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The Pillars of Hercules

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  3,858 Ratings  ·  162 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
Paperback, 528 pages
Published October 29th 1996 by Ballantine Books (first published 1995)
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Ralph Lavelle Yes - it was nasty. Don't know what happened there. He made no attempt to interact with anyone they way he had with virtually every other place he…moreYes - it was nasty. Don't know what happened there. He made no attempt to interact with anyone they way he had with virtually every other place he went to, and in fact barely got off the boat enough to bother with the country or the people.

Greece is one of the friendliest places on earth; I've been there enough times to know that. So, while I admire him now (this was my first travel book of his) I'm wary and a bit distrustful of him too.(less)

Community Reviews

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Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: travelers
Shelves: favourites
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
Jeremy Forstadt
Jun 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jenny Brown
Dec 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 29, 2009 rated it liked it
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
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
Inês França
At his best, Theroux is a lovable grump, at his worst a poster person for #whitepeoplesproblems.
At a certain point, reading this book became an ordeal. Can someone edit this man, please?
And by the way the "portuguese" saying he quotes near the end? "Quando con Levante chiove, las pedras muove" isn't portuguese and rather a strange combination of spanish and italian (funny he wouldn't notice, since he keeps pointing out how fluent he is in italian), which made me doubt every single turkish senten
Michelle Warwick
Dec 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Ricardo Ribeiro
Jul 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: traveling
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
Sorin Hadârcă
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theroux
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...
James Hartley
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
I like Theroux. I like his grouchy old man act and I like the books (not a fan of the novels, though). This one is entertaining and informative and well-written. Its also another example of a book written not so long ago at all but which, thanks to the Internet gap, seems to be from another world - the author making phone calls to Honolulu in bars and being amazed at this, for example. ...more
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It has been more years than I can remember since I last read an analog book – an actual physical book that I held in my hands, turning pages and highlighting pithy passages in yellow. My husband recently came across a dog-eared copy of The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean that his mother had passed down to him. I never met my mother-in-law, but heard much of her love of reading and great writers. So I made an exception to my digital-only rule and decided to take on this tra ...more
Jan 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel-books
This is another excellent travel book and unusual in its approach as he circumnavigates the Mediterranean, never straying from the coastal route, examining the cultural similarities and differences between all the countries who share one common border - the Middle Sea. The book is very well written, amusing and insightful. Theroux also thoughtfully introduces us to a hefty reading list as he quotes at length from other travel books which have already dealt with each country. A must for any arm c ...more
May 26, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bettbuch
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!
Gretchen Salmon
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Vikas Datta
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Phenomenal romp around this ancient sea and among the varied lands and cultures that encircle it... Vintage Theroux
May 03, 2007 rated it it was ok
Theroux is a cranky old man. I can't say that I would like to travel with him.
Gretchen Beck
Feb 03, 2017 rated it liked it
I often find Paul Theroux's books heavy going, and this one is no different. That said, the rather slow pace added a charm to this travelogue -- I found his pace and attitudes as he travelled matched the way I was reading. In the passage where he's on a cruise ship and discusses the tension between the ship feeling like home, and yet the voyage drawing to its end, I found myself feeling the same about his travels. As he travels, he gets grumpy about people and peoples..and you feel the weight of ...more
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
O meu primeiro livro de Paul Theroux foi Os pilares de Hércules: uma viagem que parte de Gibraltar para chegar a Ceuta, seguindo sempre nos mais diversos tipos de transporte público e sempre pelo percurso o mais próximo (possível) da linha da costa do Mediterrâneo. É um relato descontraído, de um bom observador, um abraço ao espaço da grande História (berço da cultura ocidental?) e às pequenas histórias que surgem do contacto com as pessoas, autóctones ou turistas, com quem Theroux se vai encont ...more
Apr 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Travel fiction from the early 1990's makes for very relaxing bedtime reading. Theroux's observations as he travels are particular but not skimpy; broad strokes combined with telling details of the people he comes across and the landscapes he crosses.
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Nobody does it better. Engrossing, provocative, funny and educational. Great stuff!
Tanya Waller
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Took a bit of time for me to get into, but once I did it was gripping and well worth the read. I just wish he could have seen more of North Africa. But that was down to politics and not his fault.
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A MUST read!
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
I posted my review on my blog:
Jeroen Vogel
Jan 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Traveling the entire coastline of the Mediterranean Sea off the beaten path is only possible outside the tourist season, when towns normally full of foreign visitors are empty and returned to their permanent inhabitants. Paul Theroux had decided to travel from Gibraltar to Morocco, without losing sight of the sea unless there was no other choice.

Starting out, he finds himself traveling through Spain, where he commits to watching bullfights in order to get a feel for its misplaced popularity, and
Aug 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
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",
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Travel Author Paul Theroux 3 25 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
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“We all know that a vast proportion of travel is accumulated nuisance; but if boredom or awfulness is handled with skill and concrete detail, it is funnier and truer than the sunniest prose.” 2 likes
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