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

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  1,459 Ratings  ·  205 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 ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2010)
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Mar 10, 2010 Marvin rated it really liked it
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
Dec 24, 2010 Mary rated it it was ok
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
Mar 25, 2011 Sesana rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, travel
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
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
Nov 18, 2010 Leah rated it it was ok
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
Apr 11, 2012 Kkraemer rated it really liked it
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
K2 -----
Nov 30, 2010 K2 ----- rated it liked it
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
Feb 19, 2014 Acida rated it liked it
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
Jan 02, 2011 Barbara rated it liked it
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.
Aug 30, 2010 Carin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 11, 2012 Tom rated it it was ok
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
Apr 11, 2010 Vince rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 27, 2011 Kathy rated it liked it
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
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)
May 16, 2010 Liz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 24, 2010 Andie rated it really liked it
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
Mar 30, 2016 Jenni rated it it was amazing
So I have NO idea why this book has such a mediocre rating, given that I laughed my way throughout most of it. What a fun read!! I'm a sucker for a good travelogue, and I love reading about crazy adventures like this one! This is probably because I would never have the guts (or maybe part stupidity?) to travel in the fearless and, fair to say, reckless way that the author did, nor will I probably ever get to see some of the amazing places he has.

So it's part curiosity that led me do read this o
Apr 16, 2010 Jo rated it liked it
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
Mar 31, 2014 Florence rated it it was amazing
"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
Oct 15, 2011 Noelle rated it did not like it
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.
Jon Kinsley
Apr 20, 2013 Jon Kinsley rated it did not like it
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.
Mar 12, 2010 Sister rated it it was ok
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
Aug 18, 2010 Robert Chesshir rated it did not like it
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.
Nov 26, 2011 Juha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in the world.
This is a travel book focusing on modes of transportation that most travellers would prefer to avoid. Carl Hoffman’s stated desire was to circumnavigate the globe on the cheapest and most dangerous forms of mass transit. For most of humankind, travel was no pleasurable touring, but a necessary movement from point A to point B often involving terribly long and uncomfortable, not to mention perilous, trips on decrepit buses that would plunge into gorges from the winding mountainside roads that the ...more
Mar 22, 2010 Blue rated it it was amazing
This was my read on my daily NYC subway commute for a week. Having grown up in a third world country with an underfunded public transportation system (though not as bad as the places Hoffman chooses for his trip, mainly because it is nowhere near as poor as some of those places, nor as remote from the western world,) I know exactly how a large overnight bus hurtles into the darkness on winding, dark roads with sharp turns and barely enough space for one vehicle on the supposedly two-way road. I ...more
Feb 16, 2016 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Seeing the title was all it took. I had to read this book. Hoffman spent half a year on some of the most dangerous modes of transportation in the world. He travels by air on a Cuban and an Afghanistan Airline; on buses in the United States, across the Andes in South America and in Afghanistan (where he suggests buses are safer than flying); on trains across Africa, India, China, Mongolia and Russia; and ferries in Indonesia and Bangladesh. He makes it around the world without a major hitch until ...more
May 24, 2010 G rated it really liked it
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
I enjoyed this, but I don't know that it was what I expected. I understand that he took methods of transportation that had had disasters in the past, but I was expecting at least some harrowing experiences here - instead, it was pretty much crowded, uncomfortable and unpleasant, but not much feeling of danger on the transportation itself. The real danger seemed to come from the surroundings - travelling in places with a lot of danger in the place itself, such as Kabul or Colombia.

I was also both
Thomas Andrikus
Feb 22, 2012 Thomas Andrikus rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
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
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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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