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The Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond

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For centuries the Alps have seen the march of armies, the flow of pilgrims and Crusaders, the feats of mountaineers, and the dreams of engineers?and some 14 million people live among their peaks today. In The Alps, Stephen O’Shea takes readers up and down these majestic mountains, battling his own fear of heights to journey through a 500-mile arc across France, Italy, Swit For centuries the Alps have seen the march of armies, the flow of pilgrims and Crusaders, the feats of mountaineers, and the dreams of engineers?and some 14 million people live among their peaks today. In The Alps, Stephen O’Shea takes readers up and down these majestic mountains, battling his own fear of heights to journey through a 500-mile arc across France, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia. O’Shea, whose style has been hailed for its “engaging combination of candid first-person travel writing and absorbing historical narrative” (Chicago Sun-Times), whisks readers along more than 2,000 years of Alpine history. As he travels pass-by-pass through the mountains, he tells great stories of those (real and imagined) who have passed before him, from Hannibal to Hitler, Frankenstein’s monster to Sherlock Holmes, Napoleon to Nietzsche, William Tell to James Bond. He explores the circumstances behind Hannibal and his elephants’ famous crossing in 218 BCE; he reveals how the Alps have profoundly influenced culture from Heidi to The Sound of Music; and he visits iconic sites, including the Reichenbach Falls, where Arthur Conan Doyle staged Sherlock Holmes’s death scene with Professor Moriarty; Caporetto, the bloody site of the Italians’ retreat in World War I; and the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s aerie of a vacation home. O’Shea delves into Alpine myths and legends, such as the lopsided legs of the dahu, the fictitious goatlike creature of the mountains, and reveals why the beloved St. Bernard dog is so often depicted with a cask hanging below its neck. Throughout, he immerses himself in the communities he visits, engagingly recounting his adventures with contemporary road trippers, watchmakers, salt miners, cable-car operators, and yodelers.


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For centuries the Alps have seen the march of armies, the flow of pilgrims and Crusaders, the feats of mountaineers, and the dreams of engineers?and some 14 million people live among their peaks today. In The Alps, Stephen O’Shea takes readers up and down these majestic mountains, battling his own fear of heights to journey through a 500-mile arc across France, Italy, Swit For centuries the Alps have seen the march of armies, the flow of pilgrims and Crusaders, the feats of mountaineers, and the dreams of engineers?and some 14 million people live among their peaks today. In The Alps, Stephen O’Shea takes readers up and down these majestic mountains, battling his own fear of heights to journey through a 500-mile arc across France, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia. O’Shea, whose style has been hailed for its “engaging combination of candid first-person travel writing and absorbing historical narrative” (Chicago Sun-Times), whisks readers along more than 2,000 years of Alpine history. As he travels pass-by-pass through the mountains, he tells great stories of those (real and imagined) who have passed before him, from Hannibal to Hitler, Frankenstein’s monster to Sherlock Holmes, Napoleon to Nietzsche, William Tell to James Bond. He explores the circumstances behind Hannibal and his elephants’ famous crossing in 218 BCE; he reveals how the Alps have profoundly influenced culture from Heidi to The Sound of Music; and he visits iconic sites, including the Reichenbach Falls, where Arthur Conan Doyle staged Sherlock Holmes’s death scene with Professor Moriarty; Caporetto, the bloody site of the Italians’ retreat in World War I; and the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s aerie of a vacation home. O’Shea delves into Alpine myths and legends, such as the lopsided legs of the dahu, the fictitious goatlike creature of the mountains, and reveals why the beloved St. Bernard dog is so often depicted with a cask hanging below its neck. Throughout, he immerses himself in the communities he visits, engagingly recounting his adventures with contemporary road trippers, watchmakers, salt miners, cable-car operators, and yodelers.

