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The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  9,296 ratings  ·  387 reviews
A witty sharply observed journey down the length of North and South America.

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 temperat
Paperback, 430 pages
Published 1980 by Penguin Books (first published 1979)
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Steven Godin
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
Andrew Smith
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
This book tells the story of Paul Theroux’s journey from his home in Boston, Massachusetts to the foot of South America, in 1978. He travelled almost exclusively by train – many different trains – and took it him about two months to reach his final destination, at Esquel. From the snow of North America, through the heat of Central and South America and finally the barren desert of Patagonia I found myself held spellbound throughout.

Theroux clearly completed exhaustive research beforehand and had
Theroux’s non-fiction books can scarcely be classified as travel books. They are not tourist guides, not for those planning to travel to the countries Theroux visits. The places he visits are not the places tourists visit. He is there for the ride. He is there to observe the people, just ordinary people. What he delivers are his personal thoughts on what he sees and the people he meets. Particularly this book, is more about the act of traveling rather than the places visited. We peek into Therou ...more
May 11, 2008 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
Diane in Australia
I am a fan of Paul Theroux ... just so you know. ;)

Having said that, unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of this particular book. It was just 'okay', in my humble opinion. Usually, when reading Theroux, I am drawn into the journey, and find myself truly caring about the people, the places, and, of course, Paul's thoughts and feelings. Not this time. Maybe it is just me. Your mileage may vary.

I did enjoy reading the conversations he had with the folks he met ... well, most of them, anyway. But, some
Patrick McCoy
Nov 05, 2012 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
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. 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 “The Old Patagonian Express” (1979).

As the name suggests, Theroux traveled from his home in Boston a
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 - most of
Anna Snyder
Dec 20, 2013 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
Apr 08, 2012 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
Aug 20, 2012 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.

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
Jul 16, 2009 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. ...more
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. ...more
Yigal Zur
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
still one of the best travel and train journies. i admire is ability to sit and i did trains...!
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
May 26, 2012 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
Shantanoo Desai
Aug 08, 2015 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
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
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 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. ...more
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Well written, and an interesting approach to travel writing. Theroux himself is obnoxious and self-important, and it gets to be too much. Some conclusions he draws are good, others seem half-baked, making me think he takes nothing, and no one, as seriously as he takes himself.
Jan 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Paul Theroux rocks my world. Sarcastic, at times down right irreverent. Very insightful.
Jun 09, 2021 rated it liked it
The white man gaze loomed heavily in this book. obsession with poverty in Latin American countries. I couldn't connect with the writer's sense of humour. it does get condescending at times. Enjoyed the keen observation of the landscape and the socio-economic analysis of the region (colonialism, capitalist exploitation, hypernationalism etc). loved the chapter on Buenos aires and the literature loving interaction with Borges. satisfying conclusion in the nowhere land of Patagonia. ...more
May 19, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This will go down as my least favorite of the 5 Paul Theroux books I have read. I would go so far as to call it an agonizing read. In order to gain material for a book (this book) Theroux rides trains from his home in Boston to Patagonia at the southern tip of South America. He never strays far from the tracks and thus judges (harshly) the places, people and climate he encounters based on his fellow passengers and the towns the train rides through. He is known to be a bit of a misanthrope and wh ...more
Jul 25, 2008 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
Jul 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Paul Theroux leaves his home in Medford, Massachusetts, one freezing February afternoon in 1978 by a commuter train. He was heading for Patagonia, preferably by train as much as possible. Reaching the Boston south station, he takes the Lakeshore Limited to Chicago. On the train, he meets young Wendy, a college girl who is a vegetarian food faddist. Wendy had strong views on what one should eat, why one falls sick, and how food and well-being have a mutually dependent relationship. Her obsession ...more
Nov 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 than
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
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite coincidentally I came across this epic travelbook. Theroux's strength most certainly is the description of cities and landscapes he travels through. Masterfully he catches the character of the different countries he crosses. For me, traveling is about landscape and people. Unfortunately Theroux misses out on the latter. From time to time the book gets a bit too verbose. Otherwise a very nice book to get away from home, without leaving. ...more
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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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