From Stonehenge to Samarkand: An Anthology of Archaeological Travel Writing

Brian M. Fagan, Author . Oxford Univ. $35 (291p) ISBN 978-0-19-516091-8

The archeology gets in the way of the writing in this uneven collection. People have been going to stare at ruins for a long time; anthropologist Fagan (The Oxford Companion to Archaeology ) excerpts Herodotus and 21st-century travel writer Tom Bissell but concentrates on the great age of European exploration from the 16th to the mid-20th centuries. These pieces have a certain pattern: excitement over the discovery of a fabled ruin; dutiful pacing off of dimensions; awe at the monumental scale mixed with lugubrious reflection on the ephemerality of the works of man; rapturous atmospherics. Fagan has a nostalgic taste for the solitary explorer communing in romantic solitude with the shades of lost civilizations, and his wraparound historiographical essay bemoans the modern transformation of archeological sites into easily accessible but carefully managed tourist traps where "crowds have broken the spell." Unfortunately, this aesthetic, requiring the evocation of lonely, static tableaux, is often difficult for a writer to make interesting. The few really compelling pieces, including trips to Egypt by Mark Twain and Paul Theroux, are masterfully descriptive of landscapes and edifices. Photos. (July)

Reviewed on: 05/22/2006
Release date: 06/01/2006
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