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From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Newjack," " an absorbing book about roads and their power to change the world. Roads bind our world--metaphorically and literally--transforming landscapes and the lives of the people who inhabit them. Roads have unparalleled power to impact communities, unite worlds and sunder them, a From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Newjack," " an absorbing book about roads and their power to change the world. Roads bind our world--metaphorically and literally--transforming landscapes and the lives of the people who inhabit them. Roads have unparalleled power to impact communities, unite worlds and sunder them, and reveal the hopes and fears of those who travel them. With his marvelous eye for detail and his contagious enthusiasm, Ted Conover explores six of these key byways worldwide. In Peru, he traces the journey of a load of rare mahogany over the Andes to its origin, an untracked part of the Amazon basin soon to be traversed by a new east-west route across South America. In East Africa, he visits truckers whose travels have been linked to the worldwide spread of AIDS. In the West Bank, he monitors highway checkpoints with Israeli soldiers and then passes through them with Palestinians, witnessing the injustices and danger borne by both sides. He shuffles down a frozen riverbed with teenagers escaping their Himalayan valley to see how a new road will affect the now-isolated Indian region of Ladakh. From the passenger seat of a new Hyundai piling up the miles, he describes the exuberant upsurge in car culture as highways proliferate across China. And from inside an ambulance, he offers an apocalyptic but precise vision of Lagos, Nigeria, where congestion and chaos on freeways signal the rise of the global megacity. A spirited, urgent book that reveals the costs and benefits of being connected--how, from ancient Rome to the present, roads have played a crucial role in human life, advancing civilization even as they set it back.


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From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Newjack," " an absorbing book about roads and their power to change the world. Roads bind our world--metaphorically and literally--transforming landscapes and the lives of the people who inhabit them. Roads have unparalleled power to impact communities, unite worlds and sunder them, a From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Newjack," " an absorbing book about roads and their power to change the world. Roads bind our world--metaphorically and literally--transforming landscapes and the lives of the people who inhabit them. Roads have unparalleled power to impact communities, unite worlds and sunder them, and reveal the hopes and fears of those who travel them. With his marvelous eye for detail and his contagious enthusiasm, Ted Conover explores six of these key byways worldwide. In Peru, he traces the journey of a load of rare mahogany over the Andes to its origin, an untracked part of the Amazon basin soon to be traversed by a new east-west route across South America. In East Africa, he visits truckers whose travels have been linked to the worldwide spread of AIDS. In the West Bank, he monitors highway checkpoints with Israeli soldiers and then passes through them with Palestinians, witnessing the injustices and danger borne by both sides. He shuffles down a frozen riverbed with teenagers escaping their Himalayan valley to see how a new road will affect the now-isolated Indian region of Ladakh. From the passenger seat of a new Hyundai piling up the miles, he describes the exuberant upsurge in car culture as highways proliferate across China. And from inside an ambulance, he offers an apocalyptic but precise vision of Lagos, Nigeria, where congestion and chaos on freeways signal the rise of the global megacity. A spirited, urgent book that reveals the costs and benefits of being connected--how, from ancient Rome to the present, roads have played a crucial role in human life, advancing civilization even as they set it back.

