The globe-trotting adventures of former magazine editor Podell (co-author: Who Needs a Road?: The Story of the Longest and Last Motor Journey Around the World, 1967).
Having traversed the world on an ambitious, fraught, 581-day Trans-World Record Expedition with Harold Stephens in 1965-1966, Brooklyn-born Podell renewed his vow in 2000 to try to reach all the countries in the world. At the time, he was “dimly aware there were between 190 and 200 countries.” Juggling a New York law practice, he set out sporadically over the next decade, either in the company of a beautiful young woman (“a legacy from my previous post as an editor at Playboy”) or stalwart male cohorts, to trek through some difficult and often politically explosive terrain. Chronicling his travels through South and Central America, West Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East, he offers entertaining highlights of evidently arduous yet well-planned trips. Figuring out what constituted a country—e.g., membership in the U.N. was not always a given (Taiwan, Vatican City and Kosovo)—and obtaining visas to certain dictatorial hot spots were nearly impossible. Although his “do-do list” gets tiresome, the author’s tales are unquestionably entertaining. He trekked up Mount Vaea in Samoa to visit the grave of another “teller of tales,” his idol Robert Louis Stevenson; gamely tried all manner of ghastly edibles, including still-pulsating monkey brain; and talked his way out of numerous dangerous scrapes. Though a well-hardened traveler, Podell occasionally shows his pampered Western roots, such as in ranking a country’s comfort level by the quality of its toilet paper: the Podell Potty Paper Rating (PPPR—1 being “soft white,” and 7 means “no public toilets at all”). While he writes warmly of kindly inhabitants and creatures, he is extremely critical of Haiti and parts of Africa where the education gap neglects to teach people “how to think”—like this canny American, at least.
The book features occasionally salacious details, but there is never a dull moment.