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Knopf Guide: Egypt

Compared to the other quite utilitarian travel guides that arrived in the mail last week, the tall and narrow Knopf Guide was a pleasant surprise.

This is a beautiful travel guide, but I have the general sensation that I should be reading it whilst sitting in the back of a chauffer-driven limousine. It's elegantly written, beautifully illustrated, but it is a museum guide book: pretty, but not terrifically substantial when it comes to actual trip planning.

There's been a huge upsurge in "pictorial guides" (with the Eyewitness books by D&K seeming to reign supreme) for travel -- lovely pictures interspersed with quick notations on things and a narrative style that is more geared towards the casual reader than a traveler. Knopf is more in depth than most -- their cultural and historical notes are excellent, if limited to general country information -- but there is little logistical information included. It's rather like a tiny coffee-table book with just enough travel information to instruct you to call a good travel agent to arrange things.

The books is arranged in "tours" with a colored map starting each chapter containing numbered sites or excursions that are covered in the text. More space is devoted to relevant historic or cultural notes than concrete travel information, but I viewed this guide as more inspiration than reference. Excellent itinerary ideas and suggested time frames were included. The sights covered are mostly the standard tourist destinations, and even then, some of the lesser known sites are entirely missing. A few pages of travel information at the end cover the basics: currency, hotels, health, and other services.

The illustrations are stunning, and include many examples of watercolors and historic prints. It made me wish the book was quite a bit larger, just for more details. This guide is fairly hard to read, however -- the font seems cramped and the different styles used make it hard to sit and read through. I can't quite figure out what the layout editor was trying to accomplish, except perhaps to keep the page count down.

Definitely not a planning type of guidebook, but interesting nonetheless for background reading, and quite lovely.

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