30 review for The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today

  1. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "The origin of existence is movement. Immobility can have no part in it, for if existence were immobile, it would return to its source, which is the Void. That is why the voyaging never stops, in this world or the hereafter." - Ibn al-'Arabi Ted Conover is a stable mix of William T. Vollmann and Paul Theroux. If I were to Venn diagram Vollmann, Theroux, and Ted Conover, there would be a ∪ between Vollmann and Theroux for fiction and there would be a ∪ for all three for narrative nonfiction, trav "The origin of existence is movement. Immobility can have no part in it, for if existence were immobile, it would return to its source, which is the Void. That is why the voyaging never stops, in this world or the hereafter." - Ibn al-'Arabi Ted Conover is a stable mix of William T. Vollmann and Paul Theroux. If I were to Venn diagram Vollmann, Theroux, and Ted Conover, there would be a ∪ between Vollmann and Theroux for fiction and there would be a ∪ for all three for narrative nonfiction, travel, poverty, and trains (Conover: Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes; Vollmann: Riding Toward Everywhere; Theroux: The Great Railway BazaarGhost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway BazaarRiding the Iron Rooster, The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas). In this book, Conover gives us six roads/trails, each exploring different themes he is trying to develop: development vs the environment (The transportation route of mahogany through Peru from Assis in Acre state, through Puerto Maldonado and Cuzco to Lima/Callao; technically he did this the other direction, but the movement of mahogany is from the Brazil border down to Lima), isolation vs progress (Ladakh-Zanskar down the ice road/root route of the frozen Indus river called the chaddar), military occupation (all the security check points of the West Bank are belong to us), transmission of disease (Kenya/Uganda), social transformation (China), and the future of the city (Lagos, Nigeria). It was a fascinating, if not often depressing, look at the trade-offs that come with development, exploration, trade, and travel.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    This book was mentioned on NPR and because the author explored roads in places where or near where we had been, I wanted to read it. His premise is about the power of roads to change the world- sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad ones. In Peru he traveled with loggers who were denuding mahogany in Amazonia and brining it over the Andes to sell. In East Africa, he went with truckers. It is assumed that truckers had brought aids to towns along the routes when they visited whores. He also w This book was mentioned on NPR and because the author explored roads in places where or near where we had been, I wanted to read it. His premise is about the power of roads to change the world- sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad ones. In Peru he traveled with loggers who were denuding mahogany in Amazonia and brining it over the Andes to sell. In East Africa, he went with truckers. It is assumed that truckers had brought aids to towns along the routes when they visited whores. He also went into a remote part of the Himalayas in India and walked on ice an impending route to judge how it would affect the culture there. The toughest parts to read however, were visits to both Israeli and Palestine natives. The Israeli side has young soldiers who are bored but have to man check points. The Palestinian people he visited are constantly harrassed and in fear and unable to work because of the check point, both the ones that are always manned and those that are set up all of a sudden in a temporary manner. I truly felt that our pledges to Isreal are supporting an unfair situation. The final segment was to Lagos, Nigeria a place of poor and oil rich that sounds like road traffic may be the worst in the worl.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Fascinating thoughts on the duality of roads. We go to Peru, Palestine, China, Kenya, Nigeria, and India to see the good, bad, and ugly of roads and people. We even walk on frozen rivers as well as boat down the water roads of the jungle. Conover is no stranger to adversity and danger and he makes for a great travel companion. The people he meets in the course of these many trips come alive and feel like an acquaintance of yours. Belongs with some of the epic books on travel by Chatwin and Thero Fascinating thoughts on the duality of roads. We go to Peru, Palestine, China, Kenya, Nigeria, and India to see the good, bad, and ugly of roads and people. We even walk on frozen rivers as well as boat down the water roads of the jungle. Conover is no stranger to adversity and danger and he makes for a great travel companion. The people he meets in the course of these many trips come alive and feel like an acquaintance of yours. Belongs with some of the epic books on travel by Chatwin and Theroux.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Ward

    The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today by Ted Conover (Alfred A. Knopf 2010)(388.1). Ted Conover is one of my favorite authors writing today. I prefer nonfiction; I enjoy stories in which an author says, “let me tell you what I know, what I did, what I saw, or what happened to me.” That's exactly the kind of books Ted Conover writes. I've been with Ted when he worked as a prison guard (Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing), when he drove a taxi in Aspen (Whiteout: L The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today by Ted Conover (Alfred A. Knopf 2010)(388.1). Ted Conover is one of my favorite authors writing today. I prefer nonfiction; I enjoy stories in which an author says, “let me tell you what I know, what I did, what I saw, or what happened to me.” That's exactly the kind of books Ted Conover writes. I've been with Ted when he worked as a prison guard (Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing), when he drove a taxi in Aspen (Whiteout: Lost in Aspen), when he became a migrant farm worker (including illegal border crossings from Mexico in Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders with America's Mexican Migrants), and when he travelled by rail with America's tramps (Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes). This Ted Conover book is about roads and the changes that opening a new road (literally “an inroad”) brings to bear on a territory/community/population. While new roads bring in modern conveniences and modern ways of life, the resultant loss of a traditional way of life is guaranteed to result. Conover takes us to Africa, to China, and to South America (Peru). New roads cause the same result each time on each continent. Before I knew it, I had finished the book, and Conover had once again convinced me of the veracity of his premise. My rating: 7/10, finished 11/28/18.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    The stories in this book, telling the tales of six different roads all over the globe and exploring their implications, actual and potential, for the people who use them or live near them, were amazing and engaging, bringing us to parts of the world that I will almost certainly never experience and introducing us to many insightful and memorable people. Important questions concerning globalization, cultural assimilation, and environmentalism are raised and addressed, sometimes obliquely, by the The stories in this book, telling the tales of six different roads all over the globe and exploring their implications, actual and potential, for the people who use them or live near them, were amazing and engaging, bringing us to parts of the world that I will almost certainly never experience and introducing us to many insightful and memorable people. Important questions concerning globalization, cultural assimilation, and environmentalism are raised and addressed, sometimes obliquely, by the people the author visits and interviews, as well as by the author himself. This book has a lot going for it. Personally, however, I found something in the author's tone and certain choices he made in narrating the story extremely off-putting. At times, it felt as though he substituted equivocation for the objectivity that he was so clearly striving for--especially in the West Bank chapter. His descriptions of the women with whom he interacted focused too often on their physical attributes and attractiveness (or lack thereof)--especially in the Kenya chapter. In the end, I couldn't get past my personal response to the author's storytelling to enjoy this book as fully as I otherwise might have.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ohenrypacey