30 review for The Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond

  1. 4 out of 5

    Susan Morris

    Stuck with it 'till the end, but this book never really grabbed me. Loved the cover, & concept of armchair traveling thru the Alps was appealing, but ... I just found my eyes glazing over many times. Heidi museum was intriguing, & was surprised I had forgotten tragedies like cable car falling & tunnel fire killing many. (Library) Stuck with it 'till the end, but this book never really grabbed me. Loved the cover, & concept of armchair traveling thru the Alps was appealing, but ... I just found my eyes glazing over many times. Heidi museum was intriguing, & was surprised I had forgotten tragedies like cable car falling & tunnel fire killing many. (Library)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mark Conrad

    a really fun and easy read, a travel log as light history. it made me want to visit every path and city he mentioned, to get a sense of each mountain. it made me homesick for altitude!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    3.5 stars

  4. 5 out of 5

    Noah Goats

    The subtitle to this book calls it “A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi,” but this is highly misleading as this is absolutely not a history book; it’s a travel book. Not that there is anything wrong with travel books, but I would have appreciated more history and less boring description of the passing countryside and repeated descriptions of how frightened the author is of heights. I don’t read a lot of travel writing, but I love the work of Bill Bryson. Bryson is very funny and he is highly s The subtitle to this book calls it “A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi,” but this is highly misleading as this is absolutely not a history book; it’s a travel book. Not that there is anything wrong with travel books, but I would have appreciated more history and less boring description of the passing countryside and repeated descriptions of how frightened the author is of heights. I don’t read a lot of travel writing, but I love the work of Bill Bryson. Bryson is very funny and he is highly skilled at finding and telling fascinating anecdotes. Stephen O’Shea is not particularly funny, and the anecdotes he has to share all seem sub par. Maybe I’m making this book sound worse than it is. It’s not really bad. It’s mildly interesting and short enough to not entirely wear out its welcome. It certainly made me want to get back to the Alps.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Allyson

    A great combination of travelogue and history. I love the Alps and have the same combination of awe and terror the author has. So happy he articulated it and provided an absorbing history as well!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rāhul

    Stephen O'Shea writes an entertaining, witty travelogue through the Alps from west to east, stitching together destinations with literary, historical and geological references. I found the cover scenery of a train exiting an alpine tunnel arresting, but O'Shea spends his travels in a muscle car, not a train. The romance of a train journey is traded for a more intimate connection to the many passes the crisscross the alps and traverse the "lard line" between Italy and Northern Europe. The Alps we Stephen O'Shea writes an entertaining, witty travelogue through the Alps from west to east, stitching together destinations with literary, historical and geological references. I found the cover scenery of a train exiting an alpine tunnel arresting, but O'Shea spends his travels in a muscle car, not a train. The romance of a train journey is traded for a more intimate connection to the many passes the crisscross the alps and traverse the "lard line" between Italy and Northern Europe. The Alps were the first mountains that humans learned to look on as sublime, that "masculine" beauty infused with terror. The Himalayas may be higher and Antarctic mountains more remote, but the Alps remain the original mountain destination, catering first to the English, continental Europeans, Americans, Japanese, Chinese and more upwardly mobile travelers to come. In the western Alps, O'Shea weaves together the destinations with 19th century English literature, in Italy with Risorgimento and later history, and in the German lands with the tragic 20th century history that was in some ways a culmination of the same romanticism that drove the earlier events. By the end of his journey, and ours through this book, the latest trudge up a pass reads tediously. The geological references were also not particularly enlightening. As a summer read to long for the cool mountain air without leaving the sizzling heat around you, or as a primer of the various alpine destinations to help plan a future trip, this book makes a satisfying read. However, it doesn't rise beyond that to be anything of lasting value.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    DNF @ 60% about the way through i made a valiant attempt at finishing this, but couldn't stand to read the last 100 or so pages. was not a fan of this guy's attitude or sense of humour! please stop telling me you're afraid of heights or that you rented some fancy custom car every 5 pages! i found some of his historical anecdotes to be on the edge of spreading misinformation as well, and when they weren't, they were weirdly shoehorned into the rest of the book. also! he wasn't at all consistent wit DNF @ 60% about the way through i made a valiant attempt at finishing this, but couldn't stand to read the last 100 or so pages. was not a fan of this guy's attitude or sense of humour! please stop telling me you're afraid of heights or that you rented some fancy custom car every 5 pages! i found some of his historical anecdotes to be on the edge of spreading misinformation as well, and when they weren't, they were weirdly shoehorned into the rest of the book. also! he wasn't at all consistent with his translations! sometimes he would translate the title of a french book into english, but a lot of the time he just didn't or left what someone said to him in french or italian completely untranslated! i also didn't like the fact that the description lied to me. i was led to believe that he would be travelling through liechtenstein at some point but the only mention of it in the entire book was on a map where it was misspelled. i even skimmed the last 100 pages to see if he mentioned it there but no!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    Trip through the Alps by the peripatetic O'Shea. I find descriptions of mountains pale very quickly fortunately the author moves from one place to another very quickly and treats subjects the same way. He finds something of interest at every stop from the flighty- Sherlock Holmes and Heidi to the serious- mountain climbing, Hitler's Berchtesgaden and Italian battles in WWI. He has a quick and agile sense of humour somewhat reminiscent of Paul Theroux. Enjoyable.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Just like they say, a great armchair travel. Filled with great historical stories and facts along the way it's a shame there's no shot in hell I'll be able to retain it all. I will say the descriptions of the hairpin turns, while thrilling in the beginning, became somewhat of a drag on the book by the end. Otherwise a great book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    J. Lee Hazlett

