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Insight Guide: Cairo

I buy Insight Guides not necessarily because they are a good "technical" travel resource. They are just what they say they are - an insight into the culture, history, and life in Egypt. These are the first of the highly illustrated guides to show up (and I've picked up copies for Scotland, Glasgow, Norway, and Sweden, too) and they are definitely worth a few hours to page through.

The copy that I have is a bit old (1992!), but the historic references and travel information are still relevant, most especially the cultural notes. I didn't intend that this would be a planning book for me, more of a primer on the country and its history, a role which the book performed admirably.

Insight Guides are now published by (or at least affiliated with) the Discovery Channel, and have a great attention to detail, which I've come to expect from Discovery. Even this early version of the book is interesting, and handles the complex issues of a different culture clearly and with some humor. Cairo is a city of 17 million people; its very size makes Cairo a changeable place and the Guide addresses the vast range of the city and its inhabitants. This was a great reference for us on the customs and expected behavior in the city, and while it touched on the many things to do and see in Cairo, travel planning is not the purpose of the guide.

History, religion, politics, culture -- these are the things I believe you have to understand (or at least try to understand) for traveling to be worthwhile. Seeing the vast temples and ruins is, to me, less meaningful when I have no idea of the history and culture that produced them. It is simple to offend or misstep if you don't understand the context of the things you see and the people you meet.

Maps of each region of the city are followed by highlights, notes, and a detailed history. This guide in particular was a gentle introduction to Cairo, and added a tremendous amount of context behind the things we did in the city.

Libraries seem to stock all the Insight Guides, so if dollars a bit tight (they run about $24) check them out of the library for a browse and spend your money on better, more comprehensive books.

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