    Conover writes in the tradition of the great John McPhee, he goes along for the ride and makes the characters he meets as entertaining and informative and the subject he is writing about. I liked the first half of this book better than the last, so i lost a bit of momentum while reading it, but i enjoyed it thoroughly. Q: 3 E: 3 I: 3 12

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kristal Cooper

    In the introduction to this new book, Ted Conover describes travel as "an expression of personal curiousity, of a broader education less mediated by received thought." I completely agree, and I now realize that this is exactly why I like Conover's books so much. Through them, he takes me to places and introduces me to people I don't have the courage or means to visit myself. This is another example of his outstanding storytelling. He again brings to the masses a better understanding of a complex In the introduction to this new book, Ted Conover describes travel as "an expression of personal curiousity, of a broader education less mediated by received thought." I completely agree, and I now realize that this is exactly why I like Conover's books so much. Through them, he takes me to places and introduces me to people I don't have the courage or means to visit myself. This is another example of his outstanding storytelling. He again brings to the masses a better understanding of a complex, multi-faceted current cultural issue. By reading this book, you can't help but get a new perspective on the world and our inter-connectedness. That said, it was my least favorite of all of his works. I believe this is simply because the rest were set in the United States, making it easier to imagine the towns he was in and the people he was around. Selfishly, I hope he comes back to the U.S. for his next book so I can just sit back and enjoy the ride. Ironic, but true.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lainie

    In this non-fiction book, Ted Conover takes us along as he travels on roads in the Amazon, Ladakh (India), Kenya (East Africa), the West Bank (Palestine), China, and Lagos (Nigeria). Each chapter is like a long-form magazine article, with background and details that help satisfy the armchair traveler's yearning for experience--without the bugs, diseases, heat, cold, lack of privacy, and inconsistent access to amenities. In each case, we get to know some of the fellow travelers, and learn a bit a In this non-fiction book, Ted Conover takes us along as he travels on roads in the Amazon, Ladakh (India), Kenya (East Africa), the West Bank (Palestine), China, and Lagos (Nigeria). Each chapter is like a long-form magazine article, with background and details that help satisfy the armchair traveler's yearning for experience--without the bugs, diseases, heat, cold, lack of privacy, and inconsistent access to amenities. In each case, we get to know some of the fellow travelers, and learn a bit about how the road(s) have affected the local culture, economy, environment, and human health. Conover's writing is engaging and he seems an ethical journalist. This was a book group choice, and although I generally choose fiction, I think I will seek out his "Newjack," about working as a guard at Sing Sing for another opportunity to peek into a different world. Like the best literature, the stories in this book allowed me to view the world from a perspective very different from my own. Recommended.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    I listened to this audiobook as part of my own personal research for the book I’m working on about backroads travel through North America, and I thought this one, on the history of roads and travel routes in general, and six roads in various parts of the world [including Africa; the Indian Himalayas; Peru; China; Middle East], would be informative. That, plus I am a mega-fan and I love everything I’ve ever read by Ted Conover. While this book is not particularly pertinent to my own story, it did I listened to this audiobook as part of my own personal research for the book I’m working on about backroads travel through North America, and I thought this one, on the history of roads and travel routes in general, and six roads in various parts of the world [including Africa; the Indian Himalayas; Peru; China; Middle East], would be informative. That, plus I am a mega-fan and I love everything I’ve ever read by Ted Conover. While this book is not particularly pertinent to my own story, it did not disappoint. This is a book about 6 roads he claims have reshaped or are reshaping the world. He joins up with people on them – guides and travelers to whom they matter in an immediate and practical way. They are presented in rough order of increasing complexity: which is also the intentional order in which he traveled them over several years. Each has a theme: development vs. the environment. Isolation vs. progress. Military occupation. Transmission of disease. Social transformation and the future of the city. He explores questions such as what does connectedness mean, and he shows that not all connections are necessarily good. What follows are sections I’ve quoted from the book which I feel express the underlying themes of this very interesting book. “Every road is a story of striving. Or profit. Or victory and battle. Or discovery and adventure. Or survival and growth, or simply for livability. Each path reflects our desire to move and connect. Anyone who has benefitted from a better road, a shorter route, a smoother and safer drive, can testify to the importance of good roads. But when humans strive, we also err. And it is hard to build without destroying. Numerous neighborhoods have been wiped out, turning vibrant communities into wastelands. The same roads that carry medicine also hasten the spread of deadly disease [i.e. AIDS in Africa]. The same roads that bring outside connection and knowledge to people starving for them, sometimes spell the end of indigenous cultures. The same routes that help develop the human economy open the way for destruction of the non-human environment. The same roads that carry cars, symbolizing personal freedom, are the setting for the deaths of more people than die in wars, and of untold numbers of animals. And the same roads that introduce us to friends, also provide access to enemies. “Most things still arrive overland by train or plane, but always substantially by road. 'If you’ve got it, a trucker brought it.' The era of prosperity that followed WWII, along with new mass manufacturing of cars and trucks, prompted unprecedented booms of road constructions in the US, notably the interstate highway system, and in Europe. As cars became available for purchase by millions of people, their use promoted the growth of suburbs. Their demand for petroleum changed the geopolitical arrangement of the world, and their exhaust, and that from other machines, began a warming of the planet’s atmosphere whose ramifications become better understood and more feared every day.” And finally, this personal sentiment of Conover relates most directly to my own feelings about this topic of roads and their place in my own life: “Being on the road is one of the ways I’ve always felt most alive in the world. Road travel has been a main story of my life, beginning with bicycle tours in the years before I could drive; intense pleasure in getting my driver’s license; and road trips … after I had – mainly during a college career that involved a few detours. Formal college education has never seemed to me sufficient. It has repeatedly sparked in me a visceral longing for the lessons of life outside. College felt like it was about 'imposed learning.' Travel was an expression of personal curiosity… And travel on roads seemed especially the right kind. Coming of age seemed to mean 'leaving the city.' Roads WERE The West in certain ways – civilized, yet often remote and unsupervised. Without question I was influenced by the ethic of the beat and hippie generations that came before me, which saw travel as a masculine prerogative, if not duty. “On the Road”, with its celebration of movement and its equation of travel with poetry got under my skin.” And this is the reason why I connected to and enjoyed this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Emily Culbertson

