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The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  5,629 ratings  ·  208 reviews
Beginning his journey in Boston, where he boarded the subway commuter train, and catching trains of all kinds on the way, Paul Theroux tells of his voyage from ice-bound Massachusetts and Illinois to the arid plateau of Argentina's most southerly tip. Sweating and shivering by turns as the temperature and altitude shoot up and down, thrown in with the appalling Mr. Thornbe ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published June 1999 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1979)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mike
I am willing to change my mind. Someone said that they liked the descriptions of this travel novel but would hate to have to go anywhere with this author. I would prefer to hear about these places through the perspective of someone else. Theroux is hard to read not due to the complexity of his prose, but because of his voice. He is stuck up, self- aggrandizing, and misanthropic. What distinguishes Theroux from other misanthropes who may be worth reading is that he himself does not offer much to ...more
Elizabeth Cárdenas
Yes, he is a curmudgeon - but I still love his books.

This one in particular fed into my wish to " someday" travel. I was a poor student who thought travel was only for the rich. I didn't realize you could do it cheaply - if you don't mind a few discomforts. It gave the information I needed to take journeys that expanded my world view.

The book reads like a diary of his travel from Boston to Tierra del Fuego, most of the time by train. Along the way he meets both ordinary & famous people - mos
...more
Patrick McCoy
I suppose Paul Theroux’s travel writing isn’t for everyone. If you don’t like his traveling persona you aren’t likely to enjoy his books. That being said, I like his traveling persona, so every travel book is a pleasure and there are still books to be read. But I decided to read The Old Patagonia Express because a friend reminded me that he travels to South America in this book. South America is a place that I have had a recent interest in and this summer I made my first visit to the continent w ...more
Heather
why anybody would want to waste their time reading this judgmental, curmudgeon of a book by a guy who doesn't even want to visit anything, yet is so cocky in calling himself a traveler and not a tourist, is beyond me... reminds me way too much of an old professor i once dated. and, no, i did not continue wasting my time on this book after 100 pages or so. don't bother!
Isabel
I hate not finishing books, but this might be one of those I cannot finish. Or perhaps I'll finish it just to cement my bad opinion of it.

I first read Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux and must add that this was several years ago - I absolutely adored it at the time. I thought I would like this one just as much, and have been dying to buy it for a long time now. The author walks you through every place he travels, leaving you with a good sense of orientation and geography of the place he's travel
...more
Andrew
I'm a big Paul Theroux fan, and this book delivered. A number of reviewers describe his foibles - occasional self-absorption and cruel caricaturing of people he finds obnoxious - but some of the other criticisms are bizarre to me. He was hardly an overgrown version of the itinerant youth backpacker; he wrote travel books for a living and this was how he made money. He talks about his inner thoughts and emotions on the train a lot, but isn't that a big part of why we read travel books? Travel wri ...more
Risa
i love travel narrative and trains so i thought i'd love this but i gave it one star because the author is such a condescending prat to the people he meets. He manages to make sure his ideas stay intact and wipe away their whole philosophies with a puff of pipe smoke. I had to quit reading it. I'll go back to it and update my review when my prat-o-meter gets set back to zero. might take a while.
Patricia
I've been finished with this book for over a month now and have been slowly ... very slowly ... writing down my thoughts on it. If you're a bottom line man, and I know at heart, you are :), Paul Theroux's The Old Patagonian Express is a good read. For what makes it worth a look, read on.

I started to read Paul Theroux's The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas (Mariner 1979) because I immediately liked his voice as a writer. Once into the book, I was charmed by Theroux's descrip
...more
Joseph Rice
Really enjoyed this travelogue. Theroux takes a train trip from Boston to Patagonia in Argentina, and tells us all about the trip getting there. Meeting many different types of characters, Theroux's interactions with them range from slight bemusement to indifference. He is not, however, as a few reviewers have tried to point out, a misanthrope. He does not suffer fools, but Theroux shows great humanity when describing the poverty and the hopelessness that he sees throughout his travels. Most tou ...more
Andrew
I first read Paul Theroux's travel books as a socially awkward middle schooler who dreamed of voyages to Borneo and Namibia. And more than a decade later, I'm still a fan. While he's caustic and unforgiving,he's fair. While bitter, his humanism still shines through.

