Book Review: Bradt Travel Guides to Macedonia and beyond
The best guidebooks go through many editions, and canny publishers ensure that each edition just gets better and better. Our bookshelves are crammed with old guides, and it’s interesting to see how successive editions of classic 19th-century guides (like Baedeker’s Switzerland) both shaped and reflected evolving patterns of travel and tourism.
We especially like the books from UK-based publisher Bradt Travel Guides in this respect. Successive editions flesh out the details and we—obsessive collectors of successive editions—have a real sense of getting to know a country along with the authors, as the latter introduce more material into the second and later editions.
We felt that strongly with Nigel Robert’s Bradt Guide to Belarus, now in its second edition. And our knowledge of Estonia has been progressively refined by successive editions of Neil Taylor’s ever-thoughtful Bradt Guide to Estonia, which we have followed over the years through six editions.
The Balkans and beyond
It takes an audacious publisher (and bold writers) to extend a guidebook series into less-traveled territory. But the commissioning editors at Bradt Travel Guides have a wonderful knack of doing just that. Back in 2004, Bradt claimed virgin territory in the Balkans. With a trio of new titles (on Bosnia, Albania and Macedonia), the company consolidated its claim to be the English-language publisher who dared to venture to parts of Europe ignored by many guidebook series.
Step beyond the shores of Europe, and the Bradt list is awesome. A brand new guide to Haiti will appear this fall, while the company’s long-standing Rwanda title moves confidently into a fifth edition. African adventurers will be pleased that a new edition of Bradt’s Congo guide is due out next month.
Our geographical horizons are more modest, limited in the main to Europe – though we do often buy Bradt Guides to other regions, and are always in awe of writers who take on often very difficult territory. Full marks, for example, to Laurence Mitchell for tackling Kyrgyzstan.
Closer to home, we have watched with interest how that innovative trio of 2004 Balkan guides has developed over the years. Bosnia & Herzegovina is now in its third edition (with a fourth surely due soon), while the fourth iterations of both Albania and Macedonia were published this spring.
Thammy Evans’ fourth edition of the Bradt Guide to Macedonia is a very fine guidebook. It has some splendid writing, just as indeed the earlier editions did. Oddly, this new edition is made all the better by a curious apologia in the book just prior to the table of contents. Somehow, someone at Bradt had an off-day and there was a fine gaffe in the layout department. As a result, cross references were not updated when the pagination changed for the new edition.
“What about the trees?”
Most publishers would have ditched the entire print run. Not Bradt. “What about the trees?” asked the Commissioning Editor. “What about the costs?” demanded the Finance Director. Thammy, by all accounts, was her usual cool self. That shows real style on the part of an author. We couldn’t do it (and our friends at Bradt know we couldn’t do it).
Thammy refused to sanction all that waste (no doubt much to the relief of the Finance Director at Bradt) so the fourth edition of the Bradt Guide to Macedonia comes complete with a magnificent corrigenda.
We have always had a soft spot for this particular Bradt Guide. There is a fluency and authority to Thammy’s writing, and she really leads her readers off the beaten track. It takes courage to commend a Roma market to less experienced travelers, and Thammy does just that when she highlights a side trip worth making from central Skopje to the Suto Orizari Roma settlement.
In truth, we have largely ignored the corrigenda. It’s splendid to read Thammy’s account of monstrous fish-eating spiders on page 11, then follow the errant cross-reference to page 291 and find oneself entertained not by fish-eating arachnids, but by a fabulous account of how the Devil, when he had a spare afternoon, malevolently flooded a Macedonian village. One can have too many haddock-prone spiders, so the errant cross referencing relieves the reader of the burden of finding out yet more.
We treasured the first, second and third editions of Macedonia. Now our crowded bookshelves boast the even better fourth edition. It’s a superbly insightful book about one of Europe’s least understood and most maligned countries. We’re grateful to Bradt Travel Guides and to Thammy Evans for even bothering to devote time and energy to Macedonia.
And when, as we hope she will, Thammy follows up with fifth edition, we’ll still preserve a space on our bookshelves for the fourth edition. The way that Bradt and the author handled a gaffe is a lesson to us all.