"Dark Tourism" – The Attraction of Death and Disaster " by John Lennon & Malcolm Foley (London: Thomson, 2000), 184 pages.
This is the "original", the "classic" work on dark tourism, the first publication in book form which features the term 'dark tourism' in the title. It does in large parts go back to earlier work, though, namely a series of academic papers/articles published by the same authors from the mid-1990s onwards.
Some parts of the book thus have a very "cobbled together" feel to them, which is quite probably due to the fact that it WAS indeed largely cobbled together from such earlier work. Having been in the "business" of academia myself for many years, albeit for the most part in a different field (see academic background), I can detect the telltale signs of this, as well as the hallmarks of a book edited under great time pressure (either from the publisher or the academic institutions involved, or, most likely, both). Some sections/chapters of the book are affected by this more than others, e.g. in both chapter four and chapter six whole chunks of text are repeated virtually verbatim within the space of a couple of pages (46/47 and 78/80, respectively). Other signs of insufficient editing are some of the inaccuracies, especially regarding place names in Poland or Germany (where, for instance Oranienburg near Berlin becomes "Dranenburg", p 44). There are further little errors, such as the misplacement of the House of the Wannsee Conference in the "north of Berlin", when in actual fact it's located right at the opposite end, in the south(west)ern-most corner of the city's territory. The renaming of the world-famous architect Daniel Libeskind as "David" is also quite a lapse (also p 44).
Such rather "technical" shortcomings should, however, not detract too much from the merits of the content of the book as a whole. As a pioneering work, of course, it treads on relatively uncharted territory, academically speaking, and thus not always on safe and established foundations. Such is the nature of breaking new ground in a field. It's not all new, though, and precursors to the study of what can now be termed "dark tourism studies" are also covered and quoted liberally. But it's really only with Lennon/Foley's book that this new (and still niche) subdicipline of "tourism studies" in general was instigated (the latter itself being a fairly recently established field, typically subsumed under Management Studies, or Social Sciences).
The fact that this was well over a decade ago shows in much of the dated details and figures (statistics for visitor numbers, for example) as well as in some of the authors' assessments of particular dark tourism experiences and commodifications. Problematic aspects of the presentation of history which they identify at memorial sites such as Sachsenhausen, for instance, have long since been rectified.
Readers unfamiliar with the lingo and style of social sciences academic writing may well find it rather "dry" and tedious, though. So be warned: do not expect an entertaining read, or even a lucid and enjoyable style. It IS over large stretches a rather dry academic book. It's neither travel writing nor a guidebook.
Instead it offers, in addition to general theoretical sections, a number of "case studies". Places covered in some detail are: Changi Prison in Singapore; Auschwitz in Poland; Sachsenhausen and various WWII and Holocaust-related sites in Berlin, Germany; the Channel Islands; the sites associated with the assassination of JFK (esp. the Sixth Floor Museum and Arlington), as well as the US Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. in the USA; Pearl Harbor in Hawaii/USA; the Imperial War Museum in London (and its various outposts), the WWII (battlefield) sites of Normandy in France; and finally, and perhaps most exotically, Cyprus (in particular Northern Cyprus and the Forbidden Zone between the two parts of the island).
Some of the places get some praise for their approaches to dealing with the difficult task of presenting the associated dark history. But the authors also have plenty of criticism in store, esp. especially so regarding the Channel Islands and Auschwitz-Birkenau – although in the case of the latter I find it a little too harsh to say that the site "remains mute, its message partly distorted and poorly told" (p.65). True, for visitors unfamiliar with the history of the place, information is scant – but would anyone that ignorant ever go there? In any case, guided tours can fill the gaps more than adequately (and so does the exhibition at Auschwitz I). I actually found the absence of modern multi-media information overload quite appropriate at this particular site. But maybe that's more my view as an actual dark tourist (who seeks out dark atmosphere at least as much as information), while historians and educators may well see this differently.  
Many other sites are covered by Lennon/Foley in much less detail (such as Colditz, Sarajevo, or the World War One sites of the Somme and Verdun), and often only in passing. In essence, then, it's all about a mere selection of a few case studies – so the book is NOT (and does try to be) a comprehensive survey of dark tourism sites. Accordingly, countless other dark tourism sites around the world do not get any mention at all.
On balance, then: the book is essential for all those with an interest in the academic side of the study of dark tourism. As the "original standard work" of the field it's a must-read for anyone new to the (sub)discipline, be it students or lay people with the relevant interest – and they may indeed find inspiration regarding something like a "theory of dark tourism" (some aspects are frequently referred to here too, where appropriate, such as the concept of commodification). However: it does not actually present anything "finished" that I would call a single coherent theory "proper" – for that it's simply too sketchy in its approach. At the end of many a section/chapter I often found myself asking "yes, and so what? …", basically missing some sort of overall point or direction in the "theory", even something only programmatic (given that it was the first book of its kind). Instead, many issues raised are left kind of in mid-air, as loose threads. It figures that the book raises more questions than it suggests answers to, also finishing on an overall questioning note – and the usual call for "further research".
For seasoned theorists of dark tourism studies, i.e. those who have undertaken such further research, Lennon/Foley's book is, in any case, already quite dated, not offering anything new (probably because they've read it long ago), since the field has moved on, naturally. For them, then, the book is mostly of historical value, given its "pioneer study" status.  
Practitioners of dark tourism who are not interested in the theoretical side of it all will get the least out of this book (it's quite simply not aimed at that sort of readership in the first place!). They may still find bits and pieces of interest, esp. hints regarding a few less well-known dark tourism sites – but practical travel guidance is missing. Overall, then, such readers would be much better off looking elsewhere (e.g. on this website).
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©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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