(Lonely Planet Publications)
By Roz Hopkins
This singularly delightful book will appeal to everyone from peripatetic backpackers to well-heeled tourists to homebound dreamers. You'll spend literally hours poring over its 216 gorgeous double-page spreads, each devoted to one of the 192 UN-designated countries in the world (plus a few others, such as Hong Kong, Scotland, and French Polynesia, that are included for their unique cultural and historical identities). The book is commendably egalitarian -- every country, no matter its size or "importance," gets two pages and identical showcases of information (capital city and population stats, plus lists of "essential experiences," "trademarks," and so on) -- and stunningly simple to navigate (the countries are arranged alphabetically and the photos are clear, big, and glossy). Throw out a name: Romania, say. Romania's two pages feature six photos, including a dark, evocative shot of a quintessentially European back alley with stone steps; a landscape shot of rolling hills; and a close-up of a Romanian woman in a flowered headscarf. Romania's capital, we are told, is Bucharest, its population is 22,271,839, and the country is surrounded by six countries and the Black Sea. Readers are urged to get to know the country by watching Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain (filmed in the Carpathian Mountains), to try the "ciorba de burta, a lightly garlicky soup made from tripe," and to plan their visits for May or June.
Then, simply flip the pages and get the Cliff's Notes on Russia, or East Timor, or Canada, or Uganda -- on places you've been, places you're planning to go, or places you think you'll never see. The Travel Book is escapism in the best sense of the term, and essential reading for any seasoned or wannabe globetrotter.
-- Claire Leavitt