    Another stand-out book from Stephen O'Shea. I only recently learned about O'Shea from his history of the Cathars ("The Perfect Heresy"), and as soon as I finished that I wanted more. Sequels are often a let-down, but my second brush with Stephen O'Shea was anything but disappointing. The book delves into every possible aspect of the Alps, from geology to history, linguistics to food culture, and local idiosyncrasies to national prejudices. Every twist and turn in the road is presented with the s Another stand-out book from Stephen O'Shea. I only recently learned about O'Shea from his history of the Cathars ("The Perfect Heresy"), and as soon as I finished that I wanted more. Sequels are often a let-down, but my second brush with Stephen O'Shea was anything but disappointing. The book delves into every possible aspect of the Alps, from geology to history, linguistics to food culture, and local idiosyncrasies to national prejudices. Every twist and turn in the road is presented with the same air of slightly dark humor that O'Shea used to such great effect in "Heresy," with some self-ribbing thrown in to lighten things up. A fast read, this book left me feeling perfectly sated at the end, with nothing missing and nothing extra.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Ule

    An amusing travelogue through the Alps, probably of interest mostly for those who love and/or have visited the Alps. I was surprised to realize how many of these towns and passes I have visited--but then, I spent a college summer with Swiss relatives in the Alps! O'Shea covers several of our favorite spots--like the wonderful Iceman Museum in Bolzano and the glorious Dolomites, as well as Slovenia--with tidbits and passing remarks on the history and current situations in the beautiful towns and v An amusing travelogue through the Alps, probably of interest mostly for those who love and/or have visited the Alps. I was surprised to realize how many of these towns and passes I have visited--but then, I spent a college summer with Swiss relatives in the Alps! O'Shea covers several of our favorite spots--like the wonderful Iceman Museum in Bolzano and the glorious Dolomites, as well as Slovenia--with tidbits and passing remarks on the history and current situations in the beautiful towns and villages dotting the mountains. He also makes pithy remarks about fellow tourists and debunks historic stories like whether or not St. Bernard dogs ever wore casks around the necks filled with brandy. An easy read on a hot day in America, it took me back to fun memories and a sense of the chill that can come off those glaciers!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Armelle

