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Pillars of Hercules

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  2,591 ratings  ·  120 reviews
"[THEROUX'S] WORK IS DISTINGUISHED BY A SPLENDID EYE FOR DETAIL AND THE TELLING GESTURE; a storyteller's sense of pacing and gift for granting closure to the most subtle progression of events; and the graceful use of language. . . . We are delighted, along with Theroux, by the politeness of the Turks, amazed by the mountainous highlands in Syria, touched b
ebook, 528 pages
Published April 13th 2011 by Ballantine Books (first published 1995)
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Paul Theroux is not a nice man. It isn’t nice to say that Albanians look “retarded”. It isn’t nice to point out that Greece is a welfare case sponging off the EU and milking a cultural legacy it has dishonored with its parochialism. And it certainly isn’t nice—it is, in fact, downright impolitic and a bit sinister—to take such obvious pleasure in despising Israelis.

But nice people, as a rule, don’t write great travel books. They write "heartwarming tales" full of spiritual uplift and multicultur
Theroux amuses me.

I know that not everyone likes his sarcasm and that he is seemingly never content with where he is (but then, which great traveler is ever contempt with where he is? Isn't that why we travel?). I find him intelligent and entertaining, and because I don't always agree with him, he makes me look at the world in a new and interesting ways. That he managed to do that when he wrote about Europe, my home, shows even more what a great writer he is.

The Pillars of Hercules is everythin
Rex Fuller
Reminded myself why I swore off of Theroux’s travel books years ago. Although I finished this one, like the others, it was not so much travel as a report on the four inches between his ears while going to the ports of the Mediterranean. Hoped to get a kind of update on many of the same places I had been–especially in Turkey–and was disappointed to get Theroux’s egotistical and misanthropic attitude towards everything. My recommendation: avoid his travel books (there are vastly more palatable tra ...more
Andrew Rosner
I think a person approaching Theroux's travel literature for the first time is likely to be surprised at how curmudgeonly he can be at times. If you can get past that, you'll find he's also intelligent, articulate, and a keen observer of humanity. Most importantly, he possesses an almost fatal sense of curiosity. Who else would dare journey to (gulp) Albania??? But if you want to learn about life under the Hoxha regime and its apocalyptic aftermath, this is a good place to start. There's a lot m ...more
Jenny Brown
I'm about 1/3 the way through and yes, he is one cranky old man and annoyingly full of himself. This isn't anything new, but in the past he was also a very good travel writer. This, alas, is no longer true.

In this book he's become lazy. He goes from place to place getting on one boat or train after another and interacting only with the people he randomly encounters: the proprietor of the he hotel, others waiting for transport, the lunatics who accost strangers in public places.

It's as if he's g
Jon Stout
Having enjoyed several of Paul Theroux's books, especially Sir Vidia's Shadow, I thought a tour of the Mediterranean would be great. I like Theroux's rough and ready (former Peace Corps) style of travel, except occasionally when he goes luxury class.

Starting from Gibraltar, Theroux has to zigzag in order to cover the islands and to avoid political conflict. I was surprised to remember how much violent discord there is in the Mediterranean. He zigzags in the former Yugoslavia, unable to transit M
Michelle Warwick
I'll confess from the start that a travel memoir is just not my kind of thing and so I probably started reading this book rather resentfully.

I just so desperately wanted to be proved wrong. Sadly I was not.

This book delved into the dull minutiae of his trip to the extent that I was simply bored by it. The book contained sweeping generalisations about the countries, cultures and people he encountered on his travels and there were no great insights that I could glean.

