The World's Most Dangerous Places: 5th Edition Paperback – 7 Apr 2003
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About the Author
Robert Young Pelton is also the author of Come Back Alive, his auto-biography, The Adventurist, and is a regular columnist for National Geographic Adventure. He produces and hosts a television series for Discovery and the Travel Channel, and appears frequently as an expert on current affairs and travel safety on CNN, FOX News, and other news networks.
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Top Customer Reviews
Where else would you find chapters on how to survive being kidnapped by Columbian drug barons, bribing thrid world police offers, and how to avoid landmines? Even the list of things to take travelling with you differs from teh usual advice - along with the same old/same old tips on travelling light and taking torches and waterproofs, you're advised to take gifts for the people you meet - cigarettes, and a large supply of cheap watches.
As travel advice, it's excellent. As a geopolitical primer, it's the best single book I've ever read. As a book of stories of people travelling to places and meeting people you'd never want to, it's great fun. What reason is there not to own a copy? I'll be sending copies to many of my friends this Christmas.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Presented in a gazetteer format, DP first devotes several chapters to the different ways you can die or wish you had (stepping on a land mine, being kidnapped, intestinal flukes). The heart of the book is the 24 following chapters devoted to different dangerous places.
Pelton and his contributors write in a jokey, jaded style. Congolese president Joseph Kabila Junior is judged to be more sane than his father and "hasn't been quite so bad so far, but, to be fair, it might just be that he hasn't had the time -- what with his country hosting an eight-way war, and all." The authors note the dangers of being an American. "You don't have to go to a war zone to get killed. Sometimes belligerents will track you down and kill you without your leaving the hotel." The security situation in northern Algeria: "Death comes at random if you're a local, and by special delivery if you're a foreigner. You might be safer jogging around downtown Mogadishu wearing 10 gold Rolexes and a stars-and-stripes cape."
Humorous tone aside, Pelton and his reporters -- two of whom died between editions, one being shot in the face by a Russian soldier -- accurately summarize the history and the players in many of the world's hot spots. For example, Pelton explains the differences among al-Fateh, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and the three separate groups that call themselves the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Pelton, who conducted the first media interview of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh on the evening of Lindh's re-capture, is particularly informative regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pelton explains how the United States had a hand in creating the madrassas which churn out anti-American jihadis because, during the 1980s, they churned out anti-Soviet mujahideen.
If anything, the book's breadth of knowledge can be disorienting. When discussing the conflict in the Caucuses, Pelton makes the offhand observation that one of the now-dead Chechyan warlords led troops who "were veterens of the war in Abkhazia."
Of course! The war in Abkhazia! If anything gets my undies bunched, it's the way the U.S. media is constantly yapping about the war in Abkhazia! WTF? (Abkhazia, it turns out, is a coastal province of Georgia which, with no small Russian prodding, declared itself an independent nation. Abkhazian separatists are fighting the Georgians, and Chechyan irregulars, apparently insufficiently challenged waging war against the Red Army in their homeland, crossed the border to fight against the Russians and the Georgians. WTF?)
What it is to view the world through such mordant eyes. DP's most ascerbic criticisms are directed at the African kleptocrats. Former Zaire strongman Mobutu Sese Seko owned 25 villas across the world and "his numerous offspring will live well on the boulevards of Paris." A correspondent at De Gaulle Airport describes "men in expensive suits with huge tribal scars [and] mountains of luggage in bursting cardboard boxes and metal 'caisses,' or coffin-sized steel boxes with large, brass, Chinese-made locks" filed with scotch, perfumes and other luxury goods.
Not that Pelton is a knee-jerk cynic; praise is given where it is due. "Maybe some of the press hailing [Nelson Mandela] as a secular saint can get to be a bit much, but it's really not much more than he deserves," Pelton writes. "He was the principal reason that postapartheid South Africa didn't drown in a sea of blood . . . . One needs only look north to Zimbabwe to see how badly it could have turned out."
