Book Review: The Ridiculous Race

Disclaimer: As you probably guessed, Holt sent me this book.

Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran have a crazy idea. They are going to race each other around the world, one going east, the other west, and whoever makes it first wins a very expensive bottle of scotch. Oh, part of the challenge? No airplanes. They have somehow managed to convince their publisher – Holt – that it’s a good idea to fund this project in exchange for a book about their adventures when they’re done. Along with making it home first, there’s an “awesomeness” contest – meaning the guys are trying to each have the most awesome travel experience. This is a ridiculous premise for a book, an absurd idea, and man oh man, how do I get a publisher to fund my insane junket around the planet?

There’s plenty of “dudes doing crazy things” in The Ridiculous Race, as you might well imagine. There’s disgusting food, drinking and smoking, difficult border crossings, trains, boats, horses, and jet packs. There’s  plenty of snarky comedy, rivalry, and, every now and then, some surprisingly sensitive and lovely descriptions of places that express the truly wonderful moments of travel. Those don’t last long, it’s right back to “Oops, gotta run, I’m on a race, I wonder how much the other guy’s trip sucks right now?!”

It’s a funny book, full of sweeping generalizations accompanied with unapologetic explanations that all come under the “what do you expect from a guy who’s in Mexico for, like, 20 minutes?” (My paraphrasing, not a quote from the book.) Nothing that happens is truly surprising because you get the sense that anything can happen from the get go. All the rushing about leaves you with a feeling of amused mania and an ardent desire to avoid traveling like these two. They’re the guys you meet on a train ride and after they get off, you shake your head saying, “Man, can you believe that? What kind of way is that to travel?”

The book is a fast read, it’s entertaining, snappy, and yeah, totally ridiculous. And a little maddening. On bad days, I feel like some guy is always going off to do some thing and getting someone to pay for it. Riding a Segway across the US. Eating his way across the planet. Racing his buddy around the world for a bottle of scotch. Whatever.

Let’s be honest. I totally envy them.

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