Monday, December 12, 2011

The World's Most Dangerous Places

Trips were always something that intrigued me.  Family trips, whether they were overnight camping trips just up Farmington Canyon or drives across the heartland to visit famous cities like St. Louis, were highlights of my childhood even if it didn't always seem that way at the time.  I know I was envious of friends that had flown in an airplane and I hadn't as a kid. I think I was about 11 years old when I finally had that chance, and it didn't disappoint, but, then again, that was back in the day when a flight from Salt Lake to Orlando featured an actual meal even for people in economy-class seats and honest-to-goodness turbulence that had us bouncing in and out of our seats.  Everyone knows the sad condition of meals on planes these days and somehow they've managed to avoid most turbulence, too.  The magic of travel hasn't worn off yet.  In fact, ever since my stint in Russia as a missionary, it's probably only gotten stronger.  It was my time in Russia that firmly entrenched my preferred style of travel, too — eschew organized tours, get around like the natives, pack in as much as one can since one can sit around at home for free (if you're going to pay for it, you may as well see some of the world's most impressive sights), and embrace the chance to get off the beaten path, such as my short trip to Armenia.

Book cover.In his fifth edition of his best-selling book, The World's Most Dangerous Places (ISBN: 978-0-06-001160-4), so-called extreme travel guru and author Robert Young Pelton explores some of the ins and outs of places that are most definitely off the beaten path.  He talks about some of the things one is likely to run into if you're trying to see the sights in Afghanistan, Iran, Zimbabwe, North Korea, or Russia.  The guide gives rather extensive information on adventure travel and the various ways to make it a reality in your life.  Then it delves into specific countries or regions (Chechnya, somehow, gets its own chapter even though Russia is also covered as a whole).  Each country or region gets a general overview, a run-down of some of the famous nutters that make the place a dangerous place to be, a list of other dangers that run the gamut from landmines to "67% of the hookers have AIDS," an idea of what getting a visa is like, and a list of some dates in the place's history that featured much death and general mayhem.  The book ends with a few more lists featuring things like what adventure tourists should pack and organizations that help people experience the crazy parts of the world while trying to "make a difference."

The book bills itself as a "guide to surviving hot spots, war zones, and the new[,] hidden dangers of global travel," but falls short of that goal.  It is undeniably often an enjoyable read, including some laugh-out-loud remarks thanks to the dry sarcasm and cynicism that anyone who has lived outside the U.S. for an appreciable amount of time will understand.  It is not hopeless commentary, but simply reality without the political correctness garbage that one suffers through when dealing with the media and academics.  Humor notwithstanding, there's not enough information specific to various situations to make the book any kind of real "guide to surviving" much of anything.  All the information provided is of a very general nature.  In fairness, it is probably meant to be that, but the advertising ought to be toned down if that is the case.  The sections on historical reasons and political reasons a place is now dangerous were often informative and nice overviews for someone like myself who needs some wit to make a place like Africa or South America seem even remotely interesting.  On the other hand, some of the facts were off, and when I see that the author says Russia is in NATO and labels a map of Russia in the Russia chapter as the "Commonwealth of Independent States," I have to wonder how much false information I read in the chapters about places I know almost nothing about.  Finally, one of the things I have come to admire a great deal in true guidebooks like DK's "Eyewitness Travel" series is a lack of opining; a guide book should just let you know how things are and not tell you if it's good, bad, or worth seeing or doing.  Pelton is obviously left-leaning, and that would not be a problem, except that it is brought up over and over again in the book, especially in his criticism of George Bush.  It grates on the reading and has little — if any — relevance to the subject at hand.  It should also be noted that some of the anecdotes included by journalists (for whom the book was written, in my opinion) include enough inappropriate language to garner the book an R-rating were it to be made into a movie.  The book is interesting reading as an overview to some crazy places that aren't on most people's radars, has some biting but often true commentary that will keep people interested, but has enough flaws to make me wonder how it became the phenomenon that it is.

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This work, including all text, photographs, and other original work, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License and is copyrighted © MMXI John Pruess.


Anonymous said...

"I see that the author says Russia is NATO and labels a map of Russia in the Russia chapter as the "Commonwealth of Independent States," I have to wonder how much false information I read in the chapters about places I know almost nothing about."

Well according to the University of Texas:

John said...


Sorry, but that map is actually showing the CIS, not just Russia. All the countries that are colored in were members of the CIS at the time that map was made. I'd recommend looking up "CIS" in a good encyclopedia to get a little bit of an idea of what is meant by that term and what countries are involved in that organization at present.