The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman

Title:  The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World Via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes
Author:  Carl Hoffman
Release date:  March 16, 2010
Publisher:  Broadway
Pages:  304
Genre:  Nonfiction, World Issues, Travel, Memoir
Source:  Publisher

Carl Hoffman set out on a journey to travel on the world’s most life-threatening and dangerous modes of transportation in order to expose the reality of millions of people worldwide for whom travel is a daily struggle, so different from those of us who get to sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience of traveling.  Part journalistic expose and part memoir, Hoffman’s fascinating look at how the majority of the world lives will make anyone thankful for the comforts we enjoy on a daily basis.

I really got into this book.  It is exactly the type of nonfiction that I love – the kind that enables me to learn something while also having that personal touch that keeps me connected to what’s written in its pages.  I liked Carl Hoffman right away, although it was clear that this journey was his way of escaping some of his issues at home, he went into it with a hopeful heart and really good intentions.  He risked his life many times over in order to experience what millions of people have no choice but to experience every day of their lives.

Learning about how dangerous so many different types of transportation are was astounding.  There are some airlines that have obscene rates of fatal crashes, ferries that sink a couple of times a year, and trains that derail with startling frequency.  Hoffman experienced all of these.  Obviously, he lived to tell the tale, but it was so interesting to learn about the risks people are forced to take just to live a regular life – to get to work, school, or to visit family.

I don’t have much else to say about The Lunatic Express other than the fact that I highly recommend it.  If you like interesting nonfiction with a memoir feel, this is the book for you.


63 thoughts on “The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman”

  1. This is definitely a book for my wishlist. Not only because I love travel, and non-fiction, but because I am trying to plan a trip at some point in the next few years to Central America – I want to fly to Belize and work my way down to Panama. Everyone tells me that I’m crazy for wanting to take the buses / trains / etc down there. I think it would be great though. heh.

    1. Wow, that would be an amazing trip, although after reading Lunatic Express you might think twice about doing it! Seriously, though, if you are considering doing this type of travel I would definitely read this one – at least it’ll give you an idea of what you’re in for!

  2. I love non-fiction like this….especially the international portion of it. This is the kind of book I really sink my teeth into because it illuminates so much about other ways of life that we never even think about. Thanks for reviewing this one and bringing it to my attention!

    1. You’re welcome, Michele! I totally agree what you said there – this is exactly the kind of book that illuminates the side of life we don’t normally consider. Perfect!

  3. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and obviously Carl Hoffman lived to tell his tale, one that I intend on reading. Thanks for providing me with my next read!

    1. Thanks so much for letting me know! I wouldn’t have realized it unless you told me, lol! I think they probably emailed me too, I just haven’t gotten that far.

  4. Tell me there’s a film/documentary being made about this to counteract all the twee ‘girdle-the-earth’ docs I see on the BBC!

    1. Wow, that is crazy! You should talk to Amy (commenter above) about her travel plans! Perhaps you can scare her out of doing some crazy things. 😉

  5. I’m concerned this book might spoil trains for me. Traveling by train is one of my favorite things ever, and because I don’t get to do it very much (living in the American South and all), it’s always this shiny sparkly treat when I do get to do it. Do you think this would put me off for life? Because apart from that, it totally sounds like something I’d enjoy.

    1. No I don’t think it would put you off riding trains, since trains here in the U.S. are extremely safe and almost never derail. When I lived in Chicago I took the train all the time, both to get into the city from the ‘burbs and to get around once inside the city. I love riding trains too – it’s great to relax with a book while someone else does the “driving”! I definitely think you’d enjoy reading the book, it was absolutely fascinating, and if nothing else it will make you grateful for the kinds of safe transportation we are lucky enough to have here in the U.S.!

  6. I love memoirs and anything that exposes me to new experiences, so this one is definitely going on my list. One of these days I’m going to leave your blog without having added something new to my list. (smile)

  7. Sounds very interesting, and an adventure I would rather read about than experience…lol!. I will add this to my reading list- thanks for the recommendation!

