book review: down under

Bill Bryson’s book „Down under“ is probably one of the best-selling Australian travel diaries of the last years. Bryson writes about his travels in a very entertaining and easy-to-read style. Down under is quite entertaining and full of supposedly well researched peeks into Australian history, geography, foreign relations and politics. However, while „Down under“ might be an entertaining read, Bryson hasn’t done a great job in portraying the places he visited. Even though Bryson seems to have done a lot of research, he hasn’t done a great job in planning his itineraries and researching the destinations.

While his approach of just going to various places and looking around might lead to unexpected discoveries and some entertainment for the reader, Bryson also managed to miss interesting and important aspects of some cities. This is perhaps most apparent in Canberra: Bryson stayed at a hotel that is just a couple of minutes‘ walk from the Civic center, but he almost entirely missed it. A short glance into any decent travel companion shows that hs description of the Aussie capital is wholly inaccurate. Had he had a decent guide book and a map, he wouldn’t have gotten lost and frustrated. Another example of bad planning is that the Author visited Cairns (and Palm Cove) in summer. It is common knowledge around here that summer in northern Australia is „stinger season“, when the most poisonous box jellyfish can be found in coastal waters, and „cyclone season“. Even the wikipedia article states that Cairns can be inaccessible in summer because of flooded roads. Moreover, Bryson is seemingly paid by a newspaper for travelling around in Australia. Many tourists who come to Australia won’t want to afford a train ride in a sleeper that can cost over a thousand dollars. And they certainly won’t stay in nice hotels all the time (and seem to mock about having to stay in a roadhouse or pub in the outback). Conclusion: use the Lonely Planet for travel planning and read other books.