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Pillars of Hercules [Paperback]

Paul Theroux
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 29 1996
"[THEROUX'S] WORK IS DISTINGUISHED BY A SPLENDID EYE FOR DETAIL AND THE TELLING GESTURE; a storyteller's sense of pacing and gift for granting closure to the most subtle progression of events; and the graceful use of language. . . . We are delighted, along with Theroux, by the politeness of the Turks, amazed by the mountainous highlands in Syria, touched by the gesture of an Albanian waitress who will not let him pay for his modest meal. . . . The Pillars of Hercules [is] engrossing and enlightening from start (a damning account of tourists annoying the apes of Gibraltar) to finish (an utterly captivating visit with Paul Bowles in Tangier, worth the price of the book all by itself)."
--Chicago Tribune
--The Boston Sunday Globe
"HIS PICARESQUE NARRATIVE IS STUDDED WITH SCENES THAT STICK IN THE MIND. He looks at strangers with a novelist's eye, and his portraits are pleasantly tinged with malice."
--The Washington Post Book World
"THEROUX AT HIS BEST . . . An armchair trip with Theroux is sometimes dark, but always a delight."
"AS SATISFYING AS A GLASS OF COOL WINE ON A DUSTY CALABRIAN AFTERNOON . . . With his effortless writing style, observant eye, and take-no-prisoners approach, Theroux is in top form chronicling this 18-month circuit of the Mediterranean."
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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Product Description

