As he did in The Lady and the Monk (1991) and Video Night in Kathmandu (1988), Iyer again turns his attention to the quirky and the quixotic, this time in what he calls ``the et ceteras in the list of nations.'' Included in these ``lonely places'' are Iceland, Paraguay, Vietnam, Argentina, and Australia. Iyer confesses early on to a lifelong attraction to regions that in ``their very remoteness'' take on an ``air of haunted glamour.'' He doesn't necessarily mean geographically distant, though Bhutan and Patagonia are among his destinations. Rather, it's the psychological and economic isolation of these areas- -occasioned by, for example, lack of tourism and international investment--that intrigues the author. Iyer depicts with wonder and affection the varied idiosyncracies he encounters, studding his narrative with colorful, off-beat facts--e.g., that, by law, one evening each year the members of the Icelandic Parliament must speak in rhyme. Throughout, Iyer displays a winning, self- deprecatory humor. When a Cuban doctor asks him to touch his nose with his eyes closed, the author jokes, ``Luckily, it is a big target: I pass with flying colors.'' Iyer's also aware of the dichotomies that exist within the countries he visits. Vietnam, despite decades of war, is ``one of the gentlest and most peaceful countries I have ever seen.'' His comments on that nation's eagerness to enter the world economic market are revelatory and unexpected: ``It is impossible not to feel that Saigon, with its Ca-Li-Pho-Nia Ham-Bu-Go stores and its karaoke bars, its Chiclets and water ski clubs, its private Mercedeses and hustlers and `Atlanta Placons' baseball caps--Saigon, with its rogue economy--is the image of the country's future.'' Economically written yet immensely resonant: a funny, stimulating, eminently humane work, charming and instructive.