I suppose now is the time t
Jeremy Forstadt
In THE PILLARS OF HERCULES, Paul Theroux travels a well-trodden path, for once, and one which has perhaps been excessively romanticized in the past. In contrast to many of the other regions of the world in which he has traveled and of which he has written, the Mediterranean has a long literary history consisting of native writers and expatriates alike. In much of this book, Theroux manages to skirt the most touristed regions of Mediterranea while seeking out the landmarks and icons (some living) ...more
This is the account of Paul Theroux's travels to the countries along the shores of the Mediterranean. The contrast between the living conditions and cultures in such a small area is striking. Some of the places he visits are Italy, the Greek Islands and Athens, Albania, Croatia (in 1995 while the war is going on), Turkey, Israel, Egypt and Morocco. Some of the many things I value in his books are his visits with writers. This time, it is Naguib Mahfouz and Paul Bowles. As usual, he doesn't take ...more
Sorin Hadârcă
Great journey. I liked the way Mediterranean coastal towns in Spain, Croatia, Israel and Tunisia were described as being more alike than their inland neighbors. Plus Theroux is a great travel companion: he meets people. Not just celebrities like Mahfouz or Bowles but also taxi-drivers, farmers, street vendors. Puts you on a move...
If you like travel books, and I do, Paul Theroux is hard to beat. In this book he travels around the entire coast of the Mediterranean by bus, train, and boat, no airplanes.

He gets the difference between traveling and being a tourist. He is interested in the places he visits and the people he meets, and very critical. He doesn't suffer fools gladly and touristy places annoy him. He can be sarcastic and cutting, but he also provides many unexpected insights. For example, I have a whole new persp
Reading this travelogue almost twenty years after it was written in 1995, I still found it not only very enjoyable but also quite educational. On the one hand, I could see how things have changed so much for the better now in countries like Croatia, Bosnia and Israel. On the other hand, countries like Syria, Greece and Egypt have slipped into bigger problems while nothing much seems to have changed in Algeria, Italy and Cyprus. This book is a classic Paul Theroux travel book. Even though he trav ...more
Ricardo Ribeiro
What I like in this book and this author: the writing and traveling style, the areas chosen for his wanders. What I don't like: everything else. I don't like his arrogant ways - it's not nice from the author to call someone judgmental when he is a great example of a judgmental person. Then we have the sheer ignorance. I have news for Paul Theroux - to mention just a couple examples from the top of my memory: Mostar is in Herzegovina, NOT in Bosnia. It was the Croats NOT the Serbs who bombed the ...more
Gretchen Salmon
One of my all-time favorite books! I love travel literature, and Paul Theroux is one of the best. Traveling to a place that I've always been fascinated with, and reading his account, I felt that I was almost there with him. Definitely recommended.
Devan Lipsey
This was another great book from Paul. I had low expectations for this book - how much more can be written about travel around the Mediterranean? Yet, I found this to be one of the better travel books from Mr. Theroux. I think the timing of his travel made this a better book than I would have expected. It is recently after the demise of the Soviet Union, the Balkan states are feuding, 9/11 has yet to enter our conscience and the Internet and cell phones are in their infancy. This makes for still ...more
Und wann schenken sich Autoren endlich die einleitende Äußerung zur Beschreibung eines Dschungels, ein Dschungel sehe nicht so aus, wie man sich das vorstellt?

Wir Nichtdschungelerkunder wissen es alle! Schon längst!
A wonderful Tavel book, framed by a great premise/goal, to circle the Mediterranean, from Gibraltar to Morocco. As someone tired of traditional tourism, Theroux supplies a refreshingly skeptical view that ends up feeling more honest than single note raves of overseas transcendence.

The author is on literary pilgrimage as well, and visits the homes of authors living and dead in each nation, as well as the settings for novels.

Not many readers will have the 18 months free or the resources to take a
Theroux is a cranky old man. I can't say that I would like to travel with him.
Nandasiri Wanninayaka
I just finished reading The Pillars of Hercules by Paul Theroux. Honestly, I started reading the book for the simple reason that I had nothing else to read. But after the first few pages, I was glued to the book and finished the book within two weeks. It is that interesting.