From Amazon

Paul Theroux has developed one of travel writing's most identifiable styles: always the foreigner, always a bit apart, slightly irascible, but perfectly observant. At last he has ventured to one of the most traveled places on earth, and returned with his most exhilarating, revealing, and eloquent travel book. In this modern version of the Grand Tour, Theroux sets off from Gibraltar, one of the fabled Pillars of Hercules, on a glorious journey around the shores of the Mediterranean. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The difference between a tourist and a traveler, says Theroux, is that the tourist knows where he's going. Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar), a traveler, as half a dozen of his popular books have attested, had no design for this adventure, no advance ticketing nor any commitment to stay or go anywhere. His only aim was to explore the Mediterranean coast without resort to airplanes. As a result, he found himself in unfamiliar villages on untraveled roads, acquired unexpected companions and slept in an assortment of inns, from fleabags to Hilton hotels, in Gibraltar Spain, the Riviera, Croatia, Sardinia, Greece, Albania, Morocco, the Levant and Israel. His pictures, like those of a wanderer with a sharp eye and an informed intelligence, though a large measure of condescension as well, are fresh even when he lands in well-reported places. Although most of his informants are casually met, now and then he interviews the famous, among them Paul Bowles in Morocco, Naguib Mahfouz in Egypt. This is a Mediterranean coast few know, as exotic and tumultuous now as throughout history.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pillars of Hercules Feb. 3 2004
By Kosovar
"It's all in your head"? Not at all. At least for Paul it isn't.
I'll explain myself. Well, The Pillars of Hercules is a book Paul wrote on his travels all over the Mediterranean. For people who didn't read other travel books by this wonderful writer let me tell you that he writes what he sees not about what he liked before he even went to one of his dream places. This particular book is amazing and I am only halfway through it and I learned heaps, and I could almost say that I've seen a lot too because the writing is so wonderful, so vivid. It just makes me feel that I am on vacation.
Anyways, if you decide to "Waste some of your time" on a book chose this one - I swear you wont be dissapointed at all. Apart from beautifully described places Paul visited you'll get to know about so many nations histories,culture,customs,stupidities etc.
Highly Recommended. Go PAUL you're even better than Bill Bryson. Hope you'll write about Kosova too someday. You would absolutely like it there. Warm Hospitality and an Enormous Love is what you'll find there especially if you're an American.
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Theroux travel books make good reading but don't look to this guy for an upbeat and overwhelmingly positive outlook on the places, the people, and circumstances that he run into during his expeditions!
Some memorable parts: detailed descriptions of Corsica, the good life in Italy versus its neighbors across the Adriatic, an unexpectedly beautiful part of the Albanian coast as well as in Syria, descriptions of children who are scarred by war, making friends in the Turkish ship from Istanbul to Alexandria and Israel, his evening arrival in Istanbul, his praise of high culture and good cuisine in Israel, recalling Durrell's version of Alexandria and Theroux's own experience (which makes some of the best reading in this book), his encounter with Paul Bowles in Tangier, a near brush with maritime disaster from a storm----I can go on and on.
Disappointments include brief stops in famous places like Venice, a dislike for Menton, and a negative view of the war-torn Dalmatian coast (no positive description whatsoever of this famous coast). A thoroughly negative perspective on Albania can be disturbing but is nonetheless expected from Theroux.
Overall, Theroux is one to read when you have the feeling that you may never get to go to some of these places and have chance encounters with interesting lives. In short, a good dose of vicarious travel experiences!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Are we there yet? Sept. 1 2003
By Zazee1
Way back in the sixties I watched some friends hit the hipster trail from Paris to Tangiers. They stopped in Ibitha (pronounced with a Castillian lisp) where they slept on the beach, adopted names like Pedro and peppered their speech with 'manana' and 'luego, baby.' Thanks to Paul Theroux I am no longer envious of my beret wearing pals. Embarking on an astonishingly ambitious journey around the entire shoreline of the Mediterranean he follows in the footsteps of Caesar and Alexander. I prefer to break out an atlas than break a sweat so this book was perfect.
Theroux acknowledges that most travel is arduous and sometimes dangerous but he succeeds in his quest to circumnavigate the old cradle of civilization. He winds his way through Spain, France and Italy managing to avoid the odious tourist industry by taking the train or using ferries, staying in no-star hotels. In these modest surroundings he manages to meet some real people. Except for the Spanish who are too embarrassed to talk about the past (Franco) and Albanians still paranoid about Big Brother he is rewarded with an abundance of entertaining material as he casually interviews folks in their own language. The coast of Yugoslavia has been balkanized with warring factions to the point where genocide is a way of life. The harrowing Third World atmosphere takes such a toll he decides to go home and work in his garden.
This intermission gives the reader a respite which extends to the next leg of his trip by his acceptance of a free ride on a luxury liner. Bountiful buffets, avuncular passengers and a sumptuous suite of his own. He has trouble tearing himself away from the sedutive 'Seabourne Spirit' but eventually resumes his no-frills method of travel. At every opportunity he evokes classical history and literature.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a brutal but honest tour of today's Mediterranean April 1 2002
Paul Theroux has produced a stunning book here, his recounting of an ambitious tour along the Mediterranean coastline, starting at Gibraltar and ending in Morocco across from "the Rock," along the way visiting just about every place in between, including Spain, France, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, mainland Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus (both sides), Israel, Malta, Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia. He tried to visit Lebanon but was unable to, and was warned off from visiting Algeria. He never seriously attempted to visit Libya. Vowing never to take a plane, he travels along the coast and to the various islands by train, bus, taxi, ferry and cruise ship (both luxurious such as the $1000 a day Seabourne to the more decrepit, workaday Turkish vessel Akdeniz).
Though Paul seems at time a romantic, quotting descriptions of places from epic poetry, the Illiad, or modern works of fiction, time and again he finds something different, and often that is a great deal more gritty, spent, or to use some of his massive vocabulary, enervated, melancholy, moribund, or lugubrious (I had to use a dictionary several times in reading it, but hey, I learned something). Though some of it comes off as depressing, some quite depressing, I wouldn't have it any other way; he tells it like it is, describing the places he really saw and the people he really met. Avoiding the tourist's Mediterranean, not wanting to just see ruins, castles, and pretty beaches, Paul shows us in this work how the people live, work, and play in the countries of this great "Inner Sea." Expressing "traveller's guilt" at times for being a "voyeur," Paul observed often times the sorrows, tragedies, and miseries, but also the joys and the friendliness, of the inhabitants of this part of the world.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I was on the trip with him!
That's how I felt as I was reading this book. Theroux explores the real country as he travels and made me feel that I was on the trip with him. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Denise Kennedy
2.0 out of 5 stars I usually like Theroux's writing but not here
When others have criticized Theroux's travelogues for being too narrowly focused and written is a somewhat 'grumpy' manner, I have always responded by saying that none of his... Read more
Published on April 17 2011 by C. J. Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Journey
I've always enjoyed Theroux's books, and this one was no exception. What I like about Theroux is that his books are not merely descriptions of the landscape or brief snippets of... Read more
Published on May 17 2004 by R. Dean
4.0 out of 5 stars You can't help but be jealous, can you
Oh, to be Paul Theroux - get an idea about where you want to travel and know that a publisher will pay you for whatever you write about your trip. Or something like that. Read more
Published on Nov. 6 2001 by Megami
2.0 out of 5 stars Fear of history?
In a way it's an interesting idea for someone professedly uninterested in history to write a book about the Mediterranean, probably the most historically imbued geographical entity... Read more
Published on Sept. 24 2001
2.0 out of 5 stars Fear of history?
In a way it's an interesting idea for someone professedly uninterested in history to write a book about the Mediterranean, probably the most historically imbued geographical entity... Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2001 by David
1.0 out of 5 stars Hysterical travelling
Other writers cite the grandeur of Spain, Paul Theroux saw only a series of greasy spots. The rest of the book goes pretty much the same way. Read more
Published on Aug. 8 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars I'd rather have Redmond O'Hanlon as a travelling partner
I quickly grew weary of his haughty and disdainful attitude towards nearly every person he encountered.
Published on June 6 2001 by Aaron Boyd
5.0 out of 5 stars One man's journey...
THE PILLARS OF HERCULES by Paul Theroux is a record of one man's journey around the Mediterranean. The journey took several months and included two separate phases. Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2001 by Dianne Foster
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