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The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today
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The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  594 ratings  ·  103 reviews
From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Newjack," " an absorbing book about roads and their power to change the world.
Roads bind our world--metaphorically and literally--transforming landscapes and the lives of the people who inhabit them. Roads have unparalleled power to impact communities, unite worlds and sunder them, a
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published February 9th 2010 by Alfred A. Knopf (first published 2010)
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Nov 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
"The origin of existence is movement. Immobility can have no part in it, for if existence were immobile, it would return to its source, which is the Void. That is why the voyaging never stops, in this world or the hereafter."
- Ibn al-'Arabi


Ted Conover is a stable mix of William T. Vollmann and Paul Theroux. If I were to Venn diagram Vollmann, Theroux, and Ted Conover, there would be a ∪ between Vollmann and Theroux for fiction and there would be a ∪ for all three for narrative nonfiction, trav
Mar 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book was mentioned on NPR and because the author explored roads in places where or near where we had been, I wanted to read it. His premise is about the power of roads to change the world- sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad ones. In Peru he traveled with loggers who were denuding mahogany in Amazonia and brining it over the Andes to sell. In East Africa, he went with truckers. It is assumed that truckers had brought aids to towns along the routes when they visited whores. He also w ...more
Feb 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Fascinating thoughts on the duality of roads. We go to Peru, Palestine, China, Kenya, Nigeria, and India to see the good, bad, and ugly of roads and people. We even walk on frozen rivers as well as boat down the water roads of the jungle. Conover is no stranger to adversity and danger and he makes for a great travel companion. The people he meets in the course of these many trips come alive and feel like an acquaintance of yours. Belongs with some of the epic books on travel by Chatwin and Thero ...more
David Ward
Nov 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel, non-fiction
The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today by Ted Conover (Alfred A. Knopf 2010)(388.1). Ted Conover is one of my favorite authors writing today. I prefer nonfiction; I enjoy stories in which an author says, “let me tell you what I know, what I did, what I saw, or what happened to me.” That's exactly the kind of books Ted Conover writes. I've been with Ted when he worked as a prison guard (Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing), when he drove a taxi in Aspen (Whiteout: L ...more
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-group
The stories in this book, telling the tales of six different roads all over the globe and exploring their implications, actual and potential, for the people who use them or live near them, were amazing and engaging, bringing us to parts of the world that I will almost certainly never experience and introducing us to many insightful and memorable people. Important questions concerning globalization, cultural assimilation, and environmentalism are raised and addressed, sometimes obliquely, by the ...more
May 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Conover writes in the tradition of the great John McPhee, he goes along for the ride and makes the characters he meets as entertaining and informative and the subject he is writing about.

I liked the first half of this book better than the last, so i lost a bit of momentum while reading it, but i enjoyed it thoroughly.

Q: 3
E: 3
I: 3

Kristal Cooper
In the introduction to this new book, Ted Conover describes travel as "an expression of personal curiousity, of a broader education less mediated by received thought." I completely agree, and I now realize that this is exactly why I like Conover's books so much. Through them, he takes me to places and introduces me to people I don't have the courage or means to visit myself.

This is another example of his outstanding storytelling. He again brings to the masses a better understanding of a complex
May 01, 2012 rated it liked it
In this non-fiction book, Ted Conover takes us along as he travels on roads in the Amazon, Ladakh (India), Kenya (East Africa), the West Bank (Palestine), China, and Lagos (Nigeria). Each chapter is like a long-form magazine article, with background and details that help satisfy the armchair traveler's yearning for experience--without the bugs, diseases, heat, cold, lack of privacy, and inconsistent access to amenities. In each case, we get to know some of the fellow travelers, and learn a bit a ...more
Sep 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this audiobook as part of my own personal research for the book I’m working on about backroads travel through North America, and I thought this one, on the history of roads and travel routes in general, and six roads in various parts of the world [including Africa; the Indian Himalayas; Peru; China; Middle East], would be informative. That, plus I am a mega-fan and I love everything I’ve ever read by Ted Conover. While this book is not particularly pertinent to my own story, it did ...more
Emily Culbertson
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ted Conover's adventures across the world tied together a multitude of perspectives concerning the influence roads have on them. I never realized how little I considered the origin of the roads I've been traveling my entire life until I read this book. Conover connected the ancient and modern linkages to roads, how civilization and the environment have been altered by them, and how the literal journey along a road illustrates that countries culture and political problems.

I feel as though I visit
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am very stingy with five stars, and rarely award them to nonfiction, but I really liked this book! The prose was engaging, and there was something quite fascinating about how the author chose the particular routes, and how he described interactions with the people of various cultures. I have always believed that the best stories are about people, not places, and this book exemplifies that, defining the routes by the people who take them or are affected by them. I highly recommend this!
Kathleen McRae
Jun 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
My first issue with this book is the title.The Routes of Man is gender bias and not acceptable today when we are striving for female inclusiveness. Also most of the women were described in view of their physical attributes. It becomes increasingly difficult to take seriously a tale that is clearly seen through the lens of gender bias.
Mar 07, 2020 rated it liked it
A fun little jaunt of travel adventures united by the theme of 'roads'. Really not about roads, that's a convenient fiction. Rather, very little about roads (no stats, no analysis) and lots of human interest stories. But nicely written and enjoyable. ...more
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
A nice collection of travel essays: pleasant to read, but little more.
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it
302 pages

The author travels and explores the roads of Peru,
East Africa, the West Bank, the Himalayan Valley,
China, Lagos, and Nigeria.
Christine H
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Would have given it five stars but the last chapter didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the book. ...more
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, non-fiction
Ethan Gilsdorf

Tracing our roads and the bumps along the way

By Ethan Gilsdorf, Boston Globe Correspondent | February 9, 2010

Roads bring us together. They shape where we live, and how we interact with each other. Choices are forks, decisions are paths. Robert Frost tells us this, and so does Bob Seger.

