Reviewing travel books for the Baltimore Sun inspired Jeannette Belliveau beyond wanderlust: she concluded that she could write a travel book of her own, and a better one at that. Her decision led to An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet, a collection of warmly personal reader-friendly accounts and photos of her own travels, wherein she bypassed the European museum circuit in favor of sailing trips down the Yangtze River and treks across the Kenyan plains.
The Boulder Planet
In an era of travel books describing epic journeys and heroic adventures, it isn’t easy to write something different. Jeannette Belliveau, author of An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet, took a route less traveled, but not less accessible.
Traveling the way most of us do, using planes, taxis and credit cards, Belliveau tells us about her trips to Kenya, Thailand and Greece. But what’s different is the questions she asks and her extensive search to find the answers.
In Madagascar, she searches for the rare indri lemur and finds them in a forested knoll. Not content to merely meet and photograph them, she researches their plight, and in doing so, sees the even bigger picture of Earth’s fragility.
“Later I thought about our encounter with the indris. North American Indians apologized to their prey before killing them. Our pilgrimage to stand looking upward at the little indri family felt like a helpless parallel. Sorry chaps, but 5.7 billion humans aren’t enough; we need your patch of forest too.”
Each of the 12 chapters weaves a travel story with what Belliveau calls “a central lesson.” In Burma, the lesson is on the nature of poverty. In Borneo, it’s on modern missionaries. In Brazil, the lesson is on racial democracy. Her stories are very well-documented and still quite readable.
In this age of adventure travel, “We roam the globe yet lack insight into what we see,” she writes. Belliveau, a former editor at the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, reminds us to look not just with our senses, but also with our minds and hearts as we find our own adventures.
Jon L. Lehman
The Patriot Ledger
Combines refreshingly direct personal travel diaries with a journalist’s dedication to background research. From 18th-century explorer’s accounts of the South Pacific to statistical abstracts from the U.S. Census Bureau and international agencies, Belliveau seems to have read everything she could get her hands on about the countries she visited. (Her bibliography runs to 11 closely set pages).
The results can be enchanting, as in her idyllic sojourn in a thatched-roof, one-room tourist bungalow on one of Madagascar’s tropical islands, where fewer Americans had stayed when she visited there than had walked on the Moon and where a troop of endangered black lemurs came out of the jungle every evening to play with the guests. A sense of romance and adventure informs the book. Everywhere she goes, Belliveau gets to know ordinary people on the streets and in their homes, and her accounts of these human encounters are especially warm and sensitive. Whether as an armchair adventure or as preparatory reading for your own excursion to an out-of-the-way place, this book is a good companion.”
Belliveau feels that American travelers are often unprepared, because of limited attention to history and social studies in the schools and because of the U.S. media’s tendency to ignore non-Western cultures, to understand the social and environmental significance of what they see in foreign lands. Hence, we travel as uniformed amateurs. The lessons of the title refer to her efforts to expand her understanding of the people and places she met.
Belliveau offers a refreshing, independent perspective. There is not a concierge in sight. What Belliveau has learned–and what she would like readers to share–is the art of knowing a place by meeting its people,and not just its tourist sites. The author is an advocate of the decide-and-depart school of travel: get to where you want to go and trust that nice people will help you with the details once you arrive. In this way Belliveau and her companions glimpsed a family of rare indri lemurs in Madagascar and photographed a pair of indolent cheetahs in Kenya. Her methods are not for the faint-hearted. A single-engine Cessna flew her over Borneo’s devastated rain forest; she conquered her Jaws-bred fears to swim with sharks in Polynesian lagoons.
I enjoyed Belliveau’s straighforward, ground-level accounts of stunning scenery in Tahiti, less than smooth sailing in the Aegean and smothering heat in Burma. Her side-bar essays are brisk and informative. They offer well-documented insight into Chinese emigration, the nature of poverty in Burma and development in Thailand. Belliveau is a convincing proponent of a less-is-more approach to travel: the less popular destinations for travelers will be the most rewarding for adventurers.
Small Press magazine
Belliveau’s entertaining storytelling is easily the most interesting feature of this book. Location details are described with extraordinary flair, but it is the stories about the people that are the most memorable parts of this book.
And then we hear the lessons from bits of the trip, little gems of wisdom that prompt us to think about the words we’re reading as more than mind-candy, but as experience, as possibility, as something to which we might open ourselves.
In the mark of an excellent travel narrative, the reader is taken beyond pure experience and into philosophy. In all, Belliveau has done a great service in providing this book–it gives worthwhile information to the reader who might be planning a trip to one of these exotic places.
