A global rhapsody collected

Times Staff Writer

The World

Travels 1950-2000

Jan Morris

Norton: 480 pp., $27.95


Here is a tapas bar of a book, full of tiny bits carrying tangy flavors, likely to keep a taster up into the wee hours.

None of these recipes is new. The writings are all excerpted from Jan Morris' long career, first as a newspaper reporter, then as a magazine correspondent and eventually as an author of three dozen books covering nearly every place on Earth worth covering. Their rearrangement gives these bits new life.

It's a welcome gift from Morris, a loyal Welshwoman, a contrarian and rhapsodist who has long stood in the front rank of travel writers. Now in her late 70s, she has arranged these pieces by decade and geography, strung them together with brief backward-looking transitions and introduced them with grace and tough-mindedness.

Here's Morris' 1953 account of the return of Edmund Hillary's Everest party to base camp:

"I caught sight of George Lowe, leading the party down the hill. He was raising his arm and waving as he walked! It was thumbs up! Everest was climbed! Hillary brandished his ice axe in weary triumph; Tenzing [Norgay] slipped suddenly sideways, recovered and shot us a brilliant white smile; and they were among us, back from the summit, with men pumping their hands and embracing them, laughing, smiling, crying, taking photographs, laughing again, crying again, till the noise and delight of it all rang down."

The one detail that threatens to overwhelm every short piece written about Morris: Until 1972 the writer was known as James Morris, husband, father, correspondent for London's Times and the Guardian, veteran of four years in the British Army.

Though she did cover her operation, and all that came with it, in a book ("Conundrum," 1987), it's clear that she would rather talk about the exhilaration of arriving in Manhattan for the first time (in 1953) or listen in on the last gasp of the British Empire in Hong Kong in 1997. Our good luck is that between the covers of the volume, she does all three.


Beauty abounds

in old Urbino


The Story of a Renaissance City

June Osborne, photographs by Joe Cornish

University of Chicago: 208 pp., $50


Yes, it's pricey. But this book teems with striking photography of the old Italian hill city about 60 miles east of Florence as well as with well-reproduced artworks connected to the region.

The images of mist-cloaked hillsides and the lavishly appointed ducal palace come with text that mines municipal history for such figures as Donato Bramante, one of Rome's foremost architects, and the painter Raphael, another son of Urbino.


Busman's holiday, British style

Guide to Britain's Working Past

Anthony Burton

Norton: 192 pp., $24.95 paper


Maybe probing into forgotten corners of the industrial revolution isn't your idea of an absorbing read. But Anthony Burton's work here will resonate with many readers interested in the working end of history. The author has pulled together a well-illustrated guide to rail stations, windmills, blast furnaces, canal machinery, mining, museums and (let's not forget) distilleries. Web sites, phone numbers and prices are included, as are handsome maps. Thus the whiskey tourist in Scotland may safely and quickly draft an itinerary from Islay to Ballindalloch to Dufftown to Rothes to Orkney to Craigellachie -- and never be far from lubrication.

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