The Routes of Man:
How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today
by Ted Conover
$26.95 List Price
If ever you have reason to step out of an airport in Peru, Kenya, or another of the places in Ted Conover's latest book of reportage, you will preserve your life by following one simple procedure. Ignore the scrum of eager cab drivers at the door and instead proceed to the edge of the parking lot. Find the driver with the fewest teeth, the most gray hairs, and the thickest glasses. He's your man: Anyone who has survived to AARP age with these handicaps, on third-world roads, must have an abundance of caution, or perhaps just a jalopy that can't reach the hundred-mile-per-hour standard of Peruvian and Kenyan pistes.
The ancient wisdom against driving outside North America and Europe evidently never reached Conover, perhaps because it was in the same misplaced parcel of common sense that warns against becoming a prison guard at Sing Sing, as he did for Newjack (2000). In The Routes of Man, Conover recounts a loose-knit series of road adventures in some of the places most conducive to a meaningless death in a crash of twisted metal and shattered glass. In East Africa and Peru, he hitches with truckers. In China, he rides with nouveau-middle-class pleasure motorists who have little concept of road safety. In Ladakh, his fellow travelers are Buddhist villagers who walk along a frozen river and whose settlement the Indian highway system is only just now reaching.
The narratives are compelling, and at their best they illuminate the lives of those sad souls who ply the commercial trucking routes of the least developed continents. Like Paul Theroux, who in The Great Railway Bazaar