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Pillars of Hercules by Paul Theroux
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Pillars of Hercules

by Paul Theroux

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English (11)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All (13)
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Certainly the best of Theroux's work - though I have yet to read a book of his that wasn't at least interesting. His grand idea this time is to travel from Gibraltar to Ceuta (Morocco), the two fabled pillars of Hercules, but to do so the long way round. That's the principle, at any rate. What follows is a uniquely bizarre adventure that swings this way and that around the Med; nothing is as simple as it seems. Wonderfully fun. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Sep 8, 2016 |
I've liked Paul Theroux's travel writing since I was in college, when I read Kingdom by the Sea, his account of traveling around England by foot. I love that he's grumpy, opinionated, straightforward, and difficult. And when he's on, he's really funny. I laughed out loud several times over the course of this book. But damn, it was tough going until he got to the war-torn countries. I'd say the first half of the book, spanning Spain, France, Italy, and the various islands, were some of Theroux's least inspired writing, at least what I've read from him. He seemed dour, the places all began to feel the same, he was forever walking around unremarkable coasts, looking for hotels and dinners. But once he got to Albania, the entire tone shifted, and I began to feel Theroux was in his element. When this book was published, the Bosnian conflict was in full swing, so I feel much of his writing here qualifies as war reportage. From there, the work only got stronger. His blunt assessment of Israel was interesting, as were his journeys through Syria, particularly with the hindsight all of us now have of that troubled country. I also got a kick out of his time in North Africa. I think he did, too. He was most alive when he was in these locales. I also liked the sheer weirdness of how Theroux randomly gets on a luxury cruise--which I think he writes about fantastically. He follows this up with two more cruises, only these are far more modest, even weird. I appreciate the unself-conscious nature of much of Theroux's writing here. I just wish he'd cut out half of the countries he visited. It felt as if he were simply going through the motions in order to maintain the idea of the book--or the gimmick, I guess, which was to travel from one Pillar of Hercules to another. ( )
  bookofmoons | Sep 1, 2016 |
Excellent writing about a clockwise circuit of the Mediterranean, more or less. He skips a few places due to the political and military nature of that spot of geography, but does a good job getting into and eyeballing places the average person would not go. A really good eye for some incriminating detail.... ( )
  untraveller | Apr 6, 2014 |
Choppy and disconnected, but still well-written and fun. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
The Pillars of Hercules is a "Grand Tour of the Mediterranean", an encounter with the most storied sea on the planet. Paul Theroux is well up to the task of bringing a his unique brand of spartan travel to a journey that has been written about since Homer's Odyssey.

Reading the travelogues of Paul Theroux is not just an encounter with exotic geography and customs, it is also an intensely literary experience. Mr. Theroux is a scholar, a linguist and in his uniquely curmodgeonly manner a keen observer of men. He is funny and mindful of his sour temper as he pokes fun at his own style. He makes generalizations as he sneers at the "snap judgments and obnoxious opinions" expressed by Evelyn Waugh in Labels (1930), an account of that writer's cruise around the Mediterranean. I found his description of an encounter with another traveler hilarious -

"In life, it is inevitable that you meet someone just like yourself. What a shock that your double is not very nice, and seems selfish and judgmental and frivolous and illogical."

The book begins on a fiesty note - at the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the "Pillars of Hercules" where the author clearly prefers the company of apes to 'tourists'. Tourists he thinks are the worst kinds of humans but he promises early on not to talk about them. Mr. Theroux of course is not a tourist, he is a traveler. The interesting fact is that I agree with his characterization, at least of himself. I found the overall tone less vitriolic than the one employed in Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and Dark Star Safari. There are three cities the author showers considerable praise on - Dubrovnik, Jerusalem and Venice. He is kinder to the Italians but ruthless in his criticism of the Greeks. He relates his frustrating experience with Israel's security and then talks about his meeting with American expat Paul Bowles that borders on the surreal. I've encountered Istanbul twice in Mr. Theroux' works - once in Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and once in Pillars of Hercules - and I can't wait to go visit that grand city. There are encounters with other writers and other, more colorful characters, each contributing to a delightfully readable account.

Mr. Theroux says -
"But then a travel book is a very strange thing, there are few good excuses for writing one--all of them personal..The fairest way of judging travel books is by their truth and their wit"

If he were to judge his work by his own standards, I would say Mr. Theroux would be very proud. Highly recommended. ( )
  ubaidd | Dec 1, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
For along with being an anti-tourist, Mr. Theroux prides himself on being something of the village atheist: religious enthusiasm of any kind fills him with equal-opportunity loathing. And why not? There are enough horrors to be apportioned among the great Mediterranean faiths, and Mr. Theroux, to give him credit, casts a skeptical eye on the murderous accomplishments of the secular powers as well.
 
Theroux bestows perhaps his greatest compliment of all to the journey itself: ``I knew I would go back, the way you went back to a museum, to look . . . and think.'' Never has he said that before. As satisfying as a glass of cool wine on a dusty Calabrian afternoon
added by John_Vaughan | editKirkus (Jul 21, 1992)
 

» Add other authors (4 possible)

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Paul Therouxprimary authorall editionscalculated
Davids, TinkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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People here in Western civilization say that tourists are no different from apes, but on the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the Pillars of Hercules, I saw both tourists and apes together, and I learned to tell them apart.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0449910857, Paperback)

Paul Theroux has developed one of travel writing's most identifiable styles: always the foreigner, always a bit apart, slightly irascible, but perfectly observant. At last he has ventured to one of the most traveled places on earth, and returned with his most exhilarating, revealing, and eloquent travel book. In this modern version of the Grand Tour, Theroux sets off from Gibraltar, one of the fabled Pillars of Hercules, on a glorious journey around the shores of the Mediterranean.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:21 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In this modern Grand Tour, Theroux sets off from Gibraltar on a journey around the Mediterranean Sea. It is a long, lively, and occasionally dangerous trip, up the coast of Spain, along the Riviera, by ferry to the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, and beyond. By foot, train, bus, and cruise ship, Theroux travels around Italy and the Greek islands, to Albania in a state of near anarchy and to war-torn Croatia. He sails into Istanbul, its minarets and mosque domes beckoning him to the Levant. Ahead are Damascus and the villages of Syria, shrouded in the cult of Assad; Israel, besieged by suicide bombers; Egypt, Morocco and Paul Bowles' Tangier. Exploring wild coastlines, probing through layers of tradition and culture, ancient and modern, tawdry and splendid, Theroux weaves the legends and siren calls of civilizations as old as time into a story about life on the Mediterranean today.--From publisher description.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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