In his 1982 autobiography A Traveler’s Life, the delightful travel writer Eric Newby, who died this past October at the age of eighty-six, expressed his thoughts on human existence.

In his writings, the Venerable Bede compared the span of human life to coming out of darkness into a lighted hall and, having reached the end of it, finding oneself under the necessity of setting off once more into the all-embracing gloom. To me life has been more like one of those sections of autostrada on the Italian Riviera, on which there are lots of tunnels, some long, some short, with sunlit open spaces of varying lengths between them for which the darkness leaves one temporarily dazzled and often unprepared.

Few writers of his generation matched Newby’s felicitous gift for describing life’s sunlit open spaces. His series of travel narratives began with The Great Grain Race (1956),...


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