Blog Books

Books: Wonders of the World

Publishers seem to believe that the weeks leading up to Christmas are a great period to publish coffee table books and what I call ‘list books’. The latter in the travel book genre often mean Top 100 or Best 500 of sights around the world. An Amazon search will reveal a pretty long selection of these. Both Lonely Planet and National Geographic recently came up with a Travel List book that may be of interest to World Heritage Travellers.

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet’s The World’s Great Wonders covers 30 man-made sites and 20 natural wonders. The book is a smallish hardcover. It aims “to inform, to inspire and to encourage its readers to travel”. It covers a lot about the selected World Wonders in 4 to 6 pages per Wonder. It does so by including ‘How did they do that?’ and ‘Getting there’ sections. The selection was made by Jheni Osman. She managed to include recent world wonders such as the Panama Canal, Maracana Stadium, Palm Jumeirah and the Larga Hadron Collider. With a background in scientific journalism, Osman happily includes the Lark Quarry (site of a dinosaur stampede) among her favourite Wonders. I particularly admired her choice of the Afghanistan TWHS Band-e-Amir, a place I knew so little about.

National Geographic

National Geographic’s Destinations of a Lifetime is more of a coffee table book, and draws heavily on its photography. The sites were chosen by National Geographic photographers. “Superlative iconic spots” is what they’re after. This is a selection of 225 sites, also both covering natural and cultural spots. There are many WHS among the 225, but there's also a fondness for second rate sites such as Sochi, Tonle Sap or Doha (which may be meant as ‘hidden treasures’). Their choice is pretty USA centric - I can't say that I am immediately drawn to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas for example. The accompanying texts give the impression of being written by a copy writer: they are full of superlatives such as "We're discovering new species all the time", "astonishing diversity" and "unforgettable experiences", all found on the same half page about Manu NP for example. If I had to choose between the two books, I'd go for the Lonely Planet one as it has more depth (and still does not shy away from great photos). However I don't regret buying the two of them. They're both reasonably priced too.

A World Wonders Canon

So what’s the common ground between the lists in these two books and our beloved WH List? Can we recognize a Canon of undisputed ‘Wonders of the World’? The following sites are included in all 3 sources:

  • Grand Canyon
  • Ngorongoro Crater
  • Terracotta Warriors
  • Petra
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Church of St. George (Lalibela)
  • Alhambra
  • Machu Picchu
  • Easter Island Statues
  • Potala Palace (labelled a ‘fairyland castle’ by NG, in the same league as Neuschwanstein)
  • Sagrada Familia

Notably absent in both books are entries from Iran (too hard to get in for UK and US writers/photographers?). Islamic monuments are thinly covered in general, as is modern architecture. Also overlooked are some of my personal favourite WHS such as Meroë, Kathmandu Valley and Samarkand.

Do you have a favourite 'Travel List' book?

Els - 28 November 2015

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Solivagant 29 November 2015

A few months ago I suggested that we try to establish a "Community" view on which were the "best"," most important" (or whatever - we would need to try to establish some sort of definition without being too prescriptive) WHS - The top 50 or 100.
Although no doubt many of those of us who live in the temperate north will be doing some travels to warmer climes we will still be facing a fair number of long cold nights so it seems a good time to start doing it if we ever intend doing so!
See my comment from July 11 under the topic "Do we need more Top Lists?"