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by Chris Springer, Contributing Editor

“The Travel Book: A Journey through Every Country in the World” (2004, Lonely Planet. ISBN 1741044510 — 444 pp., $39.99 hardcover).

This hefty coffee-table volume earns its definitive title. Assembled by the editors of Lonely Planet guidebooks, “The Travel Book” devotes one page-spread to each of 230 countries and territories around the globe. This simple, egalitarian concept produces a new world order that is strictly A to Z. For once, places like Chad, Dominica and Vanuatu get their due.

Each country is presented in a handful of photos that are representative yet avoid cliche — a delightful mix of portraits, landscapes and action shots. Images like the wizened face of an elderly Georgian woman or the cratered phosphate-mining fields of Nauru prove that even the unglamorous can be glorious.

A few pithy paragraphs summarize each country’s trademarks, essential experiences for visitors and recommended books and films. The “surprises” section reveals, for instance, that Gambia possesses an emergency runway for space shuttles and that Tibetans stick out their tongues as a sign of respect.

For readers who get to the spread on Zimbabwe and still crave more, the appendix covers a dozen dependencies that don’t merit their own page (like Tristan da Cunha, population 300). All in all, it’s an enthralling global tour.

“Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World” by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman (2004, Atria Books. ISBN 0743499336 — 312 pp., $26.95 hardcover).

He toured alien planets in the “Star Wars” films and romanced Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge.” But offscreen, all Ewan McGregor dreamed of was riding motorcycles.

In this book the Scottish actor hatches a plan to ride from London to New York “the long way ’round”: east across Eurasia and (with a hop over the Bering Strait) North America. He and buddy Charley Boorman sort out the logistics, round up an entourage of fixers and cameramen (the latter to document the trip for television) and head off.

Accidents, rough roads and endless surprises dog the bikers. They encounter cops on the take in Ukraine and unwanted celebrity treatment in Kazakhstan. In Mongolia they gamely try, and fail, to ingest a local delicacy: bull’s testicles.

Readers hoping for lyrical descriptions of the landscape, or profound insights into foreign cultures, should look elsewhere. In this road adventure, the scenery goes whizzing by at 100 mph. Even with a ghostwriter’s aid, this account lacks literary flair, but McGregor and Boorman can tell a good story — and they have a good story to tell.

Maybe it’s an extension of their acting talent, but the duo come off as utterly unpretentious — a couple of fun-loving biker lads. In recounting their trek, they speak freely about personal shortcomings and petty squabbles, with salty language and earthy humor. One need not know or care about the distinction between a BMW 1150GS Adventure and a KTM 950 Adventurer to enjoy their tale.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

by Chris Springer, Contributing Editor

“The Travel Book: A Journey through Every Country in the World” (2004, Lonely Planet. ISBN 1741044510 — 444 pp., $39.99 hardcover).

This hefty coffee-table volume earns its definitive title. Assembled by the editors of Lonely Planet guidebooks, “The Travel Book” devotes one page-spread to each of 230 countries and territories around the globe. This simple, egalitarian concept produces a new world order that is strictly A to Z. For once, places like Chad, Dominica and Vanuatu get their due.

Each country is presented in a handful of photos that are representative yet avoid cliche — a delightful mix of portraits, landscapes and action shots. Images like the wizened face of an elderly Georgian woman or the cratered phosphate-mining fields of Nauru prove that even the unglamorous can be glorious.

A few pithy paragraphs summarize each country’s trademarks, essential experiences for visitors and recommended books and films. The “surprises” section reveals, for instance, that Gambia possesses an emergency runway for space shuttles and that Tibetans stick out their tongues as a sign of respect.

For readers who get to the spread on Zimbabwe and still crave more, the appendix covers a dozen dependencies that don’t merit their own page (like Tristan da Cunha, population 300). All in all, it’s an enthralling global tour.

“Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World” by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman (2004, Atria Books. ISBN 0743499336 — 312 pp., $26.95 hardcover).

He toured alien planets in the “Star Wars” films and romanced Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge.” But offscreen, all Ewan McGregor dreamed of was riding motorcycles.

In this book the Scottish actor hatches a plan to ride from London to New York “the long way ’round”: east across Eurasia and (with a hop over the Bering Strait) North America. He and buddy Charley Boorman sort out the logistics, round up an entourage of fixers and cameramen (the latter to document the trip for television) and head off.

Accidents, rough roads and endless surprises dog the bikers. They encounter cops on the take in Ukraine and unwanted celebrity treatment in Kazakhstan. In Mongolia they gamely try, and fail, to ingest a local delicacy: bull’s testicles.

Readers hoping for lyrical descriptions of the landscape, or profound insights into foreign cultures, should look elsewhere. In this road adventure, the scenery goes whizzing by at 100 mph. Even with a ghostwriter’s aid, this account lacks literary flair, but McGregor and Boorman can tell a good story — and they have a good story to tell.

Maybe it’s an extension of their acting talent, but the duo come off as utterly unpretentious — a couple of fun-loving biker lads. In recounting their trek, they speak freely about personal shortcomings and petty squabbles, with salty language and earthy humor. One need not know or care about the distinction between a BMW 1150GS Adventure and a KTM 950 Adventurer to enjoy their tale.