With his effortless writing style, observant eye, and take-no-prisoners approach, Theroux (The Happy Isles of Oceania, 1992, etc.) is in top form chronicling this 18-month circuit of the Mediterranean. Only 15 miles separate the Pillars of Hercules at the mouth of the Mediterranean, but as is his wont, Theroux took the long way. It's the old Grand Tour route, charted by many seeking wisdom and experience. And if it was now haunted and decayed, so much the better: ""Half a lifetime of traveling had given me a taste for the macabre."" Theroux has a gift for the quick landscape sketch: hoofing it about the paths of Corsica, the lunarscapes of Italy's toe, the streets of a Tunisian town; but everywhere he finds people. His misanthropy is given a rest on this journey; yes, fools populate the pages, but so too do a host of dignified characters, from the ordinary joes he shares cabin space with to Naguib Mahfouz and Paul Bowles. They all make for a very immediate experience: ""These sudden strange encounters . . . were much more interesting than the Roman amphitheaters and the ruins."" Theroux has never been one to let pass any abrupt or truculent or stupid behavior (""several aspects of this reeking vulgarity interested me""), and it is always a pleasure when he calls a miscreant on his thuggish conduct. This contributes a snappy edge to the proceedings (Do you torture political prisoners here in Turkey? How do you feel about the Fascists coming to power in your Italian village?) and it keeps the journey fast on its feet. Theroux bestows perhaps his greatest compliment of all to the journey itself: ""I knew I would go back, the way you went back to a museum, to look. . . and think."" Never has he said that before. As satisfying as a glass of cool wine on a dusty Calabrian afternoon.