    Ted Conover's adventures across the world tied together a multitude of perspectives concerning the influence roads have on them. I never realized how little I considered the origin of the roads I've been traveling my entire life until I read this book. Conover connected the ancient and modern linkages to roads, how civilization and the environment have been altered by them, and how the literal journey along a road illustrates that countries culture and political problems. I feel as though I visit Ted Conover's adventures across the world tied together a multitude of perspectives concerning the influence roads have on them. I never realized how little I considered the origin of the roads I've been traveling my entire life until I read this book. Conover connected the ancient and modern linkages to roads, how civilization and the environment have been altered by them, and how the literal journey along a road illustrates that countries culture and political problems. I feel as though I visited five new countries over the course of this book, yet I can't wait to walk along some of the same paths Conover travels myself. Well written, interesting facts, incredible people, would recommend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Curtis

    I am very stingy with five stars, and rarely award them to nonfiction, but I really liked this book! The prose was engaging, and there was something quite fascinating about how the author chose the particular routes, and how he described interactions with the people of various cultures. I have always believed that the best stories are about people, not places, and this book exemplifies that, defining the routes by the people who take them or are affected by them. I highly recommend this!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen McRae

    My first issue with this book is the title.The Routes of Man is gender bias and not acceptable today when we are striving for female inclusiveness. Also most of the women were described in view of their physical attributes. It becomes increasingly difficult to take seriously a tale that is clearly seen through the lens of gender bias.

  13. 5 out of 5

    R

    A fun little jaunt of travel adventures united by the theme of 'roads'. Really not about roads, that's a convenient fiction. Rather, very little about roads (no stats, no analysis) and lots of human interest stories. But nicely written and enjoyable. A fun little jaunt of travel adventures united by the theme of 'roads'. Really not about roads, that's a convenient fiction. Rather, very little about roads (no stats, no analysis) and lots of human interest stories. But nicely written and enjoyable.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Karl

    A nice collection of travel essays: pleasant to read, but little more.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    NF 302 pages The author travels and explores the roads of Peru, East Africa, the West Bank, the Himalayan Valley, China, Lagos, and Nigeria.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Christine H

    Would have given it five stars but the last chapter didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the book. Would have given it five stars but the last chapter didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Fascinating!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ethan Gilsdorf