And The Old Patagonian Express is Theroux at his finest. He takes his scalpel to social dysfunction in El Salvador, boorish Yanks in Costa Rica, and the Duck Soup-level absurdity of the Canal Zone. And it concludes with Theroux stroll
...more
Shahina
From my old blog .... <It’s a very old book again, first published around 1979, the journey itself undertaken by Theroux in his late thirties – he sounds much older though!
The idea behind the journey - trace a route by train from Boston to the end of where he could go down South.
Next, the journey itself, with an obscure beginning - boarding the subway commuter train from Boston, the author’s superstition making him not reveal his destination, Patagonia.
There is something more fascinating th
...more
Sean
"The Old Patagonian Express" by Paul Theroux is in some ways the negation of most travel narratives. While most delve deeply in thick, often exotic description of the writer's destination, Theroux decides to make the journey the narrative, writing a book c...oncerned with "the going and the getting there, the poetry of departures." A classic of travel literature, "The Old Patagonian Express" is a deeply engaging book from a keen, talented author and traveler. The idea behind the book is simple: ...more
Oleg Kagan
Though it was published getting to 40 years ago in 1979, The Old Patagonian Express follows a journey that could just as well have happened today. Recently having boarded his first of many trains from Boston to Patagonia (the bottom of South America), he runs into a young girl who is on a (my memory is hazy) vegan, raw food diet. Later, as he descends into South America, he runs into extreme poverty, religious hypocrisy, political instability, etc. -- pretty much the same qualities that permeate ...more
Yarndog
Call Theroux opinionated, sardonic, caustic, a misanthrope, melancholy, a curmudgeon, negative, egotistical, stuck up, blunt, lugubrious or whatever else u want to call him, but don't forget to call him brilliant, honest, smart, insightful, descriptive, creative, and adventurous. He is all of that, and that is what makes him a great writer. He won't sugarcoat what he observes.

I feel like I am right there with him every step of the way. Once I started reading I had trouble putting the book down.
...more
Tony
Nov 04, 2011 Tony rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: travel
This book was misnamed. A better title would have been "An East Coast Uppity Goes Into Culture Shock". It was really far from being a travel book. It had very little to do with trains in the sense that being a railfan has. It was more an excuse to take pokes at the U.S., capitalism, religion, and of all things, the CIA. Most everything in the book was blamed on those things, from the poverty stricken to the wealthy to everything in between.
Theroux had an annoying habit of reciting poetry when
...more
Anna Snyder
BLUUURRRRGGH is the one word I would choose to describe this book. I might have somewhat enjoyed it were it not for the narrator, who is the most obnoxious and pretentious person on the planet. He makes many references throughout the book to trimming his pencil moustache, which he is growing specifically for his trip, and to packing the bowl of his pipe. He is snide and condescending to nearly everyone he meets, he refers to comics as good only for children and illiterates, and uses really flims ...more
Rebecca
Paul Theroux catches a commuter train on an regular weekday morning in Medford, MA . Two and a half months later he steps of a train in Esquel, Argentina. He starts his journey in an ordinary way and it turns into something new and extraordinary. In Theroux's words "But I had known all along that I had no intention of writing about being in a place--that took the skill of a miniaturist. I was more interested in the going and the getting there, the poetry of departures."

The reader is along with T
...more
Oceana2602
Jan 22, 2008 Oceana2602 rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone with a brain and a heart. Or the other way around.
This might very well be my favourite book by Paul Theroux, for many reasons. Theroux writes about this journey from Chicago to Patagonia by train (I almost said "describes his journey", but that is never true with Theroux. Patagonia, is of course, one reason why I loved this book so much. Ever since I first read Chatwin when I was 13, Patagonia has held something magical for me.
The second reason is, if I'm honest with myself, the time I read it. Maybe I needed to read some of his books before to
...more
Chris
"It helps to take the train if one wishes to understand. Understanding was like a guarantee of depression, but it was an approach to the truth."

