Book Review: The Lunatic Express

Carl Hoffman’s book, The Lunatic Express, is a great read for anyone who is a fan of travel. I realize that last phrase, “a fan of travel,” is a bit vague, but literally anyone who enjoys or is passionate about any aspect of travelling, from short road trips to vocational travel, will find something compelling in this book, as Hoffman does a great job of expressing how travel affects each and every one of us.

That is quite a feat because Hoffman, himself, travels for a living; as a journalist, he travels much more and has quite different experiences than most people do. Through these travels and through his own reading, Hoffman became interested in some of the more interesting and dangerous methods of travel around the world, and decided to spend the better part of a year using those methods of travel and writing a book about his experiences — and The Lunatic Express is the result.

Hoffman does a great job of describing buses that hug the mountainsides of South America and which regularly tumble over the sides; trains in India that pack as many people as humanly possible into its cars, often killing passengers; and trains in Africa with passenger cars full of nothing that works and the imminent threat of robbery hanging over everyone. The author dives head-first into these and many more exciting, yet terrifying, experiences of moving from one place to another. And along the way, Hoffman encounters people who are more genuine and generous than he could have ever imagined, particularly in off-the-beaten-track places. In fact, he regularly notes that the nicest, most selfless people seem to live in the poorest countries.

BookHoffman learns lessons like this, as well as many more personal lessons along the way. In between the lessons and descriptions of places, people, and transportation that he gives, he whets the appetites of readers to visit each and every place he does. He has a wonderful ability to paint the most beautiful pictures of what could be considered the most awful places on earth. The key to his experiences lie in his openness to engage with people in each place and to be open to experiencing what their cultures can offer him.

I have to admit that I was not impressed with all parts of the book. For example, though it did make for an interesting segue, I was not expecting to learn about how Hoffman’s time away played a part in destroying his marriage. I expected to learn about how the dangerous methods of transportation had a profound impact upon the author’s life, but I didn’t expect the impact to be quite so profound and quite so tragic. However, the disintegration of Hoffman’s marriage is an important part of the story of his year away, and so it needed to be included.

On the whole, I enjoyed The Lunatic Express“>The Lunatic Express and would recommend it for anyone who’s interested in the world’s most interesting, terrifying, and deadly methods of transportation and wants to know what it’s like to travel on them.

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