    BOOK REVIEW Tracing our roads and the bumps along the way By Ethan Gilsdorf, Boston Globe Correspondent | February 9, 2010 Roads bring us together. They shape where we live, and how we interact with each other. Choices are forks, decisions are paths. Robert Frost tells us this, and so does Bob Seger. But “not all connections are good,’’ warns Ted Conover in “The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World, and the Way We Live Today.’’ “Connection means vulnerability.’’ Conover, whose previous bo BOOK REVIEW Tracing our roads and the bumps along the way By Ethan Gilsdorf, Boston Globe Correspondent | February 9, 2010 Roads bring us together. They shape where we live, and how we interact with each other. Choices are forks, decisions are paths. Robert Frost tells us this, and so does Bob Seger. But “not all connections are good,’’ warns Ted Conover in “The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World, and the Way We Live Today.’’ “Connection means vulnerability.’’ Conover, whose previous books covered prison guards (“Newjack’’), illegal immigrants (“Coyotes’’) and railroad hobos (“Rolling Nowhere’’), examines how roads can bring treasure or trouble. Each chapter is a separate voyage. In one, he traces mahogany’s origins to the remote forests of the Amazon, and wonders what will be lost if a proposed transoceanic highway links the Brazilian and Peruvian coasts. Other trips take him to East Africa, China, Nigeria, and India - places vulnerable to, or already overrun by, the effects of roads. Conover’s approach is on-the-ground, reported travelogue. He rides with reckless Chinese drivers; he sleeps in the cabs of Peruvian truckers; he walks for days on ice in Ladakh, India. Run-ins with police, thieves, and border guards attest to Conover’s down-and-dirty dedication. The best chapters, such as his adventures in the West Bank (balanced by spending time with Israeli soldiers on patrol and Palestinians crossing checkpoints), pose the hardest questions. When Conover travels to Ladakh, he finds a valley so remote that the only route out in wintertime is over a frozen river. A new road will open the valley up to year-round access. Some locals welcomed this. Others feared it: “As life sped up . . . people would have less time to pray. And strangers would arrive, people with different beliefs.’’ Short essays serve as transitional material between each major road trip. These cover memories of driving his dad’s Porsche in high school or a meditation on a pet toad brought from New Hampshire to Manhattan and back. Or they breeze through the history of road building - from ancient Rome to the 19th-century redesign of the Parisian urban grid. Oddly, the shorter interludes can seem more complete than the longer travelogues. That’s because in the latter, Conover’s account often feels more like dusted-off journal entries than polished prose. We get laundry lists of food eaten, local attire observed, pit stops taken. The reader may be left wondering why these details matter. Some chapter sections peter out inexplicably, with no sense of foreshadowing or conclusion. Ideas are raised that aren’t given adequate attention. In his chapter about China’s embrace of the automobile, Conover describes great changes underfoot. The United States’ 46,000-mile Eisenhower Interstate System will be surpassed in 2035 if China’s planned 53,000 miles of expressway get built. “Lord only know knows where it all could be headed,’’ Conover meekly concludes. In a chapter about the route from Mombasa, Kenya, to Kampala, Uganda, Conover tackles the tricky subject of how that road helped spread AIDS because of relations between truckers and prostitutes. Following up 11 years after his first trip, he rides shotgun once again with a truck driver named Obadiah, whom he wrote about in a 1993 New Yorker piece “Trucking Through the AIDS Belt.’’ The trip is eye-opening, but reported too anecdotally and narrowly. He might have visited with AIDS experts or cited studies that would help connect the dots. Conover is a master of first-person, immersion journalism; his road trips are both entertaining and poignant. But in the end, the book doesn’t delve deeply enough into the subject matter promised by the subtitle. Rather, “The Routes of Man’’ may as well have been subtitled, “Remote places I have been, people I met, and the route I took to get there.’’ Ethan Gilsdorf, author of “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms,’’ can be reached at [email protected] © Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    This is a well-reported series of six long-form "immersion journalism" reports loosely linked by the theme of "roads." But perhaps its best sections are what's between the main chapters. The roads in the main chapters are a Peruvian highway across the Andes and related river routes in the far western Amazon (the subject is the impact of development on indigenous peoples and on the environment), a Himalayan track atop a frozen river (same subject), an East African trucking route (same subject, plu This is a well-reported series of six long-form "immersion journalism" reports loosely linked by the theme of "roads." But perhaps its best sections are what's between the main chapters. The roads in the main chapters are a Peruvian highway across the Andes and related river routes in the far western Amazon (the subject is the impact of development on indigenous peoples and on the environment), a Himalayan track atop a frozen river (same subject), an East African trucking route (same subject, plus AIDS), highways and streets in the West Bank blocked by Israeli checkpoints (the subject is exactly what you'd think), a road trip with a group of middle- and upper-class Chinese vacationers (the subject is China's oddball incorporation of Western freedoms and business models into its tightly controlled socialist society), and the congested streets and highways of Lagos, Nigeria, as traveled by ambulance drivers (the subject is unbridled growth without effective planning or controls). Conover's reporting is fine and, indeed, nervy and brave. His writing is very good, if nowhere near the richness of a John McPhee. His analysis and philosophizing, on the other hand, is typically banal, obvious and overwrought. (The book's concluding pages may have you rolling your eyes.) He learns a lot about how people live and how their traditions are being changed by globalization, but he really hasn't any notable conclusions to add to the debate. This is not to say he's not an intelligent, observant person; that he is. But he hasn't the depth of analysis you want out of someone observing such historically and culturally momentous situations. That said, I'd recommend the book as reportage. Readers will learn a lot about many places they likely know little about, and the cultural details and personalities are well rendered. Perhaps my favorite sections of the book are the interstitials -- "knee plays," if you're a Robert Wilson fan -- between the six main chapters. In these, Conover addresses other road-related topics of interest: Incan roads built for a culture without wheels, the history of Broadway in New York City, the impact of roads on adjacent animal life (road kill), and other subjects. These sections are compact, informative, often personal and even poignant. If you get bored with any of the main sections (China and Nigeria are the least illuminating), feel free to skip to the next--but do not skip the interstitials.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Stephany Wilkes

