On The Road? One of the best travel books ever? Are they kidding. The howls of protest rise up to heaven.
Consider that people have been writing, or at least publishing their travels, ever since humans first learned to make paints and dabble on rocks – rock blogging, if you like – then you have to wonder how On The Road makes it into the top 20.
The Greeks and Romans, being great travellers in the course of their duties to their respective empires, gave the world some of the most enduring and lasting travel writing, the chronicler Herodotus being the greatest of these.
Given the knowledge of the world, the writing skill, the insight into human foibles, the depth of intellect, it seems a little crass to ignore someone like Herodotus in favour of, say, Jack Kerouac. But it happens, and always will, which is why Kerouac’s On The Road makes the list of The Telegraph’s best travel books of all time, and Herodotus doesn’t.
Still, there are some very fine writers here: Graham Greene, Jonathan Raban, Colin Thubron, Eric Newby, Jan Morris, John Steinbeck and Wilfred Thesiger, among others. Those others include Alex Garland, author of the lush Thai backpacking-and-weed epic The Beach. More howls.
But, it’s a good list and one that any aspiring travel writer should work through with fervour, for nothing else than to learn that not one of these epics ever uses the extremely dodgy phrases “palm-fringed” or “azure seas” or “land of contrasts”. Small mercies, for which I am grateful.