"Open this substantial coffee table book anywhere and you'll walk into two photographs on facing pages, paired by content to underscore our family of man," writes Ketzel Levine in her roundup of holiday books.
An image from Japan, seen in
Get more picks from NPR senior correspondent Ketzel Levine.
Collective wisdom holds that prostitution is the world's oldest profession. I don't agree. I think it is travel writing. As proof I offer the cave drawings found all over the world. These drawings were not made by people trying to express themselves artistically; they were informing everyone who came after them where to find the biggest mammoth steaks, drinkable water, good dry caves and friendly tribes. What are these if not the first travel guides? Our ancestors were not scratching on walls for fun, they were passing on important information on what to eat, where to find it, and what to see and do. In Australia there was even a rating system — hands stencilled onto the walls were the Stone-Age equivalent of Michelin stars.
The urge to travel and then to record it seems to be deeply rooted in the human psyche. Our curiosity about the world is matched only by our need to tell everyone what we have seen. The invention of the camera enabled us to show as well as tell, from every traveler's 'holiday snaps' to stunning images of the kind collected in this book, evoking in ways that words cannot the immediacy and emotion of our experiences.
The desire to see the world, to be amazed, to compare, learn, and share the experience is inherent in human nature. We always want to see what is over the next hill, what is across the oceans, even what is in the heavens, and recent decades have seen more and more people travel to more and more far-flung places than ever before.
There is another dimension to travel and that is much more personal — travel is not just about history, geography, economics or politics, it is about us. We travel because we are curious about people. We want to know about how others live, what they believe, how they see us. We want to see through their eyes. We want to understand the context in which to place civilisations.
The cliche 'travel broadens the mind' rings true, as many cliches do. We want to come back somehow enriched, expanded and changed by our journey. The boundaries we cross are not always physical — travel involves an internal journey as well as an external one, as we discover more about ourselves. When we travel we come up against the boundaries inside us: our prejudices, our limits, our willingness to understand and our ability to empathise. We are confronted by what we see and challenged to respond. As travellers we experience what it is like to be the outsider, the 'different' one. To the people we meet we are exotic, we bring with us beliefs and attitudes from another place, and it is in the mutual exchange of our stories that our transformation begins.
It will happen whether we consciously seek it or not. You may be standing in a street in Asia, or a village in Africa, but at some point you will look up and make eye contact with someone from that country, someone who does not look like you, does not understand what you are saying, and who would find your life back home completely incomprehensible. But they will look into your eyes and smile, a connection will be made, and you will recognise them, because what travel teaches us is that we are all essentially the same. There is not a 'them' and an 'us'; there is really only 'us'.
The essays and photographs in this book capture the essence of that recognition. They show us people in all stages of the universal human life cycle, reflecting a moment, emotion, ritual, celebration or intimacy that, be it mundane or extraordinary, is recognisable across cultures and language barriers. The images have been consciously juxtaposed to bring out the similarities in the human situation despite the very different contexts of our diverse world. Regardless of nationality or beliefs, we share the joy of birth, the celebration of life's special moments, the need to find meaning in our lives, the strength to endure, the resilience to keep trying and the sorrow of death. While each and every one of us may follow our own unique path, we are all on the same journey.
— Maureen Wheeler, Lonely Planet Co-founder
Reprinted with permission from the publisher.