Book: The Lunatic Express

The Lunatic Express

Travel and technology journalist Hoffman (Hunting Warbirds) had two motives for penning this tour of the world’s most life-threatening modes of transportation, including trains in India, buses in South America, and trucks in Afghanistan: to expose the “parallel reality,” obscured by the tourism industry, of millions for whom “travel was still a punishing, unpredictable, and sometimes deadly work of travail”; and for thrills.

By the first measure-showing how much of the world gets from place to place-Hoffman is commendably fascinating: his depiction of the horrors people endure just to see family members or get to work is unforgettable.

Unfortunately, Hoffman’s secondary motive dominates much of the ruminating prose, and it’s hard to sympathize with his middle-aged family-man angst when he’s subjecting his teenage daughter to a 24-hour ride across South American mountains in a bus with no bathroom. Elsewhere, a powerful description of the Indian train system segues into a tepid quasi-love affair. Readers with the patience to avoid some self-indulgent side-tracks will find much to reconsider during their next tough commute.

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