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Wanderlust: A Social History of Travel

by Laura Byrne Paquet

“Why Leave Home?” is the title of the first chapter of Wanderlust by Ottawa-based writer Laura Byrne Paquet. Good question.

This is Paquet’s second foray into the social history genre, following 2003’s The Urge to Splurge: A Social History of Shopping. Rather than taking stock of the politics, wars, or famous people who have shaped the way we now travel, Paquet’s view comes from the ground up, looking at social trends, common folk, and the movements of the masses.

Reading Wanderlust is like taking a big-city bus tour: you see a little of everything, fast. The book goes from leisure travel’s roots in ancient pilgrimages to Virgin Galactic’s dreams of space travel, barely stopping to catch a breath. Each chapter focuses on an element of travel (roads, railways, hotels, etc.) and is filled with a number of bite-sized subchapters. The chapter on roads, for example, has vignettes about bicycles, automobiles, postal service, RVs, road maps, and so on, but little in the way of an arc to connect the disparate parts. This kind of fact-heavy, narrative-light reading is great to pick up and put down, but doesn’t reward sustained concentration. Readers feeling forgetful or overwhelmed by the volume of material have a 21-page index to help them keep track of what they’ve read.

But back to that original question: why go? There are lots of good answers: for a break in routine, for context, for adventure. Still, there is no answer to be found here that leaves the reader feeling that, yes, that is why I leave town, and why I return. Paquet has constructed a meticulously organized book, packed full of research, and of great interest to those of us who leave town from time to time. But for real answers to the questions the book raises, one would do better to look to the roads and rails.


Reviewer: Andrew Kett

Publisher: Goose Lane Editions


Price: $19.95

Page Count: 312 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-0-86492-445-2

Released: April

Issue Date: 2007-5

Categories: Reference