This is the fourth Paul Theroux book I've read. Each was extraordinary, particularly this one. Yet it seems like Theroux doesn't enjoy these adventures at times. Of course, when you consider that a Mexican conductor set him up as a smuggler, a night in Limon, Costa Rica, could have been deadly were it not for an annoying fellow American, altitude sicknes
...more
Drew Jameson
In a sense, this is a travel story of Theroux' 1978 solo expedition, almost entirely by train from Medford, MA (during the greatest blizzard New England has ever seen) to southern South America. Throughout, he insists that he is searching for personal anonymity and that his destination is emptiness, a physical waste that mirrors the writer's dreaded yet beloved blank page. Nevertheless, Theroux' primary fixation seems to be with Theroux, or at least a self-presentation that feels extremely ficti ...more
Stefano
Another great travel book by Theroux.
We find the usual style, strong opinions and ideas of the authors. For a lot of people this is a negative point, I guess instead that this is the basic difference from a normal travelogue. The ideas, the biased opinions and the semi-misanthropic attitude of the author they makes this book difficult-to-forget.
The journey itself is epic (from Boston to the south of Argentina by train) and in some parts really precious (first of all the meeting with Borges in
...more
Darshan Elena
Theroux is a good writer, though one who is seduced by his own impulses and insights. He is confident in his travels, taking to the road to discover the lure of travel rather than the nuances of a particular culture or people. He is also learned; the pages of this book are rife with the names of authors and figures that Theroux admires. I wish he asked more questions of his encounters and experiences. I also wish that his archive was wider and more varied; I kept wondering how his reading of ind ...more
Mason West
For both his novels and his travel books, Paul Theroux is one of my favorite authors. Latin America, from the Rio Grande to Patagonia, comprises my favorite places on earth. So I am hardly capable of objectivity or of writing impersonally about this book. I love traveling by rail, and rode Ferrocarriles de Mexico back in the 1970s as often as I could. I also share Theroux's disdain for nosy, garrulous fellow travelers.

I happen to have been raised in Texas, though I'm no more fond of the place or
...more
Carol White
I grabbed this off a take-one, leave-one shelf in a motel near Bryce Canyon National Park. My first Paul Theroux book, although he's been on my radar for quite some time. I gave it 3 stars for his writing talent. Clearly the man knows how to put a descriptive sentence together. But I compare his prose to a movie with slo mo scenes of bullets spraying from the military grade weapons into multitudes of victims. Beautiful in a way but ultimately more disturbing because it attempts to make something ...more
John
I've read and greatly enjoyed Theroux's travel books in the past. The great railway bazaar and follow-up ghost train to eastern star, dark star safari, pillars of Hercules. They are full of bravery, acerbic wit, honesty, more acerbity and insightful assessments of places, people and cultures without coming across as ignorant or judgmental. However, I couldn't help feel disappointed by this travelogue following the great success of 'Bazarre. Not a lot happens for a start. In fact there are large ...more
Elaine
I am always interested in finding out what new books there are out there, reading or hearing reviews of them, then deciding whether I want to read them. But no matter how many never-read books I have on my "to-read" list, there are some moods that lead to rooting on the bottom of my bookshelves for the comfort food of an old favorite. I recently did this with "The Old Patagonian Express." I read it shortly after it came out, then a couple of times later, but not again for a while. I like Theroux ...more
El
One of Theroux's gentler reads. He is less angry and is more medatative on writing, books, and train travel. The interesting thing about this trip is the snapshot in time - 1978, before the unrest of the 1980's and before many of these trains are completely shut down, traded in for bus and planes.
Lawrence Lihosit
Theroux has a tendency to compare foreigners to animals and demean foreign cultures. His writing reminds one of 19th century Great Britain which would make him a 20th century Rudyard Kipling wannabe. He certainly has earned quite a bit of money selling books but his compass is off kilter.
Manny in da house!
this incredible book is somewhat of a companion to bruce chatwin's in patagonia, in that theroux wanted to experience how chatwin got to patagonia in the first place, and did so simply by boarding a train in boston and riding it all the way south. the result is an amazing and interesting account of a latin america that is very different from today's.

i enjoyed his encounters with various people, which is one of the joys of train travel. i especially enjoyed the elderly tourists he encounters, as
...more
Daren
Felt like a really long book. I enjoyed it more from El Salvador onwards, although I personally find his writing style is, I don't know, maybe too detailed to keep my full attention.
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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
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