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Roads bind our world—metaphorically and literally—transforming landscapes and the lives of the people who inhabit them. Roads have unparalleled power to impact communities, unite worlds and sunder them, and reveal the hopes and fears of those who travel them.
With his marvelous eye for detail and his contagious enthusiasm, Ted Conover explores six of these key byways worldwide. In Peru, he traces the journey of a load of rare mahogany over the Andes to its origin, an untracked part of the Amazon basin soon to be traversed by a new east-west route across South America. In East Africa, he visits truckers whose travels have been linked to the worldwide spread of AIDS. In the West Bank, he monitors highway checkpoints with Israeli soldiers and then passes through them with Palestinians, witnessing the injustices and danger borne by both sides. He shuffles down a frozen riverbed with teenagers escaping their Himalayan valley to see how a new road will affect the now-isolated Indian region of Ladakh. From the passenger seat of a new Hyundai piling up the miles, he describes the exuberant upsurge in car culture as highways proliferate across China. And from inside an ambulance, he offers an apocalyptic but precise vision of Lagos, Nigeria, where congestion and chaos on freeways signal the rise of the global megacity.
A spirited, urgent book that reveals the costs and benefits of being connected–how, from ancient Rome to the present, roads have played a crucial role in human life, advancing civilization even as they set it back.
“Ted Conover is one of the great writers of my generation, and this may be his finest book. Fearless and compassionate, with echoes of Conrad and Kerouac, it explores how the road, once a symbol of limitless possibility, has become a path to annihilation. I have enormous admiration for what Conover has achieved.” —Eric Schlosser, author, Fast Food Nation
“Ted Conover's exploration of six far-flung ‘roads,’ from a truck route over the Andes to an ambulance crew's rounds in Lagos, Nigeria, will prove a delight, while at the same time serving to remind that in many places of the world the act of getting around is an art marked by pride, lust, corruption and bloodshed.” —Erik Larson, author, The Devil in the White City
“Ted Conover’s courageous reporting and vivid prose lend The Routes of Man an un-put-down-able momentum.” —Anne Fadiman, author, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
“Like a lot of people, I've spent a good deal of my life on roads, thinking about roads, and believing I knew a little bit about roads. Ted Conover's The Routes of Man pretty much demolished this belief. With its surfeit of fascinating information and beautifully and empathetically drawn characters, this book does what all great books do: It forces you to look at what is notionally familiar with new and better eyes.” —Tom Bissell, author, The Father of All Things
“Humans evolved on the road and we go on seeking territory, survival, wealth, and even knowledge. The Odyssey, Don Quixote, On the Road, The Road, Arabian Sands, Marco Polo on the Silk Road, wagon trains heading for California, and Latinos at the fence between Mexico and the U.S.A.–so many of us streaming toward vivid dreams. Buy this book and enjoy some armchair roaming (the second best way to travel). That’s my advice.” —William Kittredge, author, Hole in the Sky
“The roads traveled in The Routes of Man have this common destination–a story we wouldn’t have imagined ourselves but have been waiting to hear, told with extraordinary intelligence and empathy.” —Mark Singer, author, Somewhere in America
“With Conover’s keen observations and thoughtful meditations, I’d follow him just about anywhere–and this journey is as provocative and as discerning as it gets.” —Alex Kotlowitz, author, There Are No Children Here
“A work of tremendous research and imagination, The Routes of Man is a brilliant and poetic approach to human history and a meditation on civilization’s future.” —Melissa Fay Greene, author, Praying for Sheetrock
“As I read this book, I grew increasingly impressed not only with Conover’s bravery and hardihood, which he underplays, but, more important, with that quality one associates with Steinbeck: heart. Here is a man who cares about people everywhere, not merely that convenient abstraction, humanity, but people in particular . . . The six road situations he describes are undeniable quandaries, and we owe it to the people caught up in them, not to mention to our planet, to consider what policies, if any, should engineer the roads through everyone’s lives.” —William T. Vollmann, The New York Times Book Review
“Gripping and provocative. . . . This is refreshingly nonromantic road writing. What Conover has brought back is a clear-eyed understanding that roads confine as much as they liberate, that they make the world more accessible but also infinitely more dangerous and exploitable . . . His modesty and compassion make The Routes of Man less a series of travel adventures than an empathetic look at the contradictory effects of modernity.” —Taylor Antrim, Los Angeles Times
“Genial and unassuming, [Ted Conover] has a knack for fitting in . . . and his humane sketches of truckers, lumberjacks, prostitutes, and businessmen are a delight.” —The New Yorker
“Conover’s approach is on-the-ground, reported travelogue. He rides with reckless Chinese drivers; he sleeps in the cabs of Peruvian truckers; he walks for days on ice in Ladakh, India. Run-ins with police, thieves, and border guards attest to Conover’s down-and-dirty dedication . . . Conover is a master of first-person, immersion journalism; his road trips are both entertaining and poignant.” —Ethan Gilsdorf, The Boston Globe
“While Conover examines troubling issues that road-building can entail–pitting development against environmental concerns, or isolation against connectivity and possible erasure of local cultures, for example–it is his strong sense of life’s clock ticking all around him that lifts his reporting above the ranks of travel-as-usual literature . . . [The book’s] polyglot sections are individual gems of journalistic work.” —Art Winslow, Chicago Tribune
“Graceful and evocative descriptions of some spectacular parts of the world allow the big questions about roads and what they do to people to steal into the reader’s mind almost unnoticed . . . [Ted Conover] has a wonderful eye for detail and the easy, unshowy style that marks the best travel writing.” —The Economist
“Conover is good company wherever he goes . . . [The Routes of Man is] a colorful, eagerly open-minded travelogue . . . His roaming is fueled by inquisitiveness and refreshingly short on preconceptions.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“The Routes of Man tells the stories of six roads to explore how they’ve changed humanity and culture. I’ve been carrying the hardback in my suitcase, which says a lot. That replaces a pair of shoes.” —Rebecca Skloot, Time
“An armchair traveler’s dream . . . Conover, a superbly talented writer with a keen eye for detail, has produced an even-handed look at what, precisely, the road brings, for better or worse.” —Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“The Routes of Man is an old-fashioned piece of thoughtful journalism and travel literature, the kind of book that is increasingly rare . . . meditative yet fact-filled, and with the breadth of ambition to cover a fair amount of the globe in its reporting.” —Rick Bass, The Philadelphia Tribune
“Vivid . . . In striking detail, Conover thoughtfully explores how roads, especially in rapidly changing countries, are contested boundary lines where the demands of the environment, traditional cultures, educational opportunity, and industrial progress collide . . . In The Routes of Man he proves to be a discerning map reader of [the road’s] global meanings and meanderings.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“Ambitious . . . [A] vivid, smart, an evenhanded book . . . Ted Conover may be one of America’s toughest nonfiction writers.” —Thomas Rogers, Salon.com
“An intriguing ground-level glimpse of some of the world’s weightiest issues . . . As someone whose eyes often glaze over at words like ‘rain forest’ or ‘West Bank,’ I found myself re-engaged by Conover as he put readers alongside Israeli soldiers and Palestinian commuters, and trekked with illegal mahogany traders in Peru.” —Clint O’Connor, The Cleveland Plain Dealer