The 10 oddest travel guides ever published.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Aug. 4 2008 5:51 AM

"Baboons Are Simply Too Small for Leopard Bait"

The 10 oddest travel guides ever published.

"After five years' travel," veteran guidebook writer Geoff Crowther once recalled, "most of us went feral." So did the books they wrote. Jammed into backpacks, ripped into pieces, guidebooks escape into the wild to get lost or abandoned for the next edition. Here are 10 that are so transfixingly odd that they've remained readable long beyond their original itineraries:

The Truth About Hunting in Today's Africa

1. The Truth About Hunting in Today's Africa, and How To Go on Safari for $690.00, by George Leonard Herter (1963) Equal parts Hemingway and Cliff Clavin, mail-order hunting goods retailer George Herter was one of America's great oddball writers. His self-published guide—bound in tiger-print cloth—is a malarial fever of anecdotes, family safari photos, and horrifying advice: "Baboons are simply too small for leopard bait. ... A live dog is one of the best leopard baits." Hunting with a phonograph of distressed goat calls is encouraged; so is the importation of animals: "Leopard farming would be far more profitable than mink farming," he proposes. As the corpses of rhinos, lions, elephants—and one of their guides—pile up for more than 300 pages, Herter never misses a chance to sell his sporting goods with such photo captions as: "A Masai warrior admires a pair of Hudson Bay two point shoes."

A Guide Through the District of the Lakes
Advertisement

2. A Guide Through the District of the Lakes in the North of England, by William Wordsworth (5th edition, 1835) A travel guide by Wordsworth? It's true: Alternating between practical information and rhapsodic stanzas, the Romantic poet muses upon such sublime sights as the "almost precipitous sides of mountains with an intermixture of colours, like the compound hues of a dove's neck." Try finding that in Frommer's. His guide drew so many tourists that Matthew Arnold later recalled, "one of the pilgrims, a clergyman, asked him if he had ever written anything besides the Guide to the Lakes." The guide embodied tourism's contradictions. Wordsworth, ambivalent about the gawkers that he succeeded too well in attracting, eventually grumbled about "the railway with its ... swarms of pleasure-seekers, most of them thinking that they do not fly fast enough through the country which they have come to see."

3. Das Generalgouvernement, by Karl Baedeker (1943)
The iconic Baedekers of Leipzig, pressured by the Nazi government into producing a vacation guide to occupied Poland, published the most inadvertently creepy guidebook ever, complete with Reichminister General Governor Hans Frank promising visitors the charms of home—"ein stark heimatlich anmutendes Gebilde." Those charms include an Adolf-Hitler-Platz in the foldout Warsaw map and a brief entry for Auschwitz listing it only as a "train station." Although Germans lost no time in producing vacation guides to their newly captured territories—check out this 1940 guide to non-Blitzkrieg visits to Paris—it's still hard not to be struck by the inner cover's sale listing of prewar Baedekers. They include guides to Großbritannien and Rußland—destinations most Germans could only view through a bombsight.

Fodor's Indian America

4. Fodor's Indian America, by Jamake Highwater (1975) Fodor's one attempt to get down with the 1970s got them more than they bargained for. First, there's the author: Jay Marks, a rock critic who, after claiming Indian ancestry, changed his name to Jamake Mamake Highwater. His book is as much a history and a personal essay as a travel guide. Beginning with a visit by his mother to Central Park ("So they put the trees on reservations too!" she snorts), Highwater dispenses cultural advice ("[B]eating the hand against the mouth and making a wow-wow sound is deeply racist") and modern updates ("Certificate of vaccination against smallpox is no longer required") among his travel facts. The only Fodor's to contain a 20-point position paper and appendix titled "A Note on Cultural Relativism" and "Fifteen Questions About the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie,"Indian America remains a unique experiment: It never had a second edition.

Bollocks to Alton Towers

5. Bollocks to Alton Towers by Robin Halstead, et al. (2006) This lyrical look at British eccentricity covers such oddball attractions as a leech-operated barometer and the Cumberland Pencil Museum. Whether mourning the military-requisitioned village of Imber ("The saloon chalk board that would normally advertise Today's Specials is busy with military scribble, all arrowheads and flanking formations") or dryly summarizing Mad Jack's Sugar Loaf ("The man behind this stupid structure is a fascinating figure"), Bollocks captures British anoraks in ways no conventional guide could. Who else would lovingly redeem the famously awful likenesses of Louis Tussaud's House of Wax in Great Yarmouth by pointing out its perfect 1970s-vintage games arcade? "The whole experience," they muse, "is a time machine—you are an eight-year old visiting the seaside with your nan."

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.