The World's Most Dangerous Places by Robert Young Pelton (Harper Collins) is a book I wished I could have written. All 1,022 pages of it.
One of the best books, and by far the best travel book, I have ever read. My copy is the 4th edition, released in 2000, but the 5th hit the market in 2003.
It is a travel guide about 'those places no-one in his right mind' would want to travel to. It is not only a travel guide. It is a handbook for the 'extreme traveller', a 'data bible' cramped with interesting facts and background material. All about the countries considered as the "World's Most Dangerous" and about how to take precautions for about any kind of situation you could encounter.
For each of the countries listed, R.Y.Pelton gives an introduction, a travel story, maps, describes who the 'players' -those in power- are, how you get there (in and out), what the dangers are, and other factual data. Full of reference material, book titles, websites, historical facts, etc...
It is easy to make a book like this dull, but Pelton writes about them in such a witty, funny, sometimes cynical, open-hearted way, this travel guide almost reads like a novel.
I mean who could resist chapter titles like:
- How to travel free, meet interesting people and then kill them
- Happiness is a warm gun
- Happiness is a dead Infidel
- The "Men Who Would Be King"-club
- The "Unemployed Warlords for Hire Department", or "It ain't over until the Fat Man swings"
- Getting Arrested: "Oh Won't You Stay... Just a Little Bit Longer"
It might all sound very 'hung-ho' and 'macho', but it is not really. Well, it is a bit. But it definitively not a 'Rambo'-book. Full of excellent tips on 'how to stay out of trouble if you really have to visit these places'.
I can not stop raving about it, really. I wished I could write like this. Here is one extract, about Dostum, one of Afghanistan's famous warlords -eh I guess in the mean time National Government Ministers-..
General Rashid Dostum
Roly-poly Rashid got caught up in his own web of intrigue when his second in command defected to the Taliban on May 25, 1997, and had to hightail it to Ankara. Dostum used to control eight provinces in the north and ran his little kingdom out of his hometown and western military headquarters of Shebergan, Jozjan province, 80 miles from Mazar. Detractors will tell you that Rashid is an old-time commie warlord who is propped up by Uzbekistan and drug transportation from the hash- and poppy-rich fields around Mazar-i-Sharif. He was a man with a grade school education surrounded by gangsters. He packed his bags, family and flunkies and flew out to Ankara, Turkey, where he bravely proclaimed, "The war is not over." He promised to return "when the conditions are right." The conditions were right on September 12, when Dostum blasted his way into Mazar and sent Malik packing. Then of course the Talibs blasted him out of Mazar and he had to check if he could keep his lease on his bulletproof Beemer and swank pad.
Dostum, the former military commander under Najibullah, is now looking after the Uzbeki's interest in northern Afghanistan. The sight of his boss swinging in the breeze has not made him a fan of the Taliban or homesick for Afghanistan.
Connected to the book is the Come back alive website, which is just as interesting, and just as cramped with data as the book. It has a Wikipedia-based knowledge section, a forum, a place to post links and stories. A lot of the data from the book is published on this (free) website.
Also here, the data is a great read, provides a unique perspective of "the world's most dangerous places", making it a "don't go without it" website. I can spend weeks reading in it, and days writing about it.
If you are one of those, like me, blessed to live in or to travel through 'The World's Most Dangerous Places", this is your book. If you are not one of those happy few, but you are interested in more eXtreme travel, this is your book too. If you want to read well written non-fiction, I guess this book is it too. OK, OK, OK, I *will* stop raving about it.
Oh, and by the way, on a detailed count, it seems I lived in, or travelled through, 26 of the 38 countries Pelton lists as 'The World's Most Dangerous'... I enjoyed every single one of them.
Enjoy this book. More of my favourites, you can find in my online library.
More recommended books from The Road.