The Pillars of Hercules is the third travel book I have read, the first two being Lassana Lankawa by ………………. and Seeing Ceylon by R. L. Brohier. Paul Theroux travels in all the countries around except Libya and writes about h
Last year I gave a talk about my trip to Morocco where I told a story about how I accidentally bought a carpet. A couple came up to me afterwards and told about how the same thing happened to Paul Theroux in this book. Well, I said, then I'm in good company. If an experienced traveler as Theroux can be suckered, then I'm in good company! Theroux tells his carpet story near the end of the book. He wasn't, in fact, sucked in. With 30 years of travel experience at the time of the writing of this bo ...more
Read this a bit more and its making me want to travel back to albania. I was glad to be seen as not completely one of the vampish overly made up women that you are expected to be in the man hunting years of your life. It allowed me to be removed from any potential set up. My young relatives constantly kept urging me to wear eye and lip liner like some kind of chola. Happy they then thought I was some kind of retarded dag when I didnt give in. Lots of laughs on my sister's end of things too consi ...more
Travel book is one of my favorite genres but as big as his reputation is, Theroux is not one of my favorite travel writers. In fact, I doubt I will read any more by him. I read his book about Patagonia some years ago and was surprised at how arrogant and negative he was. He didn't like any place he went. How did he get to be such a famous and popular travel writer? This book was no better. Oh, he writes well, but I don't enjoy his arrogance, and what is the point of traveling or reading about so ...more
Sharon Styer
This was a wonderful journey of a read. Paul Theroux spent 17 months traveling around the Mediterranean. I have not traveled there myself and found I did not have many countries placed in their rightful spots. I now have a clear image of the area together with Paul's adventure stories to accompany each country.
Here are a few insights I enjoyed: " On those shores were the four great Empires of the world; the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman. All our religion, almost all our law,
I've liked Paul Theroux's travel writing since I was in college, when I read Kingdom by the Sea, his account of traveling around England by foot. I love that he's grumpy, opinionated, straightforward, and difficult. And when he's on, he's really funny. I laughed out loud several times over the course of this book. But damn, it was tough going until he got to the war-torn countries. I'd say the first half of the book, spanning Spain, France, Italy, and the various islands, were some of Theroux's ...more
A moving account from the master of travel writing. In "The Pillars of Hercules", Mr. Theroux carts us once again on a buoyant ride by train, bus, and ship on a great round trip from Gibraltar on the European end of the Mediterranean to Tangier on the African end, via Spain, France, Corsica, Sardinia, Italy, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt and Morocco.

Readers who are familiar with Mr. Theroux's other travel books("The Great Railway Bazaar", "The Old Patagonian Express",
Adam Ghory
Four and a half stars. Mr. Theroux always uncovers a wealth of insights while traveling, and it's fun to trollop around with him. Here's a nice sentence:

There was undoubtedly a more hallucinogenic experience available in poppy-growing Turkey than a long bus ride through Central Anatolia, though it was hard for me to imagine what this might be after a twenty-three-hour trip in the sulfurous interior of a bus of chain-smoking Turks, as day became twilight, turned to night, the moon passing from on
Pillars of Hercules is a great overview for anyone traveling to Mediterranean countries. Theroux can be snooty and sometimes a bit of a pansy; but he has an unorthodox take on these traditionally touristy places, and a knack for bringing in many sources and viewpoints of any given place. I'm also partial to his constant reference to authors and artists from the period 1880-1950. That was a very exciting time, and one of the few for which I'm familiar with most of the major players and movements; ...more
Troy Parfitt
My only complaint, and this is picking nits, is that about two thirds of the way through, Theroux stops his grand tour around the Mediterranean and returns to the US, where he writes the first two thirds of the book. Then he goes back (to Greece?) and continues on, until he reaches the African side of the Strait of Gibraltar. But the last third, written much later, is inconsistent with the first two in terms of pace and style. It is nevertheless an outstanding read and a darned good idea for a t ...more
Ally Parsons
Had to read this for my nonfiction class, and I enjoyed it until I didn't. He is informative about the areas he goes to, and his voice is magnificent. However, to me he often comes off as a know-it-all, with a "look at how smart I am" attitude. Example; writing certain things in other languages that add nothing to the story. So I actually haven't finished the book to its last page, but I've finished with it.
Brian Wade
I am leaving for a 12 day Mediterranean cruise in 3 days. For that reason Theroux's travel-log earned 4 stars. Otherwise it would have been an easy 3. Theroux is very intelligent but comes off as a snob at times. Some of the literary references are interesting but the overuse quickly becomes unnecessary and even stifling. Theroux also displays an unattractive disdain for both locals and tourists. This cooler-than-though attitude does not permeate the book but does seem to hide beneath the surfac ...more
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Travel Author Paul Theroux 3 22 Nov 02, 2013 05:12AM  
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more
More about Paul Theroux...
The Great Railway Bazaar Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town The Mosquito Coast Riding the Iron Rooster The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas

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