Book Review - Frommer's 500 Places To See Before They Disappear

Robert Todd Felton's picture

As a Special Bonus, Frommer's has graciously donated several copies of Frommer's 500 Places to See Before They Disappear, to be awarded to randomly drawn commenters on this article. Post your comments - you might win!

With the proliferation of books listing the things you must do before you die, it was a welcome relief to pick up a volume that changes the focus.  Holly Hughes’ Frommer’s 500 Places to See Before They Disappear provides an interesting alternative for those seeking to collect experiences.  Instead of offering up a laundry list of destinations that we can say we’ve been to, Hughes forces us to consider the purpose of our travels. 

As she points out in the preface, titled “A Letter from the Author,” “in the process of cherishing these natural and cultural wonders, we renew our commitment to preserving them.”  One certainly hopes so and that travelers, no matter what their motivations and inspirations, will travel as Hughes suggests:  “choosing nonpolluting, fuel-efficient transportation, supporting local suppliers, and leaving as few traces as possible on the land.”  To that, I will add the hope that travelers to these endangered places will return and talk about what they saw, why it is endangered, and what can be done about it.

So, where to go?  500 Places is divided into nine chapters, each with a mix of smaller categories and “10 Places to See…” sidebars.  For example, the first chapter, “Big Pictures,” features “One-of-a-Kind Landscapes,” “Islands,” and “Ecosystems,” along with a sidebar on “10 Places to See the Last Healthy Coral Reefs.”  The rest of the chapter titles are:  “Sea & Stream,” “From the Mountains to the Prairies,” “Big Skies,” “Going to Ruins,” “City & Town,” “Where History Was Made,” “Tarnished Gems of Architecture” and “Disposable Architecture.” 

Each individual entry has the broad name of the site described (“Kenai Fords” or “The Monteverde Cloud Forest”), along with a clever subtitle and the specific location of the site.  The best part of the entry is the nut graf describing the present threat to the site.  Hughes then describes each site in a succinct and well-crafted 350 word blurb covering what you might see there, why it is special, and any tips for visiting.  Each entry also includes the basic details of planning a visit, including lodging, nearby airports, and where to go for more information.

Hughes' writing style is easy, witty, and charming.  For example, read this opening, for the entry for the Acadia National Park:  "There's a bunch of hackers loose in Acadia National Park.  But among ornithologists, hackers are the good guys -- the ones who hand-rear chicks and introduce them into the wild.  At Acadia National Park, those hackers are proud to say that they got peregrine falcons nesting in the wild again for the first time in 35 years."  Hughes distributes these light and inspiring anecdotes throughout the book, however, it in the entry subtitles where Hughes seems to have the most fun:  for the entry on Komodo National Park, "Here be Dragons;" for Walden Pond, "Thoroughly Thoreau;" for Cannery Row, "Sanitized Steinbeck."

This is not to say that Hughes downplays the very real threats facing many of the sites. For the entry on Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, she lays the case out very clearly:  "The famous snows of Kilimanjaro are melting and may soon be gone.  A combination of evaporation, too little snowfall, and internal heat from the dormant volcano have reduced the mountain's ice and snow cover by 90% from historic levels -- and it continues to retreat about 1m (3 1/4 ft.) a year."

As a compendium of useful information, 500 Places seems designed to spark trip research rather than fulfill it.  It does not feature maps (a broad map with all the places marked would be interesting and useful) nor additional service information like tips on public transportation or restaurants.  However, what it does extremely well is give a brief hint of a location – consider each entry the tiniest taste of a much larger meal.  It gives a fleeting sense of the flavor but frequently leaves you hungry for more. 


Robert Todd Felton, our Literary Travels Editor,  is a freelance writer specializing in literary and adventure travel.  He'd like to hike Mount Kilimanjaro before the snow is gone.  You can read more at his blog,

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Comments (6)

  • Jesse Miles

    14 years 9 months ago

    This is a great travel book for anyone looking to see the best of what our world has to offer.

    Jesse Miles

  • ChocolateQueen

    14 years 9 months ago

    This sounds like a neat book.  It sounds like the type of book you would buy if you have been to someplace numerous times, so that you get the "extras".

  • monacake

    14 years 9 months ago

    so many travel books mindlessly point you to the same places over and over, but this sounds like a nice departure with some intelligent commentary on the peril our planet is in. thanks for a great review.

  • Sam Pounder

    14 years 9 months ago

    This seems like a fun book to read, that will give you great ideas on exciting places to see.

    Sam Pounder

  • Glinda

    14 years 9 months ago

    Thank you for sharing the information about this book! It really sounds like it would be interesting just to read. But, of course, we all know that once you pick up such a book, the wanderlust begins. I appreciate the unique slant that this book presents. 

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    14 years 9 months ago

    Thanks to everyone that made such wonderful comments! This is definitely a book to savor. 


    Congratulations to our winners:

    Jesse Miles, ChocolateQueen, Monacake, and Glinda.

    Check back tomorrow for a new book giveaway!


    Jessie Voigts


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