  8. sometimes i think i really wanna have a scary wonderful experience like Carl Hoffman did, but of course nothing happened to me a.k.a i’m saved

  9. Sounds like an interesting book. Have you heard of that man (his name escapes me at the moment) who swam the world’s largest rivers to bring to the world a view of what shape the worlds rivers were in? He tried the Yangzte but I don’t think he made it through that one. He had to stop because the parasites in the water got into his brain. Sad that there are people who count on those very waters every day to survive.

    1. hmm, I’m not familiar with that but you’re right, it is very sad that people have to survive on that contaminated water, water that people shouldn’t even be swimming in. Thanks for pointing that out.

  10. Congrat for being Freshly Pressed!! I’d never heard or thought of this book, but may read it now! Thanks for the heads up!! You make it sound great!!

  11. Thanks so much for your gracious review of my book. So glad you liked it! It wasn’t really that scary – mostly it was just wonderful – and let’s face it: I didn’t do anything that brave or remarkable. I just bought tickets on regularly scheduled buses, boats, trains or planes – no mountains climbed or rivers run – just like tens of millions of people do every day.

    Anyway, thanks again.
    Best, Carl Hoffman

    1. Thank you for stopping by! I do think you were adventurous and brave, yes people do travel that way every day but as you said, many of them are seriously injured or die just getting from home to work. So I think it’s wonderful that you went on this journey and wrote this book to share all of that with us wusses who would never dream of going on this type of trip!

      Thanks again!

  12. […] Title:  The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World Via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes Author:  Carl Hoffman Release date:  March 16, 2010 Publisher:  Broadway Pages:  304 Genre:  Nonfiction, World Issues, Travel, Memoir Source:  Publisher Carl Hoffman set out on a journey to travel on the world's most life-threatening and dangerous modes of transportation in order to expose the reality of millions of people worldwide for whom … Read More […]

  13. It sounds a wonderful book. The new journey always brings us some fantastic life experiences!. Thanks Carl for the book. Thanks for the concise review.

  14. Has Hoffmann written anything else? His name sounds so familiar! 😀 I think I’ll check out this book.

  15. Sounds really interesting- I love reading travel books, armchair travelling is the cheapest sort of fun 🙂
    I’m not terribly adventurous, so I think I’d like to read about it and then not do it in real life!

  16. It seems that the experiment of Carl Hoffman, is an escape to the reality of thousands, the interesting thing of this book, I create because I have not read it the “Lunatic Express, is the personal experiences on how their means lives live the people of low resources risking different from transport to be able to obtain the daily sustenance.
    It seems to me that this type of book is one contributes is like a pull of ears not to stop these irregularities of poor life for being.

  17. I’m glad I stumbled upon this blog. This looks like an interesting read. Thanks

  18. Wow! sounds like an absorbing read. Your post has finally got me off my backside to start a ‘to-read’ list. as most recommendations are forgotten the moment I log off.


  19. This one surely sets the pulse racing… Did hear about it. Now, I just so much wanna go and grab a copy of it… thanks for highlighting the key notes here… This one is so much… ‘keepin’ it real’…. Thanks once again…. Way to go Heather… and somehow I also do feel that YOu would’ve had some real good experiences as wel…. I say pen ’em down… right away… 😉

  20. Nice review! I remember reading a book called “Enrique’s Journey” or something to that extent that was also written by a journalist who retraced a young Salvadorian’s quest across Mexico and into the USA to find his mother that left him when he was still a child. Very touching story and I loved it. I can imagine that I’d love this story too.

  21. great post! i came here through your best of the year post (as you may have guessed). i’m gonna have to add this to my reading list. i’m a peace corps volunteer, and though my travel hardly lands as among the most dangerous in the world, it is a LOT more inconvenient than it is in the states. there are some things i do here, like waiting on the side of a road in freezing rain for two years waiting for a combi (van) to drive by and pick me up, that i wouldn’t have been able to imagine in the states. i think that without even realizing it, we take a lot of things for advantage, like having reliable & safe transportation available most of the time. thanks for bringing my attention to this book – i’d never even heard of it before.

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