The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World…via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes by Carl Hoffman

View from this book:

End of family vacation in Mexico, Christmas 2011: I read this book on our last day on the beach, wishing we could stay longer.

The book:

Another fairly shallow and pointless book.  The subtitle (Discovering the World…via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes) seems rife with possibilities.  A commentary about privilege!  An opportunity to experience life the way most of the world lives it!  New people!  New cultures!  New insights on the planet’s interconnectedness!

To celebrate my joy over Moments of Intercultural Insight, here’s the internet giving you a big hug:


Internet hugs!

Internet hugs!

Happy people internet hugs!

Awesome internet hugs!

More internet hugs!

OK, Crayola… at least you’re making an effort…



Unfortunately, The Lunatic Express did not provide many Moments of Intercultural Insight.  This book skipped jauntily from one smelly bus to another, with little depth on any subject.  The author evolves slightly throughout the book, starting off as a distant loner requiring adventure to be happy before morphing into a man with a newfound commitment to family.  Touching.  This personal discovery of self-assed-ness would have been much more convincing as a side-story woven into a much richer commentary about globalization, culture, poverty, or anything else, instead of being the book’s sole nugget.  I’m trying to think of something else redeeming about this book…

As a slapdash portrait to the various transportation systems that Americans ignore but that the rest of the world counts on, it is eye-opening.  One memorable moment: the author hops on a ferry in Bangladesh, and spends most of his time “jammed with huddled masses on the floor” on the Bangladeshi part of the boat.  However, he was invited to go into the first-class salon and which he describes well, if in a rambly, run-on way: “I felt guilty, but I went anyway, cutting through the massed humanity, the jumbles, opened a door, and passed into another world full of Western children playing Monopoly and men and women who looked just like me, playing guitars and munching on cheese and crackers under the veranda on the bow.” A vivid picture. – So, Hoffman, care to give any commentary?

Mais, non.  This could have been a perfect moment for some cultural discussions or insights or even angry ranting, but instead, Hoffman just gets homesick, goes and chats with the ferry captain, goes back and hangs out in the Bangladeshi part, chats with a somebody, then gets off the ferry. End of Deep Moment.  Dear Diary… today I was an aimless, sad bloke.  Signed, Carl Hoffman.  If you want to follow Hoffman as he wanders around the world somewhat pointlessly, go for it.  He does paint some beautiful descriptions of the world, but you’ll have to work out the “so what” on your own.  4 out of 10

The Lunatic Express


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