    A meandering trip through the history and geography - and many, many hairpin turns - of the Alps, from Switzerland to Slovenia, although we don't see much of Slovenia! The pace changes partway through as the history gives way more and more to the traveler's tale - which was more interesting to me. While I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the book, the maps weren't particularly helpful, which was a disappointment. I had a tough time figuring out the route. The "it's not that I'm afraid of heights, it A meandering trip through the history and geography - and many, many hairpin turns - of the Alps, from Switzerland to Slovenia, although we don't see much of Slovenia! The pace changes partway through as the history gives way more and more to the traveler's tale - which was more interesting to me. While I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the book, the maps weren't particularly helpful, which was a disappointment. I had a tough time figuring out the route. The "it's not that I'm afraid of heights, it's just that..." thing got old after a while. ...and I sorta hate to admit it, but I want to see Heidiland...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Exapno Mapcase

    This is a Goodreads First Reads review. This could more accurately be described as a history and travelogue through the Alps. O’Shea goes through all of the major locales and tourist areas with a lighthearted ease and provides a wonderful tour guide to the majestic mountains.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David Corleto-Bales

    This is the best book I read this year, and I waited until December. O'Shea goes on a tour of the Alps, which sprawl "like a blanket" across the heart of Europe, from France to Slovenia, spending a great deal of time in those countries as well as Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy. It is partly a history but also a magnificent and charming travelogue, and explores how the perception of the Alps changed from the ancients, (who viewed mountains as remote and terrifying, useless for agricultur This is the best book I read this year, and I waited until December. O'Shea goes on a tour of the Alps, which sprawl "like a blanket" across the heart of Europe, from France to Slovenia, spending a great deal of time in those countries as well as Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy. It is partly a history but also a magnificent and charming travelogue, and explores how the perception of the Alps changed from the ancients, (who viewed mountains as remote and terrifying, useless for agriculture, and full of trolls, dragons and other mythical creatures) to the beginnings of the modern tourist industry in the nineteenth century spurred on, (naturally) by intrepid British climbers. Along the way in this book the reader gets a rundown on Mary Shelley, (whose 1817 book "Frankenstein" was written after an encounter with an Alpine storm on Lake Geneva) Heidi, the ways of the Swiss, (more complex language controversies that I had previously known) Hannibal and his elephants, Hitler, Napoleon and the savage fighting between Austria-Hungary and Italy during the first world war, fought in unbelievably difficult conditions on "the roof of Europe." O'Shea grumbles about Dutch camper vans clogging up the roads, shudders at the hairpin turns, marvels at the engineering of highways, bridges, tunnels and cable cars and enjoys the best food in the world, traveling between countries. Very fun.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    A travelogue with snippets of history as the author works his way West to East through the Alps. If you are really keen to learn about the Alps then you should consider this book, though I would never call it a must-read otherwise. I must say I read this in German. So having been translated out of and back into English I am ready to admit that some humour or charm might have been lost. I finished this with more of a sense of “good that is done”. It wasn’t horrible to read, but it was never that en A travelogue with snippets of history as the author works his way West to East through the Alps. If you are really keen to learn about the Alps then you should consider this book, though I would never call it a must-read otherwise. I must say I read this in German. So having been translated out of and back into English I am ready to admit that some humour or charm might have been lost. I finished this with more of a sense of “good that is done”. It wasn’t horrible to read, but it was never that enticing either. It is hard to write a travel book with a constant theme that doesn’t start to get repetitive at some point – and this book was very much mountains and driving all the way so it was going to depend on the author clicking with me which sadly didn’t happen. I much preferred the historical asides to the actual commentary on the author’s driving and interactions (though again maybe translation is to blame there). A slight reduction in length to clean up some of the less interesting elements might have helped. If you edited out the endless hairpin corner comments it would be much leaner for a start…. If you are planning a trip in the region it can certainly be useful as a source of ideas. I scribbled a large number of place/mountain names down as I read through.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Therese