    I was simultaneously encouraged and envious while reading this book: I travel not an iota as much as I'd like, and here is a man whose life work is comprised of lighting out for the road. Wonderful! The Routes of Man is a keenly observant, often humorous travelogue that welcomes and digs into (but fortunately does not attempt to solve) many of the world's complex issues that the author encounters while traveling. He follows mahogany from its source in the rain forest to Manhattan (a chapter I fel I was simultaneously encouraged and envious while reading this book: I travel not an iota as much as I'd like, and here is a man whose life work is comprised of lighting out for the road. Wonderful! The Routes of Man is a keenly observant, often humorous travelogue that welcomes and digs into (but fortunately does not attempt to solve) many of the world's complex issues that the author encounters while traveling. He follows mahogany from its source in the rain forest to Manhattan (a chapter I felt both slightly ashamed and conflicted about, as a carpenter, which is part of the book's point). A theme in my reading is a love of gray areas, and this author nails it: There is no single, easy solution to both rain forest preservation and deep poverty, to a love of family and village and the teenage urge to explore and experience some independence. Conover follows teenagers walking out of their Himalayan village for the first time across ice, traces the spread of AIDS via truckers in Africa and, in one of my favorite chapters, visits Lagos, one of the least mentioned but largest cities in the world that (at least to me) sounds much more like a William Gibson novel than reality, so crowded that mechanics' shops are set up on highway bridges with shops and markets on or beneath them. The only shortcoming is that the book is definitely heavily male, but it's for good reason and shouldn't dissuade readers. In many of the places the author travels, it would be inappropriate for a male author to spend a long time speaking or traveling with women. In some areas the author visited, women also do not tend to work in jobs (tree cutting, driving trucks) that facilitate access to the road. A few women are mentioned, but I missed their perspective. Read it, enjoy it, and live vicariously through Conover's travels until your next ones.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jillian

    '"And what would you go there to see, exactly?" asked one culture-minded friend. She has a point. Lagos has few museums, not too many antiquities, only a handful of public spaces of buildings of note, and stunningly little natural beauty. It does, however, have a reputation for crime, and lots and lots of people. But people are interesting. So is crime.' p268 Those last two lines made me laugh in recognition; pretty much every journalism student I know here (myself included!) feels the same way. Wh '"And what would you go there to see, exactly?" asked one culture-minded friend. She has a point. Lagos has few museums, not too many antiquities, only a handful of public spaces of buildings of note, and stunningly little natural beauty. It does, however, have a reputation for crime, and lots and lots of people. But people are interesting. So is crime.' p268 Those last two lines made me laugh in recognition; pretty much every journalism student I know here (myself included!) feels the same way. Why are you a journalist? Because people are interesting! So is crime. It's especially strong in Conover. Curious, willing, unpretentious and matter-of-fact, those lines also sum up his writing. Stylistically, he's not my favorite literary journalist, but I doubt he'd call himself a writer of creative nonfiction, so we're probably okay. He's a hard reporter writing long-form investigative pieces, following a question in trucks and down rivers until it's answered, generating more questions that, one by one, they quietly join the migration patterns of current debates on globalization. He's clever about turning the story of an individual into a national issue like that. He can also convey character in a few gestures, populating his roads with citizens bright and real. I love Conover's sharp detail and resonate with his sense of narrative in all things. His writing is clunky sometimes, especially in the section on road metaphors. There are some short and reflective vignettes interspersed between chapters, and although they seem out of place they do temper the pace of the book and, in some instances, lighten and personalize the tone.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    Another winner from Ted Conover, who in my opinion is the best writer working in immersion journalism alive. In "Routes of Man," Mr. Conover travels six "roads" -- a Peruvian river, an Indian ice river route, an East African transnational trucking route, Palestinian and Israeli checkpoints, a Chinese road trip, and the rounds of ambulance drivers in Lagos, Nigeria. Along the way, the road becomes the vehicle for Conover to do what he does as well as anyone -- explain the nuances, beauty, strange Another winner from Ted Conover, who in my opinion is the best writer working in immersion journalism alive. In "Routes of Man," Mr. Conover travels six "roads" -- a Peruvian river, an Indian ice river route, an East African transnational trucking route, Palestinian and Israeli checkpoints, a Chinese road trip, and the rounds of ambulance drivers in Lagos, Nigeria. Along the way, the road becomes the vehicle for Conover to do what he does as well as anyone -- explain the nuances, beauty, strangeness and horror of humanity. Check out his take on Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" (spoilers for McCarthy's book follow): "Cormac McCarthy's harrowing novel 'The Road' takes the dystopic premise of those [Road Warrior:] films and subtracts sunshine and mirth and cars that still run. And it adds starvation, depravity, plenty of corpses, and the terror felt by a dying parent and orphan-to-be. In 'The Road,' highways become the setting for everything that still happens in the world, which means the wanderings of forlorn survivors of nuclear winter, people trying to scratch out a survival from the wreckage of houses, boats, and cars in the new dark age. Some of the pavement is scorched and buckled; some is covered with slush and ice; none of it, the protagonists find, is easy to traverse with a loaded grocery cart full of one's worldly belongings. The road is the largest remaining artifact of the pre-apocalyptic world, the source of all food and all danger, the only place to be." The last part of the last line -- the road is the source of all food and all danger, the only place to be -- is a pretty good summation of Conover's book as well.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Grady

