I picked this book up because I love both traveling and reading about travel. The premise seemed excellent - "let's travel around the world without once setting foot on an airplane." As someone who flies a lot, I can understand the motivation.
At first I was intrigued by the nuances of alternative travel...how does one book passage on an ocean-going freighter??? These insights were interesting at first.
I didn't get a real sense of the wanderlust of the author and his mate, but rather got a sense that the motivation was...hey I have an idea for a book, let's use that as an excuse to travel.
No problem with that, until they get out on their adventure and set out to be the most anti-Will Rogers types I've come across in a long time. The author and his girlfirend set out to demonstrate that they never met a man (woman) they ever liked!
Much of the book is Mr. Stevenson attempting to demonstrate his humor and wit by denigrating everyone he meets. He & his mate make fun of the Russian girl announcing over the speaker on the Estonian ferry that a face-painting activity is about to begin - hilarious! Here's a fellow from the U.S., who more than likely doesn't speak Russian or Estonian, making fun of an employee offering a fun activity to children, and respite to their parents, in English. This is just the beginning, as he has insulting descriptions of everyone he meets...on Russian trains, on buses, on cruise ships ("assist me in ridiculing these fogeys" p.218 - even while accepting their hospitality). This author has a snarky attitude which I am certain he believes is clever and witty.
It's humorous to Google him and find him writing an article for Slate in 2006 discussing the "mean-spirited" Apple ad...Stevenson epitomizes mean-spiritedness in this book.
When reading the book you keep looking for adventure...but it never really comes. Basically his job was to circumnavigate the globe without flying, and he succeeded - even if he did leave his girlfriend behind so that he could catch a departing ship. What a swell guy, I guess we now know that her chance of accomplishing the circumnavigation was not a priority for him.
In many places they don't "have time" to stop and see anything...they are the worst sort of travelers in this book - "check it off, so we can say we did it."
Their travels ended with a whimper...back to their wonky D.C. worlds of writing for Slate (which I like) and working as an attorney.
This book is about nothing more than Stevenson saying "look at me, look at me...I can leave a perfectly safe & prosperous Gen Y life behind for a few months, complain about everyone I meet, insult them, write a book that other snarky people might enjoy, and hope for some more of those prestigious 'Lowell Thomas' awards."
If you want to read real travel writing - that sometimes is dark, but analytical and insightful, then save your money on Stevenson and read Paul Theroux.
If you want to read humorous travel writing - well written & inspired by a genuine delight in travel, adventure, and meeting people and making friends then read Bill Bryson.
The ultimate irony of this book offering...the title - Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World - could not be more misleading. I expected a a payoff of the potential of the double entendre in the title: a clever travel premise - circumnavigate without flying, and a "grounded" author sharing his adventures. Stevenson isn't grounded, he thinks he's better, smarter, and more clever than everyone he meets. Good luck to him.