    I really enjoyed this travelogue about the Alps, which I was interested in and picked up when I saw it in the bookstore, since I'm going to be spending a couple of weeks in the French Alps in September (!) - it was a pretty easy-going, charming read about a bunch of places I've always wanted to go to. Here's my favorite passage: "There is the princess of the moon, who came to marry a prince of these mountains. In her trousseau she brought to earth a brilliant moon flower, the edelweiss, to bright I really enjoyed this travelogue about the Alps, which I was interested in and picked up when I saw it in the bookstore, since I'm going to be spending a couple of weeks in the French Alps in September (!) - it was a pretty easy-going, charming read about a bunch of places I've always wanted to go to. Here's my favorite passage: "There is the princess of the moon, who came to marry a prince of these mountains. In her trousseau she brought to earth a brilliant moon flower, the edelweiss, to brighten the severity of the brooding peaks. But soon she fell ill, disheartened by the darkness of the mountains at night, so unlike those of the moon. The prince, in despair, took to wandering the forests of the kingdom. There he came across a Salwan, a cave-dwelling dwarf leader whose scattered people possessed magical powers. On hearing of the prince’s plight, the Salwan summoned his fellow dwarves together, and the next night they set to work. Standing on the jagged peaks, groups of Salwans captured the moonlight and wove it into a magical, glowing cloth, which they then draped over the mountains. This is why the Dolomites are also called the Pale Mountains. The moon princess, on seeing this transformation, was overjoyed, and her homesickness vanished."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Pep Bonet

    It’s been a while since I read a travel book and I had forgotten that they can be entertaining. The point is that the author should tell stories, either internal to the travel or external, things that happen the places visited. I realise, upon reading the book, that I like to know the places described. That’s probably why I decided to buy the book in the first place during a stopover at Zürich airport, because I love the Alps and know much of them. Stopping at the Austrian border, to the East. An It’s been a while since I read a travel book and I had forgotten that they can be entertaining. The point is that the author should tell stories, either internal to the travel or external, things that happen the places visited. I realise, upon reading the book, that I like to know the places described. That’s probably why I decided to buy the book in the first place during a stopover at Zürich airport, because I love the Alps and know much of them. Stopping at the Austrian border, to the East. And this shows. While enjoyed much the Swiss, French and Italian Alps, I found it less interesting when in Germany or Austria. Basically because I knew close to nothing and really nothing first-hand. On the other side, I don’t know Südtyrol or Friuli, even less Slovenia, and I was interested once more. Maybe because the stories were not so foreign to me. But let’s stop discussing the why. The book is well written, with a good mastery of the language and very good documentation. The author can speak French, but is also sensitive to German, Italian, Slovenian and the Latin-derived languages in the Alps: Romansh, Ladin, Friulano. He is entertaining. He picks on the Dutch, but in a very English-Canadian way. A nice moment spent with a book

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This was a perfect book to read by the wood stove in winter, with my smartphone next to me to look at maps and photos. O'Shea's narrative is full of historical and cultural material, presented with a mixture of awe and humor in a style that is engaging, sometimes irreverently poking fun at various nationalities and cultural practices (and himself) that had me laughing out loud from time to time, yet always grounded in the magnificence of the geography. Because I have been to several of the place This was a perfect book to read by the wood stove in winter, with my smartphone next to me to look at maps and photos. O'Shea's narrative is full of historical and cultural material, presented with a mixture of awe and humor in a style that is engaging, sometimes irreverently poking fun at various nationalities and cultural practices (and himself) that had me laughing out loud from time to time, yet always grounded in the magnificence of the geography. Because I have been to several of the places O'Shea covered on his summer journey, his descriptions brought back memories and added depth and detail to my recollections. I would have appreciated the reading experience more had O'Shea included more of the actual road names of the routes he took, better maps and photographs. I compensated for this by the use of Google Maps, Google Images and Wikipedia. I especially loved the 360 degree panorama images I was able to access. The alps are indeed awe-inspiring, and culturally and historically significant. Thank you Stephen O'Shea for bringing them to life for me while I sat in my comfy chair by the fire. Wonderful.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Padmore

