Shadow Trails: Adventures in Dark Tourism by Tom Coote – Book Review

I can’t recommend Shadow Trails: Adventures in Dark Tourism as a guide book for senior travellers, other than for the most intrepid of the breed. Many of the places the author visited in compiling this book are difficult to get to and offer only very basic accommodation on arrival. And yes, in some cases could be dangerous to visit.

Dark TourismHowever, I do strongly recommend this book as a great read for anyone interested in unusual places around the world, particularly ones with ‘negative’ historical significance.

The author doesn’t define ‘dark tourism’ as such, but implies in the introduction that you will know it when you see it, and in many ways the sixteen places featured in this book define the concept.

They range from recent man-made disaster areas such as Chernobyl, Rwanda, Colombia and New York’s Ground Zero, to the ongoing conflict areas of Palestine and Libya.

Tom was on one of the last planes to leave Tripoli in 2011 just before the civil war put and end not only to the Gaddafi regime, but also to Libya’s fledgling tourist industry.

But it is not all doom and gloom. The author also includes visits to out-of-the-way architectural wonders in Sudan, Ethiopia and Libya.

Rwanda: Sightseeing
Rwanda: Sightseeing

Tom has a sharp eye and was not fooled by all the artificial sentimental objects set out for visitors to Chernobyl, such as text-books left open as if abandoned half-way through lessons. As he points out, Chernobyl was not a sudden nuclear explosion, but a series of gas explosions, and the authorities didn’t even start bussing out residents until a day and half after the accident.

There are some amusing anecdotes within grim accounts, for example when the author tries to work out why an Algerian taxi driver kept swerving all over the road, before realising that he was mending his mobile phone as he drove along!

The book has an interesting format with one article being just one page of text in a circular pattern whilst another is over 20 pages in length. There are over 80 full colour photographs supporting the text, although without legends, you have to read the text carefully to identify the subject in some of the pictures.

The author tries to keep his own views on the various conflicts to himself, setting out the evidence for others to judge.

Leptis Magna Roman site in Libya
Leptis Magna Roman site in Libya

As he states on the back of the book: “this is travel writing that exists to show you the way the world really is …. it hasn’t been commissioned …. it doesn’t have a political agenda. Like the world itself, it is there if you want it.”

Maybe the places mentioned will not be strong contenders for bucket lists, but for armchair tourists, this book takes a lot of beating.

It is published in hardback by Wicked World, 2017 (ISBN 978-1-78808-765-0), and can be obtained from the Book Depository with free world-wide delivery.

See also the review of Tom Coote’s previous book: West Africa: Voodoo, Slaves and White Man’s Graves.

POSTED 23rd November 2017 by STEVE HANSON