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The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  7,054 Ratings  ·  262 Reviews
Award-winning travel writer Paul Theroux invites you aboard The Old Patagonian Express by Train through the Americas; packed with powerful descriptions and portraits of the many colours of humanity, The Old Patagonian Express is an unforgettable read.

A witty sharply observed journey down the length of North and South America

Beginning his journey in Boston, where he boarded
Paperback, 432 pages
Published June 1999 by Penguin Books (first published 1979)
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Steven  Godin
May 14, 2017 Steven Godin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, american
Apart from the occasional quick dash on the Metro, I haven't had much of a train life, as never really needed them. I do however recall the nostalgic memory of my first ever train ride aged about five, sitting on board just prior to departure I was excited and couldn't keep still, waiting for something extraordinary to happen, but the most euphoria I got was when the train shot through a tunnel for all of 30 seconds, other than that I gazed out yonder at the passing English countryside, munching ...more
Patrick McCoy
Nov 05, 2012 Patrick McCoy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
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
May 11, 2008 Mike rated it did not like it
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
Missy J
My third Paul Theroux book! Last year I first came across Theroux's non-fiction work The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific (1992) which I thoroughly enjoyed (Theroux was travelling through almost all of the Pacific nations and went paddling here and there). Then I read his fiction work The Mosquito Coast (1981). Theroux's voice sounds radically different in fiction compared to his non-fiction, which I think is a good thing. Now I've returned to another of his non-fiction work, namely ...more
Apr 08, 2012 Isabel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Hákon Gunnarsson
There are parts in this book which I find brilliant, funny, entertaining, and even deep. A description of reading Lovecraft on a train full of people that probably thought the name referred to something naughty is quite good for example.

It's just a little too much of this book. I think I might have liked it more in shorter form because in the end it was starting to feel like challenge to finish. Maybe it was just too long a trip for the book. Or maybe I didn't feel like going all this way with
Aug 20, 2012 Jim rated it it was amazing
This is probably my second re-read of Paul Theroux's travel classic of a railroad journey from Boston to as far south as he could go in the Americas. By now, many of the trains he describes no longer exist; so he has produced, at the very least, a valuable historical document. The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas is an unusually snarky look at Latin America and its people, but then his views are typical of the period in which the book was written some forty years ago.

Nov 27, 2007 Heather rated it it was ok
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!
Shantanoo Desai
Aug 08, 2015 Shantanoo Desai rated it really liked it
"I had arrived in Patagonia, and i laughed when I remembered I had come here from Boston, on a subway train that people take to work."

Call me a fanatic of Theroux's work, but travel writing isn't always about "Sugar-coating" your experiences with Wows and Awes. Paul is undoubtedly the Best in his class and he is never afraid of calling a place what it actually is.
In The Old Patagonian Express, Theroux takes us on a Journey; and literally a journey with the starting point and destination just pos
May 26, 2012 Andrew rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 06, 2016 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, south-america
Stary ekspres patagoński to książka kupiona przeze mnie z dwóch powodów. Po pierwsze zachęcona zostałam do autora, a wybrałam akurat ten tytuł, bo świetnie pasował do wyzwania południowoamerykańskiego. Niestety moja przyjaźń z Theroux na tej książce raczej się skończy.

Lata siedemdziesiąte XX wieku, Theroux postanawia przemierzyć oba kontynenty amerykańskie pociągiem. Wyrusza więc na południe, zasiada przy oknie, zaczyna czytać i właściwie alienuje się od współpasażerów. Zza grzbietu książki spog
Jul 16, 2009 Risa rated it did not like it
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.
Jan 18, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it
Paul Theroux rocks my world. Sarcastic, at times down right irreverent. Very insightful.
Jul 25, 2008 Patricia rated it really liked it
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
Nov 16, 2010 Shahina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
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
Since my retirement I have been blessed to be able to read a considerable number of books and am currently at a pace to read several hundred a year. My favorite authors that I presently focus on include David McCollough, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, John Sandford and the author of this book......Paul Theroux. I have read many of his non-fiction travel adventures and some of his fiction including "The Mosquito Coast" and found them all exceptional. This book, however, was as good as any. It h ...more
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
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
Sairam Krishnan
Only read 2/3rds of it. Had to put it down as I wasn't enjoying it. I would have persisted with it with if I thought I was learning anything about the lands the distinguished writer travels through, but all I got were endless judgements and rather dry prose. I had been warned earlier about Theroux, but as a reader you can't make the mistake Theroux himself makes with some people and places he encounters - dismissing them entirely. I had to give him a chance. I did, and am now done with him. I wi ...more
Candice Walsh
Dec 28, 2015 Candice Walsh rated it liked it
Shelves: wanderlust
Lots of beautiful observations, and a great story, but Theroux is bit of a condescending dick, isn't he? I almost gave up at the beginning when he started mocking Wendy the raw food eater. "Uttering rosy generalities in her sweetly tremulous voice [...] she was an example of total self-absorption and desperate self-advertisement." Well if that ain't the pot calling the kettle black.
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.
Mar 12, 2014 Berber rated it did not like it
Shelves: have-read
The most boring of the bunch.
I'd always heard that Theroux is cynical and negative and grumpy, so I was prepared to dislike him and his style, and for the first few chapters of this book I felt that. But as his journey continued those feelings dissolved completely and now that I'm finished with the book I'm sad it's over and I want to read as much of his work as I can get my hands on. I'm not denying that there is a New England snobbery about him, but I find it endearing rather than offensive. The best travel books are thos ...more
Oleg Kagan
May 04, 2010 Oleg Kagan rated it liked it
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
Jan 22, 2008 Oceana2602 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Anna Snyder
Dec 20, 2013 Anna Snyder rated it did not like it
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
Jan 22, 2011 Sean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Nov 04, 2011 Tony rated it did not like it
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
Jul 02, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
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Goodreads Librari...: Default Description in Wrong Language 6 106 Apr 25, 2016 12:19AM  
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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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“You define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.” 13 likes
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