I suppose I could write another depressing post about canine mast cell tumors or local restaurants and fests. But today, I think it would be better to write a book review. There was a time in my life when I wrote book reviews all the time, at least once or twice a week. Now I write them as I finish books, which take me a lot longer to read than they used to. I started Albert Podell’s book Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth over a month ago, when Bill and I were in The Netherlands. I just finished it this morning.
It didn’t take such a long time to finish Mr. Podell’s book because it wasn’t good or interesting. On the contrary, I found Around the World in 50 Years a fascinating and entertaining read. Podell is one of those rare, adventurous characters who had a burning need to achieve his goals, no matter how difficult or even impossible they seem. A lawyer and writer by trade, he has also been an editor at Playboy, as well as three national outdoor magazines. He has also written over 250 freelance articles. I found his writing witty, engaging, and informative, as he outlined his adventures at some of the more obscure and dangerous countries around the world.
Although Podell has the distinction of having been to every official country on the books (at this point in history, anyway), he can’t write about every place he’s ever seen. Enough people have been to France, England, and Brazil that he could safely leave his experiences in those countries out of his manuscript. He does, however, offer tales about Nauru, a little known island nation in Micronesia. How many people have even heard of Nauru, let alone visited it? As Podell explains, it’s not exactly on the top tier of most traveler’s bucket lists. If you read about his experiences in Nauru, you might come to understand why it’s a country that may not exist for much longer. Same with Tuvalu, another little known country out there in the world. Podell writes about these far flung places with humor, compassion, and insight. I almost wanted to see them for myself, were it not for the extreme difficulty in even reaching them.
Aside from seeing fascinating and obscure countries, Podell has also met some amazing people. He writes of one of his first expeditions to Africa, where he and a friend had taken along a couple of European nurses. The nurses were seen as potential wife material by a local tribal leader, who took a particular liking to the heavier set blonde one. Podell and his friend had to do some fancy talking and cultural finessing to avoid bartering their friends to the Africans.
Another fascinating man Podell met in Africa was a guide who called himself God. God was quite the character and Podell’s stories about him explain why meeting God was yet another enriching experience in his travels around the world.
Podell ran into danger, impossible bureaucracy and red tape, beautiful women, dangerous men, bad weather, bad food, and near death experiences. He manages to write about all of this with a game sense of fun and enthusiasm. I think Around the World in 50 Years is a great read for those who are adventurous and love a good story, as well as those who are less adventurous and would prefer to get their information about the world from people who don’t mind doing the legwork to experience it. Podell also went back to countries after they’d changed. For instance, 25 years ago, the Soviet Union still existed and Podell had been there. When it broke up, he visited all 15 former republics, some of which are more rustic and exotic than others. I wish he’d written more about his times in those countries. Much of this book is about Podell’s visits to African countries. South America and Europe barely get a mention.
This book may be less appealing to those who don’t enjoy stories that are told in a “fish story” fashion. Remember, Podell is a writer who used to work for Playboy and he has a colorful vocabulary. Some of his stories may seem a bit embellished. Some might also take offense to his rather strong inclination toward bedding younger women; again, remember, he did used to work for Playboy. Personally, I enjoyed reading about his experiences and feel like I learned something new while I was entertained. At the back of the book, there is a comprehensive list of all of the countries Podell has seen and the year of his visit. I’m proud to say I went to Armenia before he did.