Friday, August 26, 2011

THE LUNATIC EXPRESS - Hoffman - Book Review

My friend, Alison, thought the premise of this book was so crazy and interesting that she recommended it as a must read.  Carl Hoffman's The Lunatic Express is ludicrous and a fun read (as long as you don't picture yourself on the various modes of transportation described as I sometimes did).

Mr. Hoffman is a journalist who has traveled the world for his craft.  Then, because life wasn't challenging enough, he came up with the idea to travel the most disaster-ridden modes of transportation in the most underdeveloped and poor countries on the planet.

Did you know that Latin American roads are considered the most dangerous with 1.2 million people a year killed in accidents?  I did not.  "The buses of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia were particularly legendary for horrific crashes, often involving coaches plunging off cliffs, like the one in Peru in December 2006 in which a packed bus plunged into a 1,640 foot gorge, killing forty-five of the forty-seven passengers."  So, of course, he takes a bus ride but at least selects Bogota, Columbia where the bus companies have to post accident and fatality reports publicly.  What a comfort.

Hoffman takes the planes that have no maintenance inspections, the boats that overload beyond capacity, the crime-ridden trains (also overloaded), and of course the buses which routinely slide off cliffs in mudslides. The people who board these death-traps are poor and have no other choice to get to their jobs or wherever they need to be going.  And combine the high risks with the discomfort of overcrowding, cigarette smoke, heat, humidity, trash, and what I would imagine to be pretty heinous smells, makes one appreciate any length of commute here in the U.S.A.

Most of Hoffman's fellow passengers are pretty good natured (not the thieving criminals who are often on board) and at times are helpful to him--sort of taking him under their wing.  But, really, I am missing that risk-taking gene that Hoffman must have in abundance. Because there isn't one ride in this book I would want to experience.

Also included are interviews with the passengers who survived some of these horrific accidents.  And those stories are heartbreaking.

While at times the stories seem repetitive, overall I enjoyed reading about Hoffman's experiences and grateful I didn't have to live them.

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