    unfortunately this was a disappointing read, though my expectations were high. O’Sheas writing comes across as overindulgent and his attempts at clever humor fall flat. For the book’s fairly straight forward concept, it lacked substance (historical facts etc) in favor of the author’s distracting, excessive use of his vocabulary to embellish unnecessarily. It was tiresome trying to cut through the clutter to get to the point. This is not to say O’Shea is not a talented writer - he exhibits great unfortunately this was a disappointing read, though my expectations were high. O’Sheas writing comes across as overindulgent and his attempts at clever humor fall flat. For the book’s fairly straight forward concept, it lacked substance (historical facts etc) in favor of the author’s distracting, excessive use of his vocabulary to embellish unnecessarily. It was tiresome trying to cut through the clutter to get to the point. This is not to say O’Shea is not a talented writer - he exhibits great prose and command over language but the ‘flair’ felt unnecessary in this case. Having recently wrapped up Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus, I was expecting a similar “historical” examination with insightful writing. O’Sheas book reads more like a travel blog than history. It’s disappointing as there is so much depth to the topic which is glazed over. As a Canadian immigrant to Austria now living in the heart of the Alps, I was excited to get better acquainted with my backyard but was left unfulfilled.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Marcia

    I loved this book. Stephen O'Shea who describes himself as looking like Thomas Jefferson on a bad hair day is a very amusing and erudite writer. That he happened to choose a piece of the world to explore that I am most interested in is a lucky boon for me. Ever since I heard about Hannibal and his elephants in 5th grade, I have been fascinated by the idea of Alpine passes. It is only now that I am actually planning a trip to experience the Swiss Alps. Stephen has done what a good travel writer s I loved this book. Stephen O'Shea who describes himself as looking like Thomas Jefferson on a bad hair day is a very amusing and erudite writer. That he happened to choose a piece of the world to explore that I am most interested in is a lucky boon for me. Ever since I heard about Hannibal and his elephants in 5th grade, I have been fascinated by the idea of Alpine passes. It is only now that I am actually planning a trip to experience the Swiss Alps. Stephen has done what a good travel writer should do; he has taken the familiar and shed new light. Most tourists to the Aps will experience them using public transport but Stephen instead drove which gives a whole other layer to the experience. Through Stephen you encounter other drivers. I especially love the bikers and the Dutch camper. You meet the locals you always theoretically want to meet. He also includes just enough historical detail to pique your curiosity. It's a great read for the travel buff.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julian Walker

    Stephen O’Shea amiably meanders through the Alps, turning heads in his sports car and wryly observing on the variety of life, customs and curiosities he comes across, as he ensnares us in an engaging kind of biography of this iconic mountain range. Blending tales of the weird and wonderful with history, geography and literary reference points, he takes us on an enjoyable journey through the centuries. His tales range from Frankenstein to Hitler, mountaineering to yodeling and pelotons to racing c Stephen O’Shea amiably meanders through the Alps, turning heads in his sports car and wryly observing on the variety of life, customs and curiosities he comes across, as he ensnares us in an engaging kind of biography of this iconic mountain range. Blending tales of the weird and wonderful with history, geography and literary reference points, he takes us on an enjoyable journey through the centuries. His tales range from Frankenstein to Hitler, mountaineering to yodeling and pelotons to racing cars – with many more subjects covered than can be listed here. All observed from a gently humorous perspective, there is a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy in this book - unless you happen to be Dutch, against whom he takes a dislike for interrupting his parking, viewing, driving, sleeping and thinking.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rhiannon

