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The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World... via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  994 ratings  ·  182 reviews
Indonesian Ferry Sinks. Peruvian Bus Plunges Off Cliff. African Train Attacked by Mobs. Whenever he picked up the newspaper, Carl Hoffman noticed those short news bulletins, which seemed about as far from the idea of tourism, travel as the pursuit of pleasure, as it was possible to get. So off he went, spending six months circumnavigating the globe on the world's worst con ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2010)
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4th out of 25 books — 13 voters
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Community Reviews

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A round-the-world trip, using the most dangerous methods possible. It's when the book is describing the conditions traveling this way that the book is at its most fascinating. The speeding, teetering buses, the overcrowded ferries, all fascinating. It was the author himself who gave me pause. On more than one occassion, he criticizes tourists who refuse to travel in anything less than (comparable) luxury as self-indulgent. This may be so, but how is his trip any less so? At the beginning of the ...more
A first-reads win. Four and a half stars.

Decades ago, I met a French-Canadian girl in Mexico City who hitchhiked by herself from Panama City to Mexico City. I was also traveling through Mexico by myself but I was amazed by her courage as a young woman to travel in an area that was considered to be quite dangerous at the time. Her response was that the only disturbing thing on her trip was being picked up by male drivers who spent the entire ride lecturing about both the danger and the immorality
Meh. I suppose this wasn't horrible, but it got ponderous - the premise is that the author is going to ride/sail/fly on the riskiest transportation in the world, those with the greatest death rates - tries to pose it as some sort of adventure tourism, but finds out that these modes of transport are hardly skydiving - people take them because there really aren't any alternatives - and further the people he meets along the way are pretty decent and certainly don't think of themselves as adventures ...more
The author left much to be desired--his writing didn't flow for me and I had no sympathy or feeling for him at all. Repetitive vocab and themes in each chapter (it was miserable/dangerous/smelly/crowded on the bus/plane/train/boat but I felt alive/connected to the world, etc. etc) made it hard for me to care, not to mention that he glossed over familial issues and never gave a resolute answer for how things ended or changed with his wife and family. Might not matter to all readers, but it matter ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Here in the U.S. we take it as our due that we have clean, comfortable, reliable, safe modes of public transportation. How rare and fortunate is that circumstance, as I learned from this book.

Carl Hoffman spent five months traveling around the world seeking out the most notoriously unsafe means of conveyance and braving their discomforts as a passenger. Bad enough that these boats, trains, buses and planes have made news by killing hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. They're also crowded, s
Ich habe vermutlich den Fehler gemacht das Buch auf deutsch zu lesen, der Schreibstil war so gar nicht meins, aber evtl ist dies der Uebersetzung geschuldet.

Trotzdem habe ich das Buch verschlungen, da es mich wieder zurueck auf/in meine eigenen Reisen mitgenommen hat. Die Situationen in denen sich der Autor wiederfindet, sowohl die zwar oberflaechlichen, aber ins Herz gehenden Begegnungen, die Tiefpunkte voller Dreck, Einsamkeit und Unruhe, als auch der Kulturschock bei der Rueckkehr in eine wes
From reading this book, I realized three things:

