Review: Leading the Blind

30293136Leading the Blind: A Century of Guide Book Travel by Alan Sillitoe

“If the traveler will have a third golden maxim for his guidance it may be, “When fatigue begins, enjoyment ceases.”
– Alan Sillitoe, Leading the Blind

I requested this book from Netgalley because I was intrigued about tourism in the nineteenth and early 20th century. And I wasn’t disappointed, this well researched book details several of the popular travel guides of that period and highlights how little the vagaries of travel have changed, and yet how much it changed the world.

After the industrial revolution created an affluent middle and upper class with spending money, tourism to Europe steadily increased in the nineteenth century. Despite filthy lodgings, poor roads, and culture clashes, the popularity of traveling abroad grew, fed largely by the many travel guides published during the 1800s. I thought it was very interesting to see how the influx of tourists and travelers improved many aspects of life in Europe. Early in the 1800s there were few inns, particularly outside of the major cities. Those rest stops that were in business were usually squalid rooming houses with poor sanitation. By the end of the 1800s, the hospitality industry improved by leaps and bounds, no doubt spurred by the bad write-ups in travel guides and the lucrative competition for tourist money.

I enjoyed all the travel tips related from the original guides that instructed Victorian travelers how to avoid sea sickness, navigate customs, understanding passports and visas, exchanging money, the best places to stay and how to avoid being cheated by innkeepers. In Austria, for example, you could not bring playing cards or tobacco into the country, and in Switzerland, money wasn’t standardized across the country early in the nineteenth century.

Among the many fascinating aspects outlined in the guidebooks, it was amusing to see some aspects of travel are just the same now as it was then. Vandalism, such as taking pieces of monuments as souvenirs and tourists marking their names on landmarks was as much a problem in 1892 as it is today. It was outrageous how many artifacts and manuscripts were plundered by travelers to Egypt and Greece, I’m always dismayed and annoyed by how little regard the Victorians had for a site’s history, using it instead for their own gain.

Leading The Blind is a fascinating look into the history of travel and its social impact all over the world. Great for lovers of history, geography or sociology, it will enlighten readers today as much as the original guidebooks did for the Victorians.

Thank you to the publisher, Open Road Integrated Media and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Leading the Blind is available at book retailers or on Amazon


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