    [I should probably say that I was given this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I was not required to give a review and my opinion is my own. Just like to be upfront about these things.] A very pleasant and informative ramble through the alps. Somewhat similar in style to Bill Bryson's travel works, though thankfully O'Shea is quite a bit less disparaging about most of the people he encounters (though he is not kind to Dutch campers). The book itself is nice, you can see the slipcover's vintage touri [I should probably say that I was given this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I was not required to give a review and my opinion is my own. Just like to be upfront about these things.] A very pleasant and informative ramble through the alps. Somewhat similar in style to Bill Bryson's travel works, though thankfully O'Shea is quite a bit less disparaging about most of the people he encounters (though he is not kind to Dutch campers). The book itself is nice, you can see the slipcover's vintage tourism inspired design, and it has a sky blue and white body underneath. Pages have a deckled edge which I'm personally not a fan of, but it's a nice touch anyway. Could have done with more illustrations or pictures, particuarly maps, it was often hard to picture whereabouts in Europe we were at the time. Would not make a good guidebook, but is very fun for the armchair traveller.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Marcella

    Somewhat mixed feelings. I guess this is half memoir and as such must reflect the personality and habits of the author but basically he was scared of heights, obsessed with some random minor noblewoman, and apt (as the stereotypical dad must be) to repeat the same jokes every 5 pages. That being said I really want to go hang out in the mountains now, and he did a good job of presenting a reasonably coherent history of a very large area as it relates to mountains and passes. Minor quibble at the en Somewhat mixed feelings. I guess this is half memoir and as such must reflect the personality and habits of the author but basically he was scared of heights, obsessed with some random minor noblewoman, and apt (as the stereotypical dad must be) to repeat the same jokes every 5 pages. That being said I really want to go hang out in the mountains now, and he did a good job of presenting a reasonably coherent history of a very large area as it relates to mountains and passes. Minor quibble at the end when he wondered at Trieste being influenced by the amazing connectedness caused by mountain passes even though it's several hundred kilometers away from any mountains and is also a _major port city_. I think he was trying to wrap things up nicely but it jilted the whole narrative for me.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jeroen

    A really odd book when it comes down to it, seemingly written by someone who wants to write a book rather than someone who wants to write a book about the Alps specifically. The mountain range is setting and excuse for this summer trip by the author, but by no means the main subject. It is what holds the chapters together, which feature light travelogue writing about all sorts of things that have happened in cities that happen to be in or near the Alps. To top things off, our guide is a rather can A really odd book when it comes down to it, seemingly written by someone who wants to write a book rather than someone who wants to write a book about the Alps specifically. The mountain range is setting and excuse for this summer trip by the author, but by no means the main subject. It is what holds the chapters together, which feature light travelogue writing about all sorts of things that have happened in cities that happen to be in or near the Alps. To top things off, our guide is a rather cantankerous, somewhat self-loathing man, not particularly likable. Luckily the tone gets a little milder later on. Ultimately, though, it does what I guess it sets out to do, which is to give a digested history of the area.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Garnette

    A travelogue that delivers a lot of history as well: a nice companion to carry on a visit to the Alps. His main point is clear: it’s not the peaks of the mountains that matter, it’s the passes. I had never before realized the role of the House of Savoy in European history. Control of the passes gave them military and economic power, the ability to tax traders passing between northern and southern Europe. And their allegiance to the Catholic Church helped to staunch the spread of Protestantism in A travelogue that delivers a lot of history as well: a nice companion to carry on a visit to the Alps. His main point is clear: it’s not the peaks of the mountains that matter, it’s the passes. I had never before realized the role of the House of Savoy in European history. Control of the passes gave them military and economic power, the ability to tax traders passing between northern and southern Europe. And their allegiance to the Catholic Church helped to staunch the spread of Protestantism into the south. What an extraordinary region, the meeting point of French, Italian, German and Slavic cultures, divided from each other by high mountain peaks, developing distinct languages, foods, religions, governments, yet they also influenced each other.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Stephen O'Shea rented a muscle car and drove the Alps. He crosses high mountain passes, visits historical and geological sites, interacts with locals, and eats food. It's full of awe- and fear-inspiring descriptions of scenery, snarky descriptions of the tourists and locals he meets, unsavory descriptions of food above the "Lard Line" (the line separating olive-oil-based cooking from lard-based cooking), interesting stories of military, linguistic, and mountaineering history, and disparaging des Stephen O'Shea rented a muscle car and drove the Alps. He crosses high mountain passes, visits historical and geological sites, interacts with locals, and eats food. It's full of awe- and fear-inspiring descriptions of scenery, snarky descriptions of the tourists and locals he meets, unsavory descriptions of food above the "Lard Line" (the line separating olive-oil-based cooking from lard-based cooking), interesting stories of military, linguistic, and mountaineering history, and disparaging descriptions of the "Dutch campers", the Dutch tourists traveling by camper van who are friendly but oblivious to the people around them. I followed along with Google Maps as he made his way through France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alex Velkov

