Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism
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—The New York Times
—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."
"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."
"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)
- Item Weight : 7.5 ounces
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307394651
- Product dimensions : 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.98 inches
- Publisher : Broadway Books (April 22, 2008)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0307394654
- Best Sellers Rank: #622,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I read the reviews of this book after reading it and while I respect everyone’s opinion and them sharing it, most of the negative reviews missed the entire point of the book.
This is not a go-to or how-to book. It’s a book about the author’s journey to becoming a travel writer when he was tasked with writing a guide to visiting northeastern Brazil and the struggles, problems, and issues that came with it—some of it self-imposed, others not.
Yes, there are parts of the book where he tells of his numerous trysts but that was all part of his journey and they are not described in explicit detail.
If you read this book in its entirety and learned nothing about the struggles of a travel writer, then perhaps the author had hoped or thought one might learn or understand the travel writing business from his point of view and through his experiences. Does the author do everything right? No. Could the author have made better choices and could he have chosen to do things better, yes but those are all facts that he admits to in the book.
There is a lot of back story at the beginning of this book but I think it was necessary and puts things into context and perspective for the reader as the writer starts his journey. It helps the reader understand some of his motivations as he goes on his travels. This book was funny—often funny, intriguing and eye-opening. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I'll say one thing for T. Kohnstamm: he really broke the mold with this work. It's a hilarious combination of memoir, travel, and adventure. The writer is an excellent story teller. The story is, as he puts it on page 56, "People, when dislocated from their customary surroundings, can free themselves from preconceived notions of how they are supposed to act." This is actually an understatement. The characters that the writer encounters in NE Brazil are bizarre, and T.Kohnstamm is one of the characters himself. As he puts it on page 145, "I've been commended for my buffoonery in the past." I love the writer's frenetic energy. The story is fast-paced and I laughed out loud and attracted strange looks while reading this on the Brooklyn "R" train. To me the funniest parts are actually set in New York rather than Brazil. The work begins with an astonishing bar crawl with his friend "the doctor," and ends with another reunion with the same friend, with whom he made a pact to "take hold of the random craziness and own it."
The work can be read as a memoir, and as such is very skillfully written. It has socially redeeming value in its lessons on the effects of tourism on 3rd world destinations, and its warning not to over-trust travel guides. it isn't all humor.
I really enjoyed the ride that T. Kohnstamm took me on. I recommend this book to everyone except for those poor folks who lack any sense of humor.
They also claim that he should have taken his job more seriously; this completely ignores the issue that no serious writer is going to hire onto Thomas' project for the pay that was being offered, with the deadline that was being suggested. The people hiring him knew what was going on and fully supported it because it was enabling them to hire cheap labor. This book really tells us what we should have known all along, in any project you get exactly as much competence as you're willing to pay for and the only people who don't see that are the ones expecting cheap travel guides to be factually correct.
Top reviews from other countries
On the positive side, it was helpful; lacking entirely in imagination, I had always assumed that a guide book was carefully and exhaustively researched, rather than populated by a stringer, sent out with no budget to hopefully swim, not sink. Now I understand why I've had such helpful gems from guidebooks (not written by Kohnstamm) as "Don't go here" summarising a town in northern Japan I had no way of getting away from for a day after I'd arrived, or why the advice on bus schedules in China is so poor.
On the negative, the plot, such as it is, is threadbare to say the least - Our Hero gets drunk, has ill-advised sex, writes, gets drunk ... although this is clearly true to life (what could be less interesting reading than an account of a man typing into a laptop?) it doesn't count as entertainment for very long. And it's hardly a book with much depth to it - I read it and Smile While You're Lying in the course of one day, and the latter book, covering much more of a career, was the one that's stayed with me since.
So, not terrible, but not anything special either.
Yes, there is a lot of personal information about Kohnstamm's antics whilst on the road, but this adds to the liveliness of the experience and pulls the reader in. I felt that by writing it in this way, Kohnstamm successfully managed to get the reader onside and experience it all with him (I did, anyway).