But “not all connections are good,’’ warns Ted Conover in “The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World, and the Way We Live Today.’’ “Connection means vulnerability.’’ Conover, whose previous bo
Apr 27, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a well-reported series of six long-form "immersion journalism" reports loosely linked by the theme of "roads." But perhaps its best sections are what's between the main chapters.

The roads in the main chapters are a Peruvian highway across the Andes and related river routes in the far western Amazon (the subject is the impact of development on indigenous peoples and on the environment), a Himalayan track atop a frozen river (same subject), an East African trucking route (same subject, plu
Stephany Wilkes
Apr 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
I was simultaneously encouraged and envious while reading this book: I travel not an iota as much as I'd like, and here is a man whose life work is comprised of lighting out for the road. Wonderful!

The Routes of Man is a keenly observant, often humorous travelogue that welcomes and digs into (but fortunately does not attempt to solve) many of the world's complex issues that the author encounters while traveling. He follows mahogany from its source in the rain forest to Manhattan (a chapter I fel
Feb 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
'"And what would you go there to see, exactly?" asked one culture-minded friend. She has a point. Lagos has few museums, not too many antiquities, only a handful of public spaces of buildings of note, and stunningly little natural beauty. It does, however, have a reputation for crime, and lots and lots of people.
But people are interesting. So is crime.'

Those last two lines made me laugh in recognition; pretty much every journalism student I know here (myself included!) feels the same way. Wh
May 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Another winner from Ted Conover, who in my opinion is the best writer working in immersion journalism alive. In "Routes of Man," Mr. Conover travels six "roads" -- a Peruvian river, an Indian ice river route, an East African transnational trucking route, Palestinian and Israeli checkpoints, a Chinese road trip, and the rounds of ambulance drivers in Lagos, Nigeria. Along the way, the road becomes the vehicle for Conover to do what he does as well as anyone -- explain the nuances, beauty, strange ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china, cities
The title is presumably a play on Thomas Paine's 1791 book, 'The Rights of Man', or the old folk song with the same name. But rather than being about the world as it ought to be, or the policies cities or nations ought to pursue, Ted Conover deftly sketches the world as it is, through the vehicle of road trips in six very different places, with a number of smaller (and less effective) meditations as sidebars.

The six locations lend themselves to different themes: in Peru, the tension between res
Aug 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
When I started reading The Routes of Man I thought it was going to be about famous roads in civilization. I was mostly wrong. It’s actually a very engrossing modern day worldwide road trip. Conover is an interesting guy and in The Routes of Man he takes the reader to many of the most desolate, dangerous and delightful places on Earth and introduces us to some of the individuals who live there. He travels the most remote roads and rivers of Peru to explore the illegal mahogany harvesting occurrin ...more
Andrew Ludke
Apr 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
As a writer, it's clear that Ted Conover see's somewhat differently than most of us. There's an attention to the detail, a specificity that informs his narrative providing it with a grounding. Then there's the higher level associations connecting these details to broader ideas. Whether he's describing the lives of villagers in rural India while they travel 100 miles on a frozen river or he's stationed with soldiers guarding checkpoints in the West Bank, the human and the humanitarian are communi ...more
William Blair
May 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book based on the dust jacket blurb. It was all that, and much more.

The author describes events surrounding either the building or the ongoing uses of a handful of roads around the world. He visits all of them, and weaves their history or current relevance into the story of his visit and the interesting people he met.

This was very engaging and quite entertaining, and the history of the roads and their geographic areas so seamlessly woven in was something that I would never have
Jul 05, 2010 rated it liked it
If you like books that take the physical world around us, man-made and natural (Botany of Desire, The Secret Knowledge of Water) and extrapolate information about us from it, you will enjoy this book. It is not as well-written or succinct as, say, Botany, but follows the same theme. We visit different "roads" around the world via the author, who travels there firsthand.
Following the great trucking roads across Africa, and it correlation to the spread of AIDS, was the most interesting of the vig
Jul 29, 2011 added it
This is one of the greatest books ever; the journalist is a hero. He travels through six of the world's major roads (or locations of potential roads) in Peru, Zanskar of Northern India, Kenya, the West Bank, China, and Lagos in Nigeria in order to explore some of the issues surrounding roads. As stated brilliantly in his introduction, "...the same roads that carry medicine also hasten the spread of deadly disease; the same roads that bring outside connection and knowledge to people starving for ...more
May 09, 2012 rated it liked it
I have read three other books by Ted Conover, each of which I really enjoyed, so I was looking forward to reading this book. While his other books have delved into a single topic/place/people, this one had 6 relatively short essays on 6 roads (and the people, culture, place surrounding the roads): a road used my loggers in Peru, highways frequented by truckers (who may encounter HIV) in East Africa, checkpoints in the West Bank, a frozen river that functions as the route to boarding school in th ...more
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: would-read-again
If the 10-day highway traffic jam in China in 2010 had you wondering about global transportation systems, I have the perfect book for you! Pulitzer finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award winner Ted Conover traveled to six different cities around the world to explore the ways that getting around can impact people's lives financially, socially, environmentally, even sexually. From East African trucking routes to West Bank checkpoints, Peruvian mahogany waterways to a frozen Indian riverbe ...more
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Ted Conover, a "master of experience-based narrative nonfiction" (Publisher's Lunch), is the author of many articles and five books including Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes, Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders with America's Mexican Migrants, Whiteout: Lost in Aspen, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and finalist for the Pulitzer P ...more

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