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The Asia Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the Continent    by China Williams & et al order for
Asia Book
by China Williams
Order:  USA  Can
Lonely Planet, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's another splendid coffee table sized book from Lonely Planet that combines an overview of Asian travel with a variety of enticing photographs - they give a preview of what's to be seen, and also create a mental itch to start trip planning.

In the Foreword, Roz Hopkins tells us that 'Asia means different things to different people. It's the tranquillity of a watery rice terrace reflecting the clouds. It's the eternal emptiness of the desert; it's the uber-modernity of a neon-bathed city. It's all this and infinitely more.' An introductory essay speaks of a continent that 'has contributed a cast of heroes and villains to global history', as well as ancient trading routes and 'some of the world's most revolutionary ideas.'

A one-page Timeline summarizes historical highlights, from the birth of Siddhartha Gautama (founder of Buddhism) in 653-483 BC Nepal to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The overview continues with a map; an Asia at a Glance summary (including Best Sunrise); and a presentation of the region's eight Great Journeys (each with photo, description and map) - from the Overland Trail and the Silk Road to following In the Footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia.

Asian destinations are then presented under five categories: Southeast Asia (Thailand to the Philippines); Northeast Asia (Mongolia to Taiwan and Japan); the Indian Subcontinent & the Himalaya (Tibet to the Maldives); Central Asia (Turkmenistan to Afghanistan); and the Middle East (Iran to Israel). Each region is introduced by an essay - describing both geography and flavor - and map. Country entries are rich in images and topics covered include Landscape, History in a Nutshell, People, Cuisine, Culture, Essential Experiences (like rush hour on the Tokyo subway!), and Best Time to Visit.

At the back of this glorious travel book are a series of essays on Themes of Asia: From Desert to Delta, discussing 'Asia's complex bond between people and place'; Land of Gods, 'that has played by far the most prominent role in shaping all the major religions practised today'; Pop Goes Asia, its modern cultural expressions; and (one that brought back many memories for me) Flashing Back to the Asian Hippie Trail.

What a wonderful resource on one of the most intriguing areas in the world! My copy of The Asia Book will be well thumbed as I gaze at pictures that recall past journeys, and carefully read its text to plan new ones.

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