The art of the travel book has been attempted by many, but only really succeeded at by the few.
With his latest, The Tao of Travel, Paul Theroux is clearly confident about his own standing and sets up his work alongside that of literary luminaries such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Freya Stark, Isak Dinesen, Anton Chekhov and Ernest Hemingway. Indeed, the volume's cover boasts: "Theroux's work remains the standard by which other travel writing must be judged."
Whatever, the book is a joy. Through the eyes of some of the greatest writers of all time, we learn of the most wonderful, sad and dangerous places on earth.
While Dervla Murphy could be dismissed as a snob: "Use guidebooks to identify the areas most frequented by foreigners - and then go in the opposite direction", Theroux defends the Irish writer as a realist, who recognises that any worthy traveller needs "space, solitude and silence".
Later, Theroux offers some practical advice: leave home, go alone, travel light, bring a map, go by land, and if you must bring a mobile phone, avoid using it.