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The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean Hardcover – Oct 1995

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 511 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Pub Group (T); 1st Penguin Edition edition (Oct. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399141081
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399141089
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 4.2 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 885,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Theroux was born and educated in the United States. After graduating from university in 1963, he travelled first to Italy and then to Africa, where he worked as a Peace Corps teacher at a bush school in Malawi, and as a lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda. In 1968 he joined the University of Singapore and taught in the Department of English for three years. Throughout this time he was publishing short stories and journalism, and wrote a number of novels. Among these were Fong and the Indians, Girls at Play and Jungle Lovers, all of which appear in one volume, On the Edge of the Great Rift (Penguin, 1996).

In the early 1970s Paul Theroux moved with his wife and two children to Dorset, where he wrote Saint Jack, and then on to London. He was a resident in Britain for a total of seventeen years. In this time he wrote a dozen volumes of highly praised fiction and a number of successful travel books, from which a selection of writings were taken to compile his book Travelling the World (Penguin, 1992). Paul Theroux has now returned to the United States, but he continues to travel widely.

Paul Theroux's many books include Picture Palace, which won the 1978 Whitbread Literary Award; The Mosquito Coast, which was the 1981 Yorkshire Post Novel of the Year and joint winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was also made into a feature film; Riding the Iron Rooster, which won the 1988 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; The Pillars of Hercules, shortlisted for the 1996 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; My Other Life: A Novel, Kowloon Tong, Sir Vidia's Shadow, Fresh-air Fiend and Hotel Honolulu. Blindness is his latest novel. Most of his books are published by Penguin.

Product Description

About the Author

Paul Theroux's books include The Last Train to Zona Verde, Dark Star Safari, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Elephanta Suite, A Dead Hand, The Tao of Travel and The Lower River. The Mosquito Coast and Dr Slaughter have both been made into successful films. Paul Theroux divides his time between Cape Cod and the Hawaiian islands. His most recent work is Deep South. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
People here in Western civilization say that tourists are no different from apes, but on the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the Pillars of Hercules, I saw both tourists and apes together, and I learned to tell them apart. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Nosy Wombat on 19 Feb. 2001
Format: Paperback
I started reading this book with trepidation. The last Theroux book I read was "Kingdom by the Sea", a book that primarily sought to inform the reader about how smart the author was and how he didn't much like anywhere in England at all. It was with great surprise that I actually thoroughly enjoyed the book from cover to cover.

Theroux is from an academic background and this often shows in his writing. His text is can be ponderous and abstract - examining what it is to be alive and to be in a foreign place. Unlike "Kingdom", however, which was 90% in this style, "Pillars" is a lot more fresh and accessible.

It should also be noted that Theroux's approach to travel is very individualistic - he takes the most pleasure from the most obscure places. He covers Barcelona in one page, Greece in 2, but spends a chapter on a remote village in Tunisia. This is perhaps the essence of his work. He concentrates squarely on the people in the places he visits, rather than the places himself. This stands sharply in contrast with the writings of the other popular travel writer, Bill Bryson, who seeks out the well known places on his travel and gives his forthright opinion of them. Theroux is more the dark shady traveller who mills around the edges of the sites and observes those who are there to see the sites.

Overall, I found the book to be highly enjoyable. It gives great insight into the people and culture of the Mediterranean, but don't expect to use it as a planning book for your next holiday - it is definitely the tale of one man's journey.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mr X on 27 Sept. 2008
Format: Paperback
I had previously read Theroux's 'Kingdom by the Sea' and have to say I intensely disliked it. So I was unsure about this book (which I'd bought before reading Kingdom) and it sat on my bookshelf for over 2 years.

But when I started to read this book I began to quite like it. I think that, as other reviewers have pointed out, the book is unconventional in a few ways.

First, Theroux, unlike other travel writers does not pretend to enjoy the company of all those who he meets and it is refreshing to have a travel writer who admits he really dislikes some people who he describes meeting.

Secondly, when visiting a country he doesn't head straight for the traditional sights but instead goes off the usual track and so gives the reader an insight into a country that he/she wouldn't get from reading other travellers' accounts.

Thirdly, he travels off-season and so the stories he tells and people he meets are mainly of those who live and work in the places visited which certainly makes the book more interesting. In contrast to this, there is one chapter in which he takes a journey on a luxury cruise ship. I see that one of the other reviews felt this to be out of place but I thought it was a very funny chapter. Also it demonstrated the shallowness of much of modern tourism as the tourists on this luxury ship saw virtually nothing of the countries they visited and simply wanted to return to the ship as soon as they could; it makes you wonder why they bothered going at all!

Anyway, this book has changed my view of Mr Theroux's merits as an author and has persuaded me to read more by him.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Julian on 7 April 2011
Format: Paperback
I bought this book because (1) I now am an American ExPat living in Spain; (2) I love some parts of the Mediterranean that I repeatedly visit (Tarragona, Barcelona, Ibiza, South of France) and the book advertised going to places on the Mediterranean I yearn to visit (e.g., Morocco ) or am just curious about (most of the Middle East); (3) I liked the conceit of traversing the Mediterranean from Pillar of Hercules to Pillar (something he does not actually do!); (4) I very much enjoyed, years ago, his "Patagonia Express" and "Mosquito Coast"; and (5) thanks to Paul Bowles I had gotten into a phase of reading North African ExPat and indigenous author fiction.

Early on I came to hate the book and quarrel with Theroux. I found his treatment of the parts of Spain and France that I relish nasty and curmudgeonly and basically just unobjectively mean-spirited. If there was something negative to find he dogged it to excess. If there was something positive he mostly ignored it or dismissed it with a sneer.

Recently I have been disappointed by a couple authors I have enjoyed previously to the point of abandoning the book (Julian Barnes) or struggling to finish it (Saramago) or new ones whose writing I abandoned mid-book (to remain unnamed). For a while I feared this book would be the next in the rubbish heap. But for some reason I stuck with it. I think the reasons were mostly the conceit of (3), prior enjoyment (4) and the unvisited places of (2). Alas, the unvisited places I most cared about are given short-shrift or missed in his journey round the Mediterranean. (Hence the strategic benefit of not tracing his actual punctuated route on the two maps at the beginning of the volume.)

In locales most familiar to Westerners, he is invariably condescending and irritating at best.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on 22 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
Being a big fan of travel writing in general and Paul Theroux in particular, I have read most of his books. "The Pillars of Hercules" is beyond doubt one of his most entertaining, erudite and readable. In this work, Theroux travels around the Mediterranean coast, attempting to go from one Pillar of Hercules, Gibraltar, to the other end without ever going by airplane (as is his usual rule). He does this in two sections - first a trip from Gibraltar through Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania to Corfu; and half a year later he then resumes his trip with a free cruise trip through the eastern part, finishing off in Morocco. The only nations he does not visit are Montenegro, Libya and Algeria, for security reasons. As usual with Theroux, along the way he perfectly describes a great number of interesting and curious people he meets, whether locals or fellow travellers, and he provides the sardonic commentary on the countries and events his readers have come to expect from him.

The book is full of allusion to other novelists on the region. Theroux clearly took a sizable pile of books about and from the Mediterranean with him, and this gives the trip an interesting literary character. Combine this with the much more overall optimistic tone he employs at the beginning of the book and his apologies for his negative approach to his trips, probably following on the somewhat critical reception his "The Happy Islands of Oceania" received because he was so unpleasant there, and the reader expects a rather uplifting romp through sunny lands. One is quickly disabused of this notion, however. Over time, Theroux falls back into his old pattern, but worse than usual.
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