Travel literature review: Lunatic Express

Lunatic ExpressThe Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman

3 star

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Lucy Birchley

Lucy is a Communications Assistant at Lonely Planet's Melbourne office.

Have you ever taken a shonky taxi ride? Or crammed yourself into a dilapidated bus with windows that won’t open for an eight–hour journey?

As an adventurous traveller I have been known, on occasion, to take transport risks that I would never consider at home. I have been herded into dubious taxis, sat on aeroplanes praying that the jerking turbulence was ‘normal’ and tried to sleep on dark rickety trains hoping I would not be robbed. I have always accepted these journeys as part of travelling in exotic locations but I have never chosen these forms of transport on purpose. So when I sat down to read intrepid journalist Carl Hoffman’s The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World . . . via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes, I have to admit I was expecting a kitsch Indiana–Jones style adventure story.

Every time Hoffman picked up a newspaper he would read a story on transport disasters happening all over the globe, and he began to realise that the idea of ‘tourism’ – travel for the pursuit of pleasure – is far removed from the daily experiences of most of the world’s population. With this in mind, Hoffman decided to take the idea of dangerous transportation to a whole new level. He spent five months circumnavigating the globe by its most statistically dangerous conveyances, for example via Cuban airlines that have been banned from flying in the rest of the world, in South American buses that navigate treacherous corners on the edge of 1640-foot-deep gorges or on over-crowded Indonesian ferries that routinely sink.

While Hoffman endeavours to take the reader on an epic journey of discovery, I found this book lacks the emotive tools to engage with my ‘inner intrepid traveller’. I commend Hoffman’s journalistic ambition to grasp the psychology behind transportation attitudes to risk, but the retelling of his adventure is dry and unappealing.

On a positive note this book is speckled with interesting travel anecdotes, but it is Hoffman’s uncanny ability to capture the colourful host of characters encountered on the road, which make The Lunatic Express, at the very least, an interesting read.

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