The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World... via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes - Carl Hoffman A first-reads win. Four and a half stars.

Decades ago, I met a French-Canadian girl in Mexico City who hitchhiked by herself from Panama City to Mexico City. I was also traveling through Mexico by myself but I was amazed by her courage as a young woman to travel in an area that was considered to be quite dangerous at the time. Her response was that the only disturbing thing on her trip was being picked up by male drivers who spent the entire ride lecturing about both the danger and the immorality of traveling on her own.

As a lone traveler myself, I found that non-travelers exaggerate the dangers. With a few safeguards and conventional wisdom the dangers can be controlled. Yet the very possibility of hazards is part of the lure to the adventure traveler. Carl Hoffman took that to the extreme by traveling the globe and purposely picking those modes of transportation that are the most dangerous. Whether it was buses that regularly went over a cliff in Bolivia, ferries that regularly capsized in Bangla Desh, or trains that were regularly mobbed and robbed in Africa, Hoffman rode them. Hoffman intentionally throws out the safeguard. When he cannot be persuaded not to take a dangerous bus route in South America, he is told to at least do not travel at night. So he changes his plan and travels at night. Truly insane!

While the plain lunacy of this stunt makes for fascinating reading, the real message lies in the people he met on the way. No matter how dangerous the travel, Hoffman found kind and decent people who helped him and took him under their care. The other message in this book is that what we see as crazy and dangerous is the main mode of transportation for the great majority of the world. This was not "adventure travel" for them but the necessary way to travel and make a living. Things we take for granted while traveling like privacy, safety, and comfort is something out of their reach. The success of this book is to place the reader into this world and makes them realize that this is the norm for the most of Earth's inhabitants. Yes, read this for the escapism of travel but Hoffman does not allow you to lose sight of the social and political message in this highly readable and enjoyable book.