Travelling with The Lunatic Express

The title of Carl Hoffman’s The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes comes from an African railroad line that runs from Kenya to Uganda. So many people were killed while building the railroad that it was nicknamed the Lunatic Express. Lunatic may also be an appropriate word to describe the author and the adventures he took on to write this book.

Hoffman travelled around the world and back to the United States using the most perilous modes of transportation available-the type many citizens of the world use to get to their families or jobs, often risking their lives on a daily basis. Taking dangerous buses to mountainous parts of South America or buses in war-torn Afghanistan may not be the way most readers would want to see the world, but it is the way that Hoffman travelled.

He made it a point to take the same flight that crashed the previous year on the congested and too short runway at a Sao Paolo airport and also travelled on a ferry in Gambia following the same route on which the ferry, Joola capsized, killing over 1,800 people-more than perished in  the Titanic disaster. Hoffman took trips on the subways of Mumbai, India, where,  according to Wikipedia, over 4,500 people die annually ‘due to unsafe riding on trains or trespassing on railway tracks or as a result of suicide attempts’. Still others are electrocuted or pushed onto the tracks.

Hoffman’s daredevil travel exploits  highlight the disturbing disparity among the choices of transportation available around the world. As can be expected, your chance of reaching your destination unharmed seems in direct proportion to the quality of life in the area where you are travelling. In undeveloped countries, the poorest people have the most difficult time navigating their countries’ woefully unsafe boats, planes, ferries and trains.

This is an eye-opening book  filled with interesting characters and statistics, but, unlike other armchair travel books you may read, this one will not make you consider packing your bags to personally trace Mr. Hoffman’s unusual routes. But, please sit and read and enjoy from the safety of your comfy chair.

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