1. I love to travel. I love the timelessness of travel, and I love seeing how people live in this world.
2. I love the random conversations and interactions that come from travel. They get me out of my little life and make me re-think my assumptions.
3. I am too old and rigid for the kind of travel Hoffman does. I am no longer enchanted by looking out bus windows at 1700 foot drop-offs, and I no longer want to think about wearing shoes with thick eno
The author seeks out dangerous transportation in developing countries. He tries to convince us that there's an element of emotional or spiritual growth to all of this. But I found myself unconvinced and asking why do this? In spite of his reflections on the experience, it still struck me as mainly backpacker bragging about the most spectacular budget travel adventures.
"Lunatic Express" is an apt title. This guy left the comforts of home for a bit of adventure. He traveled around the world searching out the most primitive, risky, and uncomfortable modes of transportation. He rode on urban Indian trains that are so dangerously overcrowded that they claim several lives every single day. He suffered through temperatures of thirty five below zero in Mongolia while traveling by truck on roads that were barely discernible from the frozen countryside. Throughout the ...more
While I quite enjoyed this book and flew through it, I found it to be a bit uneven at first. I felt as if it started off slow and unsteady- his journey down to South America via the Chinatown bus and then a notoriously bad airline via Toronto was glossed over in just a few sentences. It took a while to build up momentum... this happened slowly throughout his journey through South America, and for me at least didn't really pick up until his arrival in Africa. That's when things really started to ...more
Daily travel for the developed world is a relatively safe endeavor for most commuters. When newspaper articles kept popping up about how unsafe transportation in many nations is, Carl Hoffman decided that this would be an excellent experience to write about. So, he packed his bags and set out across the world to experience the world’s most dangerous modes of transportation. His journey took him to South America, Asia, Africa, and North America where he took planes, trains, automobiles, and ferri ...more
K2 -----
I heard Carl Hoffman on Rick Steve's Travel podcast and thought it might be a fun read. I had a difficult time enjoying it once I discovered the author was a middle aged man with three children he left behind and a wife he was estranged from. At the back of the book it details when he left on this 159 day adventure that according to an experienced actuary had a 50% chance of death. That was hard to swallow but I read on trying to ignore this fact and the angst in the hearst of his loved ones tha ...more
Carl Hoffman, the author, decides to travel the globe and decides to do it in the most dangerous ways possible. Surprisingly the most dangerous are those that on paper would seem the safest. Taxis, commuter trains and airplanes.

The author searched for the most treacherous of these and set off on the adventure of a lifetime. You takes trains in Africa. Boats in Asia and buses and cabs everywhere. What he discovers is that most people in the world if you join them openly and honestly are kind to
I enjoyed the travelogue aspects of this book and getting educated about the appalling standard of travel in other countries. There's no such thing as "safe" travel anywhere, but in an unregulated environment, it is a total nightmare.

But I was frankly repulsed by the writer's willingness to subject others to emotional and physical duress... and outright danger... because of this self-centered quest for a thrill ride. OK, maybe he's estranged from his wife, but that doesn't justify inflicting mo
I basically have two questions about this book:

1) What did his family say?
2) Why is it marketed as being all about dangerous transportation?

Okay, honestly, both of these are to some degree answered: there's no real discussion of what his family thinks, but we can infer that his wife first worries and then (view spoiler)
Whenever my friends or family think that by traveling to Africa and Asia for work I am doing something risky, I should hand them this book. I have a hard time relating to someone who chooses the overcrowded Indonesian ferry, speeding Andean bus or rickety Afghan airline because he wants to experience the hardest possible means of travel. But the author is very honest about the psychological complications underpinning his travel decisions. Why should we choose to wall ourselves away from the grit ...more
When I first began reading this book, I was anticipating a romping, quick ride. Traveling thru some truly dangerous territory on truly dangerous conveyances and enjoying it from the comfort of my recliner. I was not disappointed. It was fast, Mr. Hoffman does not mince words. In fact, I wish he had lingered a bit longer in some locales.
But what I did not expect was the back story that peaked thru the pages and grew and matured with each chapter. Mr. Hoffman started questioning his own motives f
I probably should give this book another try as I've traveled buses in very remote places... But I can't get over the authors cavalier attitude toward repeatedly leaving his family. He strikes me as overwhelmingly selfish and his aire of carefreeness was just too much fr me to get past. So arrogant.
This book started strong, and then proceeded to spiral downward into the least-appreciated travel non-fiction book on my shelf. It's a far cry from insightful, and meanders into American stereotype-ridden schlock. Hoffman really does himself in (in my eyes) when he dismisses Russia in all but a few pages, as if the largest country in the world can be summed up by one scene drinking vodka with "gangsters" as he describes them, in a train roaring through the "bleak Russian wilderness". To describe ...more
Jon Kinsley
Some good qoutes... but really just a long drawn out midlife crisis by a man who is quite self absorbed and chooses to put himself in danger only to realize he shouldn't do stuff like this he should be with his family. The book made me frustrated a lot.
This is the story of someone who wants to say he's faced danger and didn't flinch. Oh yeah, and I'll leave my family for months to do it. Engaging at times, but I wouldn't recommend it.
Robert Chesshir
Really disliked this book. I felt the author was pompous (sp?) and did not do justtice to the people he met. The book was more about him than the places and the transportation that he took.
Some parts of this book made me feel uncomfortable at the thought of making such journeys myself. Then again, some of my past conveyances have felt like they could have been the last. On that basis, I could remotely relate to the author's experiences -- although I didn't make those journeys to flirt with death.

