My aim on TraveLit is to introduce readers who share my love of travel literature to good books they may not know about. Mostly classics, some new, the books cover travel in its many forms, from exploration to tourism. Along with reviews, TraveLit also brings together provocative, entertaining travel quotations and reader recommendations. I welcome comments on the readings, the reviews, the quotations, or the fascinating enterprise of travel itself.

TraveLit--A blog about travel literature

Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Review: The Most Beautiful Walk in the World

April 2, 2018

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris
By John Baxter. Harper Perennial, 2011, 298 pp.

“After eating and sex, walking is Paris’s preferred activity,” says John Baxter, an Australian writer married to a Frenchwoman who has lived in Paris for more than 20 years and gives “literary walking tours” of the city. In The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, he treats readers to a walking tour.

Baxter became a guide almost by chance, replacing a boring guide in the Paris Literary Seminar and proving so successful that he continued on his own. His popularity as a guide is easy to understand. He has a talent for combining interesting information with entertaining anecdotes, enabling listeners—or readers—to feel that they are at once learning and knowing, initiates, already insiders.

Baxter’s short chapters move breezily along, drawing upon personal experience, history, and visualization as he visits various parts of the city. He comments on the art of walking—flanerie—describing his own discovery of its rewards after living in Los Angeles, where no one walks. Individual cities, he says, make their own demands on the flaneur. Walking in New York, Baxter says, he looks up. In London, he looks around. “Paris,” he says, requires “not only a different way of walking but a different way of looking.”

I enjoyed Baxter’s various excursions, especially his trip to the catacombs and his exploration of the Cour du Commerce, where the French Revolution took shape, and I appreciated his cultural insight. I was disappointed, though, that the literary aspect of the tour focused so heavily on the expat writers in the 20s—so much Hemingway! This is well-worn territory, and I would have liked to hear more about French writers.

For all its conversational style, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World offers a good deal of information. One of the book’s main virtues is how manageable the author makes Paris seem, while at the same time doing justice to the complexity and historical depth of the city.

Selected Works

Travel Memoir
"Loved this book, which appears to be but is more than an account of an anthropological expedition, more than a travel book, more than a memoir."--Barbara Beckwith, author of What Was I Thinking?: Digging Deeper into Everyday Racism,
"It is undoubtedly the best written account of, and reflection on, fieldwork I have read, and --perhaps -- the best book on fieldwork (period) I have come across. --Joel Savishinsky, Professor of Anthropology (Emeritus), Ithaca College, author of Trail of the Hare.
“An impressively insightful, deftly written, accessibly articulate, expertly knowledgeable, and decidedly analytical survey of…book reviewing today.”
Midwest Book Review
“Captivating stories in an anthology of epistolary fiction from the last 50 years.”

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