these routes.

In Peru, a load of rare mahogany makes its way over the Andes from an untracked part of the Amazon basin... He hitches rides in unreliable, body-battering trucks on narrow winding roads up the sides of mountains then boats down backwaters to witness illegal logging. Finally, he stays at a hotel for eco-tourists. But a new east-west route across South America will soon cross this whole area changing everything.

In India, he walks for days on ice down a frozen riverbed with teenagers escaping their cul-de-sac Himalayan valley for more education: most will seldom return. Conover's high tech cold weather gear contrasts with the maroon goncha robes of the older men and then blends into the transitional garb of girls in traditional colorful garments and pink sneakers and boys in jeans and parkas.

In East Africa, he visits truckers whose travels have been linked to the worldwide spread of AIDS.
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