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Travel book reviews

Chicago Tribune

"Luxe City Guides"

(Luxe City Guides; $9 each)

They say it's all in the packaging and with the new Luxe series that is certainly true. Luxe consists of tiny (the word "portable" doesn't do it justice) pocket and purse-sized shopping, dining and lifestyle guides to the world's most popular destinations: Los Angeles, Barcelona, New York, Shanghai, Beijing, Berlin, London, Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo, Bangkok and Rome. The attitude is cheeky and irreverent. The comments are opinionated and often very funny (when in L.A., they recommend renting a car: "What you drive matters in L.A. and forget walking, unless you're looking for a new profession."). If they think something is a waste of time, they tell you. And when Luxe loathes something, you know it.

"The Europe Book: A Journey through Every Country on the Continent"


Planet, $40)

This handsome coffee-table tome offers nutshell portraits of every European country. The boundaries, though, are a bit more generous than similar books. For example, the editors include all of Russia and countries south of the Black Sea. They also include a historical timeline and brief sections on "great journeys" such as the Grand Tour, Behind the Iron Curtain and Nostalgia on the Orient Express. But the bulk of the text focuses on the countries themselves, with descriptions of their people, their traditions and their cuisine. Each country also is accompanied by a random facts chart where all manner of fascinating trivia--cultural, historical, economic--resides. Terrific color photographs accompany the text.

"The Travel Book: A Journey through Every Country in the World"

(Lonely Planet, $24.99)

Similar to the "Europe Book" (at right) but this time around every single country in the world is included. At nearly 900 pages, it is a squat, hefty book, but given that so many countries are profiled and space is limited, the text is more concise. Although the United Nations officially lists 193 countries, Lonely Planet goes beyond the strict definitions of what signifies a nation to include countries that are part of larger political entities (such as Great Britain or the various parts of China). Thus, the Lonely Planet list balloons to 231 countries. Consider it your literary passport to the entire planet.

"Route 66 Backroads"

(Voyageur Press, $24.99)

Famous Route 66 begins at Grant Park in Chicago and ends by the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Calif. The road and this book recall a time before franchise restaurants and chain motels choked America's highways. The journey begins in Illinois, travels through Missouri and Kansas, continues through Oklahoma, crosses Texas, enters New Mexico, traverses Arizona before ending in California. In total, the guide consists of 50 driving tours, which include plenty of side trips off the Mother Road. What truly sets the book apart from similar titles, though, is the more than 200 color photographs by photographers Kerrick James, Rick Bowers and Nora Mays Bowers.

--Resourceful Traveler is written by June Sawyers

"In the Footsteps of Marco Polo"

(Rowman & Littlefield, $29.95) An illustrated companion to the PBS series, "In the Footsteps of Marco Polo" chronicles the improbable two-year journey of Denis Belliveau and Francis O'Donnell as the two men retrace the 25,000-mile route that Polo took some 700 years ago. Belliveau and O'Donnell traveled through 20 countries and eight war zones. Even though some friends considered their idea an insane one ("You'll never get out alive"), they were determined to follow through. "Alone, without a crew, and using Polo's book as our guide," they write, "we decided to try to become the first to follow in his footsteps, for however long it took, non-stop, no flights, from village to village, city to city, and along the way see for ourselves whether or not Marco's words rang true." They begin in New York, stop in Jerusalem, Turkey, Uzbekistan, survive the war zone that is Afghanistan, walk along the Great Wall of China, taste nomadic life on the steppes of Mongolia and continue on to Sumatra, Ceylon and India.

"Eat: Los Angeles"

(Prospect Park Books, $19.95)

Colleen Dunn Bates, the editor of "Eat: Los Angeles," makes no claims that the book is comprehensive. In such a vast and complex city that would be an impossible task, she concludes. Instead, the book's intent is to be "broad-ranging" and "discerning." It covers a lot of ground, many types of cuisine and various price ranges. The contributing editors describe fancy restaurants and humble coffeehouses, but also cheese shops, caterers, taco trucks, cooking schools, food festivals and farmers' markets throughout Los Angeles County from Long Beach to Santa Monica. In addition to the descriptions, they also include 10 profiles of what they call Good Food Neighborhoods and they also recognize places that they consider "Essentially L.A." Now you have no reason to go hungry in the City of Angels.

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