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

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,694 ratings  ·  229 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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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  1,694 ratings  ·  229 reviews

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Mar 10, 2010 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
Eh, too much mid life crisis and basking in the warmth of all humanity whenever offered a cup of tea. Not enough trains.
Dec 24, 2010 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 ...more
Mar 25, 2011 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
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,
Nov 18, 2010 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 ...more
Apratim Mukherjee
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Its an amazing travelogue.Its a book about how poor people travel.Its a book about those risks each commuter takes in his daily life.The only thing missing is the photographs.Thats why I rate it as a four star book.
Apr 11, 2012 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
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
More in-depth self-analysis and self-discovery than mid-life crisis, via an insane trip around the world. I enjoyed the passages in India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan the most, where I felt the author really connected with people rather than just experienced a dangerous method of transportation in a solitary but group experience. A passage that resonated with me from his time in Bangladesh: "We ate with our hands, Fardus urging me on and on, displaying a hospitality and generosity that felt ...more
K2 -----
Nov 30, 2010 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 ...more
Sep 11, 2012 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
Jan 02, 2011 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 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
Self-involved man strives to torture his wife and kids by choosing to travel by the most statistically dangerous mass transit available in various third world countries so he can feel connected by having “meaningful” interactions with strangers (thanks to his English-speaking/American identity/white skin).

His adventure is a raging mid-life crisis, but an ordinary reality for all the other transit riders.

No big lessons or surprises here. Just whiny, self-aggrandizing talk. Pass!
Aug 30, 2010 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 ...more
Apr 11, 2010 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 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 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 ...more
Apr 24, 2010 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 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
Apr 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Now I am all about making the transport part of a trip fun and interesting, but this book was totally extreme. Maybe I didn't read it to clearly either but did the author want to leave home or not? Did he care about his family? Sometimes it seemed like it and sometimes not. I did like that a lot of it took place inside his head as you don't have to talk to every single person that crosses your path as a lot of books like this may tend to do, at least on the page. I am a total introvert and it ...more
Apr 16, 2010 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
Mar 31, 2014 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
Jim Townsend
I thought it was an excellent read. Hoffman documents his five-month world tour using the same conveyances used by most people around the world; his joy in discovering that he was accepted for not travelling like a rich American, and his sorrow at being separated from his wife and children, his loneliness, his "otherness". This was another book which exposes the reality behind the glossy travel brochures.
Jun 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: around-the-world
I really enjoyed this book, much more than I expected to--I'd never, ever, EVER want to travel this way, but what a perspective it brings to understand how most of the world DOES travel. The author picked up a lot of perspective, both on what life is like for most of the folks who live on this planet, and for his own life and relationships. I hope he went home and made his marriage work. Fascinating book.
Oct 15, 2011 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.
I found this one an uneven reading experience: South America didn't grab me, Africa and South Asia did, and then it went downhill again for Afghanistan, China and the States. Hoffman writes well, but it all seemed rather pointless ... or was that the point?
Apr 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoirs
So by the end of this book, the author realizes that he embraces travel and other people in order to escape his life with wife and family..... big surprise. I realized this from the first chapter. When the narrator is not appealing, the book is always going to be horrible.
Jon Kinsley
Apr 20, 2013 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.
Robert Chesshir
Aug 18, 2010 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.
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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 ...more
“If there was an international language between men in the world, it was about women.” 0 likes
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