And to the armchair traveler addicted to wit, information and adventure, she provides a satisfying trip through some interesting lands.
Worldview, Magazine of the National Peace Corps Association
The descriptions of Belliveau’s journeys are personal, detailed and engaging. Throughout, there are interesting sidebar discussions on topics ranging from the possiblity of Asian influence on pre-Colombian Mayan culture to the impact of tourism on contemporary Balinese culture. She is a traveler who is interested in what lies under the surface appearances of a place.
Belliveau reflects on the questions that have been raised and the lessons learned in the course of her travels–primarily in Africa, Asia and Latin America. She explores the question of racial democracy in Brazil, the changing role of missionaries in Borneo, family relationships in Burma, and the relationship of U.S. poverty to conditions in the developing world.
An extensive bibliography attests to the considerable research Belliveau undertook to find answers to the many questions raised in her travels. It is clear that she has been open to a wide range of experiences and has an honest respect for local peoples.
The Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera
Although An Amateur’s Guide is for serious travelers who want to understand cultures and concepts, it’s written in an entertaining, conversational style, sprinkled with funny quotes from Belliveau’s plentiful and witty traveling companions.
Lee Anne Phillips
Women’s Books Online
An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet is a fascinating book, and well worth picking up for random browsing, perhaps on your next vacation, or before. If it doesn’t give you pause to think, even for a moment, then at least it will furnish a store of party conversation tidbits to last at least through the next millenium.
Jeannette Belliveau is among an exalted, plucky few who can truly wear the title of “globetrotter.” She has slogged her way from the Yucatan peninsula to the island of Madagascar, and she’s collected a steamer-trunk load of tales and insight on a world that’s not so small after all. Along with her funny tales comes good advice for other intrepid trekkers who want to experience life on the roads less taken.
Madison (Wis.) Capital Times
ncredibly insightful background on the cultural, economic and social aspects of the world’s most remote places. Makes for new levels in travel journalism.
The Armchair Sailor
Part memoir, part travelogue, part statistical survey — in this guide the author confronts the world’s riddles and offers lessons learned, without getting caught up in narrow subjective experience. Immediate and insightful reports from Madagascar, China, Borneo, Kenya and Tanzania, Japan, Polynesia, Thailand, Greece, the Yucatan, Java and Bali, Burma, and Brazil. A joy for any inveterate traveller, and very current.
Diane C. Donovan
Midwest Book Review
Far from your usual travel guide, armchair or otherwise … fine insights on travel styles and cultural encounters.
Author, One Billion: A China Chronicle
This is just wonderful, a joy to read. The China train trip and the Irish analysis are worth the price of admission.
Author, The Third Century: America’s Resurgence in the Asian Era
An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet looks like it was fun to write, and will be fun to read. The write-up drawing parallels between the United States and Greece is quite good and thought-provoking.
J. Duncan Moore Jr.
Belliveau’s book has been my bedtime reading for a week now, and I’m not getting much sleep. She seems to have been everywhere, read everything and talked to Everyman.
What’s remarkable about An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet is how the author weaves one American life into the flow of history and the profusion of global culture. She documents the inescapable shaping force of geography on the human species, and shows how distinctive societies contrive to surmount or succumb to its impositions. An Amateur’s Guide is a vastly engaging piece of work.
Europeans often remark how oblivious Americans are of history, geography and language. An Amateur’s Guide is one antidote to American ignorance. Belliveau’s engaging mind hyperlinks what she’s seeing, hearing and feeling in some of the world’s most impenetrable locales to our ordinary American lives. In so doing she traces the ecological, political and–most rare–the moral threads that tie us to all human kind.
Michael R. Enright
Kennedy School of Government
An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet, so filled with daring but insightful conclusions, is much more and much better than a travel book. Belliveau’s new work is something one doesn’t find very often on travel book shelves: a book in which the author confronts the riddles of the world she sees and the paths she knows and offers the lessons she learns.
Patrick F. Fagan
The United States is so focused on the material dimension that it has totally lost sight of the fact that the human dimension of love, commitment, relationships of marriage, family and community, are a strength of a people, including the poor. An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet illustrates why our poverty in family and human relationships puts us in Third World status in the institution of the family.
Yale University Daily News
Anyone considering a trip to Asia, Africa or Latin America should read An Amateur’s Guide to the Planet before embarking on their travels.
The Towerlight,Towson State University
One of the most exciting books you’ll read this year. … Stunning in scope and content.