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Book Review of: Off The Beaten Path

A Travel Guide to More Than 1,000 Scenic and Interesting Places Still Uncrowded and Inviting

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Review of Off The Beaten Path, by Reader's Digest (Hardcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

Beautiful, fascinating, informative. Visually stunning, intellectually stimulating. A true pleasure to peruse. Loaded with nuggets of information. Practical, yet destined to be a collector's item and tabletop treasure. Can I gush any more than that about this excellent work from Reader's Digest?

Off the Beaten Path provides thumbnail descriptions of more than 1,000 interesting sites and destinations in the USA. All of these are places tourists don't normally flock to, but that are worth seeing. These include museums, historic inns, castles, rock formations, dinosaur trails, pontoon boating, parks, lakes, wildlife sanctuaries, and zoos. The book contains over 1,000 photographs of these sites.

The book consists of 50 chapters, each devoted to one state. The tourist bureau in each state has verified that each site listed is, indeed, still not (yet) heavily visited. In each chapter is at least one "Did you know?" box that has an interesting fact. The end of each chapter also has a calendar of events (seasonal activities, such as Strawberry Day in Tennessee) for the state. Each chapter also has a detailed state road map, with the sites marked out. As you read about each site, you can refer back to the map to see where it is.

For a given destination, you will find:
* Title of site.
* Street address (or nearest highway and city).
* Well-written description that explains what the site has to offer.
* Notes on availability, access, tours, and the like (including if an admission fee applies)
* Hyperlink to Website.
* Phone number of the relevant agency, foundation, operator, or owner.
* Icons that show which of 16 different types of amenities are available. Three new ones (since previous edition): pet- friendly, handicap-accessible, and wi-fi compatible.

For those who don't like to travel, this book allows the reader to make a virtual visit to the many wonders and interesting sites across the USA or in your own state. If you haven't taken an interesting trip lately, this book may be just the thing to help you plan one that you'll thoroughly enjoy.

This book has been thoroughly copy-edited and painstakingly fact-checked. The editorial standards evident here are the highest I've seen. All of the other technical details are also high-caliber: layout, binding, artwork, and so forth. The careful attention to detail really shows. In addition, the book is nicely indexed. From looking in the acknowledgements and photo credits, I was struck by the sheer number of contributors to this work. Having worked on the editorial side of the desk, I'm impressed at how well all that input was handled.

It's beautifully bound in hardback, with artwork on the actual hardback covers. The paper is very heavy stock, giving it a luxurious feel. The book jacket has the same artwork as the book itself.

Use Off the Beaten Path as a vacation reference, day trip planner, coffee table decoration, or family heirloom. Buy it as a gift for young people just starting out and you can't go wrong, but it makes an excellent gift for just about anyone. If you do buy it as a gift, you will want your own copy once you see it. If you don't add this to your collection, you are really missing out. I'd give it three thumbs up, but I have only two thumbs.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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