Zimbabwe is possibly the most dangerous place on earth, especially if you live there. Almost half of the population is HIV+, with a life expectancy of 34 years for women and 37 years for men, and those numbers are getting worse, according to the WHO. Madman dictator Robert Mugabe blames the crisis on his two favorite bogeymen, homosexuals and the British government, and also, in a charming act of synthesis, on homosexuals in the British government. The country was racked by famine, and Mugabe's response was to order the white farmers to stop growing food and leave. Mugabe capitulated to extortion from marauding thugs claiming to be war veterens and got the payoff money by turning on the printing presses, causing hyper-inflation. "He seems to have gone bonkers in a big way," admitted Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Faced with such appalling facts, DP tries to find the humor. Zim warlord Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi selected his own nickname, which "pretty much renders any other biographical data redundant." And has there ever been a politician with a name as preposterous as the late Reverend Canaan Banana? (A 1982 law prohibited the making of jokes about his name, according to the Telegraph. Luckily, the law only applied within Zim.)
There is one significant surprise tucked away in DP's thick binding. For all the camo and gun talk and machismo, Pelton is a bit of a bleeding heart. "Anyone who chooses to die for something should be listened to very carefully, and possibly corrective action should be taken," Pelton writes about terrorism. "Whether you agree with these groups or not, you do need to pay close attention to what they are saying and why they are being so damned obnoxious about reminding us about it on a regular basis."
"A few angry people can change the course of history."
Unlike clandestine case officers and normal foreign service officers, all of them confined to capital cities and/or relying on third party reporting, Robert Young Pelton actually goes to the scene of the fighting, the scene of the butchery, the scene of the grand thefts, and unlike all these so-called authoritative sources, he actually has had eyeballs on the targets and boots in the mud.
I have learned two important lessons from this book, and from its author Robert Young Pelton:
First, trust no source that has not actually been there. He is not the first to point out that most journalists are "hotel warriors", but his veracity, courage, and insights provide compelling evidence of what journalism could be if it were done properly. Government sources are even worse--it was not until I heard him speak candidly about certain situations that I realized that most of our Embassy reporting--both secret and open--is largely worthless because it is third hand, not direct.
Second, I have learned from this book and the author that sometimes the most important reason for visiting a war zone is to learn about what is NOT happening. His accounts of Chechnya, and his personal first-hand testimony that the Russians were terrorizing their Muslims in the *absence* of any uprising or provocation, are very disturbing. His books offers other accounts of internal terrorism that are being officially ignored by the U.S. Government, and I am most impressed by the value of his work as an alternative source of "national intelligence" and "ground truth".
There are a number of very important works now available to the public on the major threats to any country's national security, and most of them are as unconventional as this one--Laurie Garrett on public health, Marq de Villiers on Water, Joe Thorton on chlorine-based industry and the environment--and some, like Robert D. Kaplan's books on his personal travels, are moving and inspiring reflections on reality as few in the Western world could understand it--but Robert Young Pelton is in my own mind the most structured, the most competent, the most truthful, and hence the most valuable reporter of fact on the world's most dangerous places.
What most readers may not realize until they read this book is that one does not have to travel to these places to be threatened by them--what is happening there today, and what the U.S. government does or does not do about developments in these places, today, will haunt this generation and many generations to follow. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who cares to contemplate the real world right now.
Some of the information is common sense ("don't flash your cash"), but much of it is extremely valuable - from carrying a "drop" wallet (with photos, a little cash and cancelled credit cards) to foil theives, to how to avoid landmines and what to do if approached by stoned, armed, pre-pubescent soldiers (as is too common in many parts of Africa.)
The first third of the book details how the rest of the world isn't as "dangerous" as one may be led to believe; the remainder is a veritable encyclopedia of information by country, including the political climate, (and major players and groups), diseases and other hazzards (like mines), and several valuable tips unique to each country. Simply fabulous.
Of particular interest to those traveling in dangerous places are the addresses of American (and Canadian and British) embassies, good hotels (considering where you are ...), recommended prophalyxis before arriving, common diseases, and areas to be avoided. The amount of information contained in this book is simply staggering. I highly recommend it.