Monday, May 21, 2007

Old Travel Guidebooks

Much has been made recently of this year being the 50th anniversary of the publication of Arthur Frommer’s Europe on 5 Dollars a Day. It surely was a breakthrough work, but was far from the first travel guidebook. So we thought we’d “review” some old travel guidebooks from our bookshelf (some older than Frommer’s, some newer, some just plain eclectic). First on our list:
TWA Vacation Guide and World Atlas – 1956

This book, “compiled for Trans World Airlines,” presents a fascinating picture of world travel in the mid 1950s. Despite covering nearly the entire globe, Russia is not even mentioned in the book. Yet in the Cuba section, the island’s description begins: “For excellent swimming, exciting deep-sea fishing, or just relaxing in the bright sunshine, no place surpasses it. In addition, there is ... beautiful, gay, sophisticated Havana.” So much has changed in the world, yet the photo of Trinidad, Cuba, in the book could have been taken in 1955, yesterday, or 200 years ago.
The TWA Vacation Guide not only covers the then-already-popular riches of Europe, but also speaks highly of Iran (“Land of Omar Khayyam”) and Iraq (“Land of the Arabian Nights”).
Overall, there is hardly a negative word about any destination in the book. We find it most fascinating in its view of a world sometimes seemingly very far away. Yet in many places, it’s still quite possible to use it as a travel guide – the London section would work decently today. (Although you’d not be able to find the once-famous Simpsons of Piccadilly store, Harrods and Fortnum and Mason’s are still London stalwarts.)
The book doesn’t neglect America, with even the state of Nebraska receiving nearly a full page of coverage. And the maps and photos in this 390-page book are still fascinating and educational.