On some level too I could relate to his need for private space, the need to be away from loved ones to recognise what one is alienating one's self from, and how one returns to that very '
Aubrey Haverkamp
Oct 15, 2014 Aubrey Haverkamp rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: travelers; study abroaders; Americans
Recommended to Aubrey by: Read it for geography class
Shelves: travel
Lunatic Express is a rare book. Carl Hoffman, a retired reporter and journalist, has spent his entire life chasing adventure, leaving home for months at a time. Feeling restless again, Hoffman decides to take a trip around the world - but not an ordinary backpacking tour or a relaxing cruise. Rather, Hoffman decides to do some exploring. But exploring of this kind may be suicidal...

When Hoffman embarks on his dangerous journey, planning to circumnavigate the globe via the world's most dangerous
Thomas Andrikus
What does it feel like traveling 50,000 kilometers across the globe on what statistically appear to be the most dangerous flights, boats and buses?

Ask Carl Hoffman.

His book “The Lunatic Express” piqued my interest as I browsed its cover flap and found author Hoffman summarizing the dangers of sinking in an Indonesian ferry. And guess what? He took one of the most notoriously and statistically dangerous ferries from Jakarta to the strife-stricken city of Ambon (I have taken an Indonesian ferry my
For some strange reason, author Carl Hoffman finds himself attracted to traveling as the majority of the world travels - for necessity and not for tourism/vacation. In that vein, he realizes that much of this necessary travel comes with a high cost of breakdowns, accidents, and death. He decides to explore the world using methods of transport that are considered the most risky and accident-prone. In the process, he not only finds himself perpetually uncomfortable and dirty but connected with the ...more
This was our book group selection for August. It was actually a perfect read for me, since I love to read travel-themed books during the summer. Carl Hoffman decides to travel the world and attempt to take the worst/most dangerous modes of transportation. As Westerners, we cannot fully appreciate the ways that the average person in the rest of the world travels. As “average” Americans, our closest travel comparison might be the crowded city bus or possibly a Greyhound bus across the country. The ...more
The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman is one of those rare travel books that totally immerses its readers into a fascinating journey, one you’d never dream on going yourself, yet one you’re so thankful of being invited along for the ride. I absolutely loved this book and read it in one sitting. I recommend the book to anyone who loves travel or learning about our worlds cultures. Carl Hoffman has written about his fabulous five month adventure circumnavigating the world by traveling only on our mo ...more
Sonia Almeida
This book was very interesting. What I found most incredible is the fact that all those incredible accidents with boats and ferries in Africa, Asia and South America hardly have any news coverage in our very european tv newscasts. Maybe I'm being unfair, and I'm just very distracted, but I honestly don't think so. When we have, like we did just now, a bomb that kills 3 people in our own occidental world, we have extensive news coverage, reports with the survivors for weeks, etc. However, people ...more
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Carl Hoffman is a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler and the author of Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, his third book. His second, The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World Via It's Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains and Planes, was named one of the ten best books of 2010 by the Wall Street Journal and wa ...more
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