A jumbled collection of random stories and half-baked ideas.

Using historical anecdotes and contrarian rhetoric, psychoanalyst Bayard (French Literature/Univ. of Paris 8; Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of The Hound of the Baskervilles, 2008, etc.) argues that physical travel is unnecessary, and even inadvisable, when trying to understand faraway places.

Throughout the book, the author celebrates the “armchair traveler,” but he defines this person in several different ways. Bayard does not believe that Marco Polo actually traveled to China but instead stayed near medieval Venice and collected the stories of real travelers. Iconoclastic to the end, he criticizes the anthropologist Margaret Mead for failing to understand the Samoans she met firsthand, yet he praises Immanuel Kant for inventing modern philosophy without leaving his hometown. Bayard is fond of Phileas Fogg, the Jules Verne character who circled the globe but barely interacted with any part of it. Perhaps the book loses something in the translation, but Bayard makes few discernible points except that he doesn’t consider travel a worthwhile endeavor. “If you are obligated in spite of everything to travel,” he posits, “the best solution is to do it as quickly as possible, avoiding lingering anywhere along the way since nothing good can come of it.” His position is so bizarre as to seem satirical, but if he’s kidding, Bayard never winks. In the strangest chapter of all, he references the journalist Jayson Blair, who wrote about a war veteran in Texas, but the encounter was both made-up and largely plagiarized. Then he writes, “if we leave aside the moral dimension of journalistic trickery, Jayson Blair’s story does pose the almost philosophic question, already latent in our previous examples, of knowing what it actually means to be in a place.” Perhaps this “almost philosophic question” is almost valid and almost worth taking seriously. But in the end, the book feels like a pseudo-intellectual exercise. Bayard strives to applaud imagination and postmodern thinking, but his treatise comes off as stubbornly provincial, an overthought con game.

A jumbled collection of random stories and half-baked ideas.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-137-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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