During his 40 years as a travel writer, Paul Theroux has specialized in journeys in unusual places, by more or less ordinary local means — trains were the favorite, but even a canoe would serve. Originally a Peace Corps teacher in Africa and by preference a loner everywhere, he has been compulsive about sensory observation and personal encounter. Romanticism, hype, and mythmaking are his bugbears.
His hard nose may have been a nuisance to people close to him, such as V. S. Naipaul, with whom he publicly feuded, but among popular authors he is perhaps the sole living champion of the full, pitiless story of the Third World’s landscape. For example, in a previous book on Africa, Dark Star Safari (2002), he made clear the horror of the prevailing deforestation.