Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Accidental Terrorist

By Stephen Ausherman

MAY 26, 1998: 

Fielding Worldwide's The World's Most Dangerous Places

Early in this guidebook to places where you should not go, the authors claim, "There is nothing photogenic, amusing or entertaining about other people's suffering." But they don't actually believe that, because just two lines previous they quip, "No one in Chechnya gives a damn if you really are a nice person and make a mean chocolate mousse." Now that's funny, and I shouldn't have to explain how the dismal state of Chechnya enhances the humor.

The question is why they felt the need to make this bogus claim about the ugly seriousness of their subject matter, when this book is riddled with biting black humor and picturesque natives displaying their favorite weaponry. Face it: The disasters, murder and mayhem that make up our morning papers are fair game for comedy material on late-night talk shows. Maybe it's a healthy way of dealing with all the stress in the world, or maybe we're all just a bunch of sick little monkeys. In any case, most of the 960 pages of The World's Most Dangerous Places allow the reader to mosey into the gaping craw of hell and come out laughing. For instance, consider this explanation for high death rates in Colombia: "To date, there isn't a known vaccine for a bullet in the head."

However, the authors sometimes cross the line, regressing into a sort of colonialist mentality. In Kashmir, we're told that beheading "is supposed to be reserved for those in Third World countries where human behavior is still in a primitive, barbaric state." Of Islam, we're told: "Muslims believe that both Christians and Jews have it all wrong since they worship untrue gods. ... Muslims see decadence as a sign of Westerners being immoral infidels."

Sweeping generalizations and contradictions aside, Dangerous Places offers insight into some of the world's most misunderstood places. With its concise histories and intimate glimpses from behind the lines, it serves best as a reference guide to those unfamiliar places with persistent problems that occasionally register a news blip and then disappear before most people can understand what's really going on.

But DP isn't just a comprehensive geopolitical lesson, good literature and a debate on the ethics of adventure travel all handsomely packaged in one fat volume. There are far more resources in these pages than anyone would guess. Can't find the Web page for the Iraqi National Congress? DP has it. Need a bulletproof umbrella? DP can tell you where to get one. Need a list of the most dangerous groups in the United States? See pages 867-874. Then, of course, there's practical information, such as how to get a dangerous job. (There is a big demand for former explosives and munitions experts.)

In short, you might want to consult this book for just about anything you can't find in a standard almanac. You definitely want to check it out before going to a dangerous place. Memorize the parts you need to know, then leave the book at home. Because if you're not familiar with the contents by the time you get there, it's probably too late. (Fielding Worldwide, paper, $21.95)

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