World Travel is essentially an alphabetical list of some 43 locations which is then drilled into and described as destinations. Intercut between Bourdain's quotes are stories from those who knew him. The book includes details about IATA airport codes, restaurants, transportation and some basic sights. By no means is this a Lonely Planet book, so you can relax. There are a few words about Toronto too. Shout out to Tony calling Toronto ugly once again (hey, we've changed a lot since then!).
Sometimes anecdotes from Tony’s TV shows are thrown in. Other times, as in the Cuban section, Tony’s thoughts interplay with updates on the situation between Cuba and the United States - a topic that Tony focused on in his show Parts Unknown.
Those more critical will say this book is not what Tony would write. They’d say that he routinely spoke of his loathing for remixes of his work (remember those No Reservations season-ending episodes?) and his disdain for travel guides. Couple that with the fact that the main author of this book, Laurie, only spoke with Tony once about its conception.
Perhaps another important factor still is that none of Tony’s words in this book are new. If you have seen and read all of his work to this point, you will have seen or heard everything he says here. In the audiobook, Tony appears to be narrating in the same style as the voiceovers in his shows - but it isn't Tony! It sounds like an impersonator, but he makes no effort to hide that fact by continually referring to another person named "Tony." His voice is stripped of any noise and background elements but has a heavy New Yorker accent. It's a confusing approach in an audiobook, but if one just goes with it - it's probably ok.
An important thing to note, however, is that throughout the book, the author and contributors talk about him. They talk about what he might have preferred. They share behind-the-scenes notes on shooting with him. They express ideas about him that we may not have heard elsewhere or in other media. Woolever talks about what countries Tony really wanted to highlight (such as Oman). This aspect of the book is what will make it worthwhile. Oh, and the illustrations are beautiful.
The essay by Nari Kye is a big highlight in the book. As someone from South Korea, she was able to get Tony out there for his show No Reservations and Parts Unknown. The experiences changed her in many ways, and it shines through. This story is worth the book alone. You'll find some other curious tidbits here too. Like the fact that Tony didn't have a drivers licence until "Well into his forties" as shared by his brother Chris.
The information on offer is very limited and likely not evergreen. Some destination details were updated since Tony's last visit might have been ten or more years ago. In fact, pay attention and you notice many of the updates include the results of what's called the "Bourdain Effect." Untold riches, new customers and extreme expansions often awaited those mentioned on his show. As a book, none of this is likely to be updated, if ever. The pandemic that the book enters the world into is also not mentioned more than in just passing. You'd think that Tony would have much to say about how COVID-19 has changed our patterns, but this sort of analysis is not what World Travel is about. We lost the man too soon.
Those who were fans of his may be disappointed if they expected more Tony.
World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Laurie Woolever and Anthony Bourdain. The book was first published by Ecco on April 20, 2021.