    The title is presumably a play on Thomas Paine's 1791 book, 'The Rights of Man', or the old folk song with the same name. But rather than being about the world as it ought to be, or the policies cities or nations ought to pursue, Ted Conover deftly sketches the world as it is, through the vehicle of road trips in six very different places, with a number of smaller (and less effective) meditations as sidebars. The six locations lend themselves to different themes: in Peru, the tension between res The title is presumably a play on Thomas Paine's 1791 book, 'The Rights of Man', or the old folk song with the same name. But rather than being about the world as it ought to be, or the policies cities or nations ought to pursue, Ted Conover deftly sketches the world as it is, through the vehicle of road trips in six very different places, with a number of smaller (and less effective) meditations as sidebars. The six locations lend themselves to different themes: in Peru, the tension between resource extraction and conservation; in rural northern India, between tradition and access to global culture; in Kenya, the impact of HIV/AIDS; in Israel and the West Bank, the nature of occupation; in China, the way the new rich repurpose American tropes (such as the freedom of the open road); in Nigeria, the tensions of a rapidly-urbanizing city. But even to describe the book that way (or as the subtitle does) is a bit misleading - Conover doesn't spend a lot of energy trying to reach closure on the big themes. His gift is offering access to lives and worldviews that most readers aren't ever likely to have otherwise. I don't know much more about transportation policy for having read the book, but I feel a little wiser, with a slightly better capacity to imagine what it would be like to live as the people Conover meets.

  24. 5 out of 5

    David

    When I started reading The Routes of Man I thought it was going to be about famous roads in civilization. I was mostly wrong. It’s actually a very engrossing modern day worldwide road trip. Conover is an interesting guy and in The Routes of Man he takes the reader to many of the most desolate, dangerous and delightful places on Earth and introduces us to some of the individuals who live there. He travels the most remote roads and rivers of Peru to explore the illegal mahogany harvesting occurrin When I started reading The Routes of Man I thought it was going to be about famous roads in civilization. I was mostly wrong. It’s actually a very engrossing modern day worldwide road trip. Conover is an interesting guy and in The Routes of Man he takes the reader to many of the most desolate, dangerous and delightful places on Earth and introduces us to some of the individuals who live there. He travels the most remote roads and rivers of Peru to explore the illegal mahogany harvesting occurring there. From Tibetan ice river treks to the new “self-driving clubs” enabling wealthy Chinese to drive the brand new roadways to the hellhole called Lagos Nigeria, Conover strives to provide the character of the people and places and when possible the beauty. A common theme for each venue is how the changes in roads will impact the citizens of the area and that the changes appear to be inevitable. For some, the story may be a little bit dry, but I liked it and give The Routes of Man a good read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Ludke

    As a writer, it's clear that Ted Conover see's somewhat differently than most of us. There's an attention to the detail, a specificity that informs his narrative providing it with a grounding. Then there's the higher level associations connecting these details to broader ideas. Whether he's describing the lives of villagers in rural India while they travel 100 miles on a frozen river or he's stationed with soldiers guarding checkpoints in the West Bank, the human and the humanitarian are communi As a writer, it's clear that Ted Conover see's somewhat differently than most of us. There's an attention to the detail, a specificity that informs his narrative providing it with a grounding. Then there's the higher level associations connecting these details to broader ideas. Whether he's describing the lives of villagers in rural India while they travel 100 miles on a frozen river or he's stationed with soldiers guarding checkpoints in the West Bank, the human and the humanitarian are communicated with skill and drama. This, however, is not at the expense of the larger picture of the planet or humanity as a whole. Traveling six vastly different thoroughfares Ted Conover shows us the environmental, political, economic, and ultimately the human impact of roads. Each journey Ted Conover describes seems more starling than the previous. This is a thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    William Blair

    I picked up this book based on the dust jacket blurb. It was all that, and much more. The author describes events surrounding either the building or the ongoing uses of a handful of roads around the world. He visits all of them, and weaves their history or current relevance into the story of his visit and the interesting people he met. This was very engaging and quite entertaining, and the history of the roads and their geographic areas so seamlessly woven in was something that I would never have I picked up this book based on the dust jacket blurb. It was all that, and much more. The author describes events surrounding either the building or the ongoing uses of a handful of roads around the world. He visits all of them, and weaves their history or current relevance into the story of his visit and the interesting people he met. This was very engaging and quite entertaining, and the history of the roads and their geographic areas so seamlessly woven in was something that I would never have sought out on their own. But it's much more than a travel log, and I learned much about the roads and their history. For example, all those wide stone-paved roads in Peru were for ceremonial use by priests and the rulers, not for the public at large: that's why they are still in such good shape. They were religious monuments, not roads! I could go into detail here about each of the roads, but I have a better idea: just get this book and read about them for yourself!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brook

