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Travels with Herodotus Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 5, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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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


“Kapucinski fashions an elegant homage to his literary ancestor, whom he helps us to see as the original foreign correspondent . . . Does an excellent job of bringing these ancient stories to life. Educated by the atrocities of his own time, he refuses to let Herodotus’s ancient atrocities become distant and abstract . . . Sheds light on his whole achievement as a writer . . . His books continue to live.”
–Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

“Kapucinski’s rapture is contagious . . . In this dramatic telling by one of modernity’s ablest chroniclers, Herodotus stands for democracy, openness, and tolerance. The same can be said of the equally enigmatic, and certain to be missed, author.”
–Lawrence Osborne, Men’s Vogue

“Kapucinski saw more, and more clearly, . . . than nearly any writer one can think to name. Few have written more beautifully of unspeakable things. Few have had his courage, almost none his talent. His books changed the way many of us think about nonfiction . . . A nameless energy gathers as one reads deeper into Travels With Herodotus, and one begins to realize that, in many ways, Kapucinski’s previous books, however brilliant, were somewhat impersonal. Here, finally, we experience the early tremors Kapucinski underwent for the privilege to write them. Not all of it is painful; much of it, in fact, is delightful . . . When the last page of this book is turned, note how much smaller and colder the world now seems with Kapucinski gone.”
–Tom Bissell, New York Times Book Review

“A final gift, a call to wander widely and see deeply.”
–Patrick Symmes, Outside

“An apt concluding chapter to Kapucinski’s corpus, an attempt by a consummate observer to account for the route traced by his own life via the great Greek traveler and proto-historian. The two men, separated by 2 ? millenniums, shared a compulsive, openhearted curiosity . . . Who better to write about a man who could not sit still than a man who could not get still?”
–Ben Ehrenreich, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Personally revealing . . . Kapucinski is not often didactic and never triumphalist. His luminous narratives are filled with odd juxtapositions and the ambiguities of real experience . . . Like Herodotus, Ryszard Kapucinski was a reporter, a historian, an adventurer and, truly, an artist.”
–Matthew Kaminski, The Wall Street Journal

“Extraordinary . . . Punctuated by wonder.”
–Elizabeth Speller, Financial Times

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (June 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400043387
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400043385
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #831,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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