A kind of mock travel guide – its subheading is: "80 places you DON'T want to visit" – and guess what, there's a sizeable overlap with prime dark tourism destinations, from Chernobyl
via the Aral Sea
, Los Alamos
and North Korea
, and loads more.
It's not quite clear, though, what the book wants to be. On the one hand it tries to describe places as scary or otherwise undesirable as a travel destination, on the other hand it obviously feeds on and/or generates curiosity and interest in these places. The tone is often somewhat aloof, as if to mock dark tourism – although that term is never actually mentioned. It's just there between the lines. But clearly, the author also picks up the fascination with and concomitant (dark) attraction of many such places.
Not all are truly dark tourism material, however. Or at least I fail to see how places related to the Da Vinci Code or the "forgotten Parliament of the European Union" in Luxembourg fit in.
In some chapters, the text goes grossly off topic – e.g. in a chapter about Berlin
, the Berlin Wall
gets no more than an initial few words, the remainder of the text is about socialist realism
art – not in Berlin, but in general. And the illustrative picture provided isn't even an example of socialist realism (being an abstract painting).
And then there are annoying little (or not so little) factual errors, e.g. in the chapter about the White Sands Missile Range and the Trinity site
in the USA
, the author mentions "a replica of the Fat Man bomb – the bomb dropped on Hiroshima
". Wrong. That was the (untested) bomb called "Little Boy". "Fat Man" was the Nagasaki
bomb – and it was that type that was tested at Trinity. Hence the Fat Man replica, NOT one of the Hiroshima bomb.
Another example: in the chapter about Mostar
, the author first goes somewhat off topic and writes about Sarajevo
: "laid siege to for long, cold and hungry months …" – it was a bit more than just months, for crying out loud! The longest siege in modern history, in fact: almost four full years! It wouldn't have taken much research to avoid such a gross factual "understatement". But then again, the book was published in the "disinformation travel guide " series, so I guess you can't complain too much about such erroneous pieces of information …
What is also frequently puzzling is how the author arrives at the "risk factor" values attached to each destination. How can Chernobyl
(which is perfectly commodified and safe as long as you follow the rules) get the same maximum risk rating as the still chemically contaminated (and totally uncommodified) former Union Carbide plant
? At the same time Baghdad
only gets a medium rating, and positively dangerous places such as Nigeria and southern Sudan get the lowest risk rating (like in fact the great majority of all the destinations covered). It's absolutely mystifying!
Sometimes the info is not so much wrong as so scant as to be hardly anything of value at all, esp. as regards the "how to get there" entry at the beginning of each section. Often this amounts to no more than "fly to X and take a taxi". Gosh. What detail.
In any case, you get the impression that the author hasn't actually travelled to more than possibly a handful of all those destinations described. (It becomes blatantly obvious in the chapter about Mostar
, where he mentions in another off-topic remark that Dubrovnik still "sports pockmarks" from its shelling, but fails to mention that Mostar itself bears numerous much more visible such scars from the war, including scores of buildings totally riddled with pockmarks from bullets and shells – so why, in a chapter about Mostar, mention Dubrovnik's but not Mostar's war scars? You see what I mean …)
Also the "Further Information" section in the back of the book tends to list just the odd random journalistic article or two about any given place, so maybe the whole book was just cobbled together that way?
Despite its shortcomings, esp. as an actual travel guide (which it probably doesn't seriously want to be), it's still a highly entertaining read over large stretches, esp. for its political sideswipes (frequently at US foreign policy, and with biting but very appropriate cynicism) – this is, you can quickly tell, where the author is really at home. It turns out he's a Brit who's also written popular introductions to philosophy and has contributed to broadsheet newspapers too. It figures; esp. as regards the humour.
So, as long as you don't mistake the book for a dark tourism travel guide, it can still be entertaining reading, esp. as it offers quirky asides about so many places relevant to real dark tourism.