    If you like books that take the physical world around us, man-made and natural (Botany of Desire, The Secret Knowledge of Water) and extrapolate information about us from it, you will enjoy this book. It is not as well-written or succinct as, say, Botany, but follows the same theme. We visit different "roads" around the world via the author, who travels there firsthand. Following the great trucking roads across Africa, and it correlation to the spread of AIDS, was the most interesting of the vig If you like books that take the physical world around us, man-made and natural (Botany of Desire, The Secret Knowledge of Water) and extrapolate information about us from it, you will enjoy this book. It is not as well-written or succinct as, say, Botany, but follows the same theme. We visit different "roads" around the world via the author, who travels there firsthand. Following the great trucking roads across Africa, and it correlation to the spread of AIDS, was the most interesting of the vignettes. The author does not do as good a job as I would have liked getting into the characters heads and lives, at least in the narrative. He also occasionally strayed away from the theme of the sub-stories, without always tying them in. Of course, some of that must be done do keep the story interesting. Overall an enjoyable book for those who like these sort of books (I do). Unintentionally learning about the big picture is always fun.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brandy

    This is one of the greatest books ever; the journalist is a hero. He travels through six of the world's major roads (or locations of potential roads) in Peru, Zanskar of Northern India, Kenya, the West Bank, China, and Lagos in Nigeria in order to explore some of the issues surrounding roads. As stated brilliantly in his introduction, "...the same roads that carry medicine also hasten the spread of deadly disease; the same roads that bring outside connection and knowledge to people starving for This is one of the greatest books ever; the journalist is a hero. He travels through six of the world's major roads (or locations of potential roads) in Peru, Zanskar of Northern India, Kenya, the West Bank, China, and Lagos in Nigeria in order to explore some of the issues surrounding roads. As stated brilliantly in his introduction, "...the same roads that carry medicine also hasten the spread of deadly disease; the same roads that bring outside connection and knowledge to people starving for them sometimes spell the end of indigenous cultures; the same roads that help develop the human economy opens the way for destruction of the non-human environment; the same roads that carry cars symbolizing personal freedom are the setting for the deaths of more people than die in wars, and of untold numbers of animals; and the same roads that introduce us to friends also provide access to enemies" (pg.3). This book is informative, fun, stimulating, and peaks the curiosity to know more!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    I have read three other books by Ted Conover, each of which I really enjoyed, so I was looking forward to reading this book. While his other books have delved into a single topic/place/people, this one had 6 relatively short essays on 6 roads (and the people, culture, place surrounding the roads): a road used my loggers in Peru, highways frequented by truckers (who may encounter HIV) in East Africa, checkpoints in the West Bank, a frozen river that functions as the route to boarding school in th I have read three other books by Ted Conover, each of which I really enjoyed, so I was looking forward to reading this book. While his other books have delved into a single topic/place/people, this one had 6 relatively short essays on 6 roads (and the people, culture, place surrounding the roads): a road used my loggers in Peru, highways frequented by truckers (who may encounter HIV) in East Africa, checkpoints in the West Bank, a frozen river that functions as the route to boarding school in the Himalayas, auto touring in China, and the congestion of Lagos, Nigeria. I liked how in his prior books, Conover completely immersed himself in the culture and experience (even becoming a guard at Sing Sing prison) and that showed in his writing. I think these essays sounded more like Conover was being a reporter and not an anthropologist. Despite that, each of the chapters was fairly interesting, though I found some harder to follow than others.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    If the 10-day highway traffic jam in China in 2010 had you wondering about global transportation systems, I have the perfect book for you! Pulitzer finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award winner Ted Conover traveled to six different cities around the world to explore the ways that getting around can impact people's lives financially, socially, environmentally, even sexually. From East African trucking routes to West Bank checkpoints, Peruvian mahogany waterways to a frozen Indian riverbe If the 10-day highway traffic jam in China in 2010 had you wondering about global transportation systems, I have the perfect book for you! Pulitzer finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award winner Ted Conover traveled to six different cities around the world to explore the ways that getting around can impact people's lives financially, socially, environmentally, even sexually. From East African trucking routes to West Bank checkpoints, Peruvian mahogany waterways to a frozen Indian riverbed, (and, yes, Chinese highways), Conover uses his impressive powers of observation to glean, first-hand, how these modes of transportation are actually changing lives - for better or for worse. Add to the mix Conover's clear-eyed, down-to-earth, non-academic voice and you have one of the best books of the year.

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