Just When You Thought The Airways Were Safe . . .

WHY FLYING ENDANGERS YOUR HEALTH by Farrol S. Kahn (Aurora Press: $14 paper). If you think all you've got to worry about when you fly is a plane crash, or maybe getting the last seat on the 747 and then noticing that you're strapped in next to some foul-smelling blabbermouth with fleas, think again. Airline passengers, says Kahn, are (and I paraphrase) regularly threatened by excessive ozone and radiation levels (especially on the high-altitude Concorde), contaminated air, infectious diseases, psychological stress, oxygen deficiency (which can lead to hypoxia, with resulting brain damage, among other ill effects) and other "Hidden Health Hazards of Air Travel"--as the book's sub-title has it.

Worse yet, says Kahn--whose author's note describes him both as "an aviation health expert" and "a former oil industry executive and frequent flyer (who) . . . began his 'health in air' campaign in 1987"--the flying public is kept in ignorance of these perils. Airlines don't want the information to get out for fear of scaring potential passengers away; doctors usually fail to warn their patients of the dangers of flying--even patients whose medical condition should probably keep them out of planes--because they know virtually nothing about aviation medicine; even flight crews themselves are uneducated on the subject and are ill-equipped to handle medical emergencies on board.

Clearly, this is serious business. Clearly, something ought to be done. Unfortunately, this book isn't likely to stir very many people into action. Whatever else Kahn may be, he's not much of a writer, and this volume is an almost impenetrable jumble of statistics, scientific jargon, verbatim transcripts and plodding, convoluted prose, some of which makes no sense at all.

"To be able to take the silver bird to almost any place on the planet," Kahn intones at one point, "to have gained mastery over the skies above us, must rank with the other great technical advance, the discovery of the wheel." (Really?) Or, "Over the next three decades or so, there has (sic) been a continual series, not unlike a television soap opera, on the effects of and therapies for jet syndrome, jet lag, desynchronosis of biological rhythms, dysrhythmia, dyschrony, or call it what you will." (Huh?) If there's a message in there, which I'm sure there is, it gets done in by the medium.

It must be said, though, that in between the lines, there is fascinating stuff here, quite beyond what Kahn tries to say about the dangers of air travel. We learn, for instance, that in 1929, a 4-year-old Gore Vidal became the first small child to fly across the American continent (the journey took 48 hours), and that his eardrums burst over Los Angeles in the process. (He was subsequently photographed with a trickle of blood running down each earlobe.) We learn that "stewardesses" were invented by a United Airlines manager in San Francisco in 1930, and that applicants for the job originally had to be nurses, and under 25 years of age, 115 pounds in weight and 5'4" in height. We learn that on his deathbed, John Foster Dulles admitted to a diplomatic blunder during the Suez Canal crisis, and blamed it on jet lag. . . .

EUROPE BY EURAIL, 1992-93 (16th edition) by George & LaVerne Ferguson (Globe Pequot: $13.95 paper); BRITAIN BY BRITRAIL, 1992-93 (12th edition) by George & LaVerne Ferguson (Globe Pequot: $11.95 paper); EURAIL GUIDE, 1992 (22nd edition) by Kathryn M. Turpin and Marvin L. Saltzman; and BAEDEKER'S RAIL GUIDE TO EUROPE (Prentice Hall: $15.95 paper).

The Fergusons' classic rail guides to the Eurail and BritRail systems, which just keep steaming along, don't address the question of on-board health, but they do offer lots of other practical information. And not just numerous railway timetables and miscellaneous sightseeing advice; they also offer such highly practical travelers' tips as which money exchange office in Munich will change foreign coins, why to insist that your mineral water be opened at the table in Athens and what hours are kept by the information office at the Gare de Lyon. (New editions of both the Eurail and BritRail titles are due in December.)

The Turpin/Saltzman Eurail Guide, doubly sub-titled "How to Travel Europe and All the World by Train; The Low-Cost Way to Tour," covers 141 countries on six continents, and modestly claims to describe "every rail trip in the world a tourist might want to take." Though that's a pretty strong statement--and though there are some pretty wacky tourists out there whose itineraries defy all reason--I wouldn't want to quarrel with the claim. The book even lists the tiny, scenic narrow-gauge route from Palma to Soller on the island of Mallorca (surely one of the world's most pleasant short train trips). For that matter, it lists Teheran to Tabriz and Rangoon to Mandalay--rail trips only the most adventurous would want to take.

Abbreviated sightseeing information is sandwiched in between schedules. The reader who buys this "Eurail Guide" specifically for information on the 17-country Eurail system, incidentally, will either be pleased to find that it contains a great lot of additional information or will wonder if the use of the word Eurail in the title isn't somewhat misleading.

(The timetables given in both the Turpin/Saltzman and the Ferguson guides are, of necessity, abbreviated, and may in some cases be out of date. For complete and up-to-date European train schedules, serious and/or obsessive train travelers might wish to obtain the Thomas Cook European Timetable, published monthly by Cook in London. This is sort of the European railway equivalent to the Official Airline Guide, and includes not just rail schedules but ship schedules, airport rail link information and 36 city maps with train stations indicated. Each month's issue may be ordered from Forsyth Travel Library, 9154 West 57th St., P.O. Box 2975, Shawnee Mission, Kansas 66201-1375; (800) 367-7984; fax (913) 384-3553. The cost is $23.95 per copy plus $4 shipping--$27.50 total.)

"Baedeker's Rail Guide to Europe" has no timetables at all. It does have maps, color photographs, historical and sightseeing data, essential addresses and phone numbers and plenty of general information on fares, special rail passes and rates and station facilities--professionally assembled and attractively presented, as is usual with Baedeker's.

AMAZON WILDLIFE, produced by Hans-Ulrich Bernard (Insight Guides/APA Publications: $22 paper); INDIA'S WESTERN HIMALAYA, edited by Manjulika Dubey and Toby Sinclair (Insight Guides/APA Publications: $19.95 paper); and THE NILE, edited and produced by Andrew Eames (Insight Guides/APA Publications: $22 paper).

Stunning photography (and high-quality reproduction of same), intelligent design, detailed and authoritative texts, better-than-guidebook writing, concise, up-to-date information on hotels, restaurants and the like, a comprehensive index. . . . What's not to like about the Insight Guides? As usual with Insight, these three new titles are delights--books to take along on a trip perhaps, but certainly books to read, to look at, to luxuriate in at home. Sections on (respectively) Amazon fauna, the Kashmiri arts and crafts tradition and the Nile in literature and cinema are particular pleasures.

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