Travel: books of the week

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The Independent Travel
A Short History of Byzantium (Viking, pounds 25, hardback) by John Julius Norwich.

This is an abridged version of the highly-acclaimed trilogy on the rise and fall of the Byzantine Empire; a book acknowledged by many as a milestone in historical literature for the period. In silky-style, Lord Norwich chauffeurs the reader from the creation of the empire on 11 May 330, through the bloody battle at Manzikert, to annihilation by the Turks in 1453. We encounter colourful characters like Basil II, the Bulgar-slayer, Empress Zoe, a veteran of three tumultuous marriages, and Khan Krumb, responsible for the deaths of two Roman emperors and the downfall of a third. Far from being a stuffy tomb for boffins, this is a real-life epic of love and war, accessible to anyone.

The Rough Guide to Europe (Rough Guide, pounds 14.99) by Chris Schuler et al.

The series deserves its excellent reputation for being well researched and packed with detail in a common sense format. However, one would have to question the editor's definition of Europe, which includes Morocco but omits Iceland, Albania, Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia. Covering 30 countries in one edition is a large task, and the resulting effort is lacklustre in places. For example, Russia gets a measly 18 pages, while Belgium and Luxembourg are given a comparatively generous 38-page exposition. It's good to see better quality paper is being used, for this, the fourth edition. But the failure to improve the weak binding gives it a life-span of about eight days.

The Spiritual Tourist (Bloomsbury, pounds 16.99, publication 12 February 1998) by Mick Brown.

Mr Brown spins an entertaining yarn as he joins the holy - along with the lost, the wise and the foolish - on the highways and back roads of a spiritual quest. His search takes him from an audience with the Dalai Lama in the foothills of theHimalayas, via the backwoods of Tennessee, to a Scottish clairvoyant who claims that Christ is alive and well and living in London. Commendably, Brown avoids the easy option of ridiculing those in search of happiness, and those who claim to know the way. He maintains an easy-going narrative style which serves to make the book a form of escapism in itself.