    I absolutely loved this book. It is a light and enjoyable read that conjures up plenty of majestic images and describes an endless list of enchanting places - including all the obvious Alps destinations that we all know, but don't always know much about. There is plenty of history along the way from all eras of human development - this is not a deep history book, but it shares plenty of information about how the Alps shaped the development of Europe, humanity and culture. Perhaps the only critiq I absolutely loved this book. It is a light and enjoyable read that conjures up plenty of majestic images and describes an endless list of enchanting places - including all the obvious Alps destinations that we all know, but don't always know much about. There is plenty of history along the way from all eras of human development - this is not a deep history book, but it shares plenty of information about how the Alps shaped the development of Europe, humanity and culture. Perhaps the only critique I can make is that the Renault Megane, even the RS, is a hot-hatch, not a muscle car. :).

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    Interesting travelogue through the Alps. He's best with architecture and literature--I would have liked more geography and geology, but frankly this reminded me why I wouldn't drive through the Alps: all those twisting, narrow roads with no guard rails. Yikes! I've done this on a bus in my college days and, looking back, I'm amazed we survived! Enjoyed the material on Hannibal and the myth busting relating to Heidi (now a theme park area) and the Sound of Music. Charming and entertaining but bet Interesting travelogue through the Alps. He's best with architecture and literature--I would have liked more geography and geology, but frankly this reminded me why I wouldn't drive through the Alps: all those twisting, narrow roads with no guard rails. Yikes! I've done this on a bus in my college days and, looking back, I'm amazed we survived! Enjoyed the material on Hannibal and the myth busting relating to Heidi (now a theme park area) and the Sound of Music. Charming and entertaining but better for fans of Bill Bryson than John McPhee.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. My biggest disappointment was that it was very poorly bound, so the pleasure of a brand new hardback was spoilt. I found the book very enjoyable, and I learned a lot about the Alps that I had not known before. The author's style reminded me of Bill Bryson. The human geography of the area is covered as much as the physical side. I am sure that I would have been less happy were I a Dutch camper! The book would have really benefited from the inclusion of s I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. My biggest disappointment was that it was very poorly bound, so the pleasure of a brand new hardback was spoilt. I found the book very enjoyable, and I learned a lot about the Alps that I had not known before. The author's style reminded me of Bill Bryson. The human geography of the area is covered as much as the physical side. I am sure that I would have been less happy were I a Dutch camper! The book would have really benefited from the inclusion of some road maps, so the route could have been followed more easily by the reader.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Stassinopoulos

    Witty, well-written journey through Europe’s most famous mountains I read this book before, during, and after a hiking trip in the Alps, in Switzerland, Italy, and France. The author did not hike, but spent a summer driving a sports car through the Alps, exploring small towns and indulging in gastronomic delights. His humorous vilification of the Dutch, his explanation of the “lard line,” and his encounters with cyclists and bikers, were highlights of this entertaining book.

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