Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Book Review: In The Footsteps of Dracula by Steven P. Unger

I was offered a chance to review "In the Footsteps of Dracula" by the author, Steve Unger. Steve contacted me directly to ask if I was interested in reviewing his book. He provided me a pdf copy of the book. The book is subtitled "A personal journey and travel guide". It is published by World Audience Publishers.

This is the second edition. In the notes to the second edition, one of the reasons given for a new edition is to correct a few factual errors. I have a lot of respect for authors who can do this. I can barely turn out a 200 word blog post without finding errors in it later. I have no idea how much horror I'd feel to publish a book and discover that I missed something. The second edition also updates prices and Internet links since the original publication in 2005 or 2006.

This book is predominately a journal and travel guide, but it also provides some historical insight into both the real Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) and the fictional Dracula of Bram Stoker's novel.  It is organized into 5 parts containing a total of 19 chapters spanning 274 pages (in the pdf version). It is designed to be an "armchair" travel guide, but the final section contains tips for a traveler who decides to follow this trail physically. While it sounds like an exciting adventure, I currently fit into the first category, and appreciate the author making this trip so I can enjoy it from the comfort of my computer.

I find the concept interesting: travel for the purpose of visiting sites connected with Dracula. Dracula is connected to Dublin, Whitby, London, and several sites in Romania.

The writer is talented and kept me engaged throughout. I was a little confused by the structure of the book at first. It starts in Romania, then goes to Whitby, England, then to the history of Dracula back in Romania.. However, I kept reading and everything came together perfectly.

In the Footsteps of Dracula contains lots of pictures. The publisher's website says it has 185. I believe they were all taken with a digital camera, and added dimensionality to the book. Since I'm not likely to be able to take a trip like this myself anytime soon, I appreciated being able to see the Carpathian mountains, Romanian farms, English streets, churches, goths, and all the other details of the author's journey. The majority of pictures came out beautiful. A few of them pixellated when blown up to full page size, however, the pixellation did not obscure the details of the picture. It's something only a geek like me would notice.

As a good travel guide, "In the Footsteps of Dracula" contains a good bit of history and culture. The history provided is plenty good for the scope of the book. It also connects events very well. It mentions that Vlad the Impaler ruled about the same time as the fall of Constantinople and was dealing with the Turkish invasion into Europe. This affects our understanding of the context of his times. While impaling 20,000 Turks sounds very drastic and evil, Vlad was facing an invading army far larger than his. This gruesome display forced the Turk army to turn around temporarily.

It also explores the names. Dracula was not the name Vlad was known by. He was called Dracul. Adding the a to the end is a designation for "the son of", so Dracula is the son of Dracul.

It was interesting to learn that Bram Stoker had never visited Romania. He did his research in the Reading Room at the British Museum, apparently a very prestigious membership not open to many of us. Steve Unger compares Bram Stoker's novelized description of Romania with his experience there. It seems close.

I appreciate the book's uniqueness. I have done some study on Vlad. I've never read Bram Stoker's novel (although I saw the Copola movie). Steve Unger tied the history and the fiction together in a unique package and I suddenly feel an urge to read the novel.

I can't say I've read many travel guides, and I have no experience reviewing them. The author provides quite a few references within the text. There isn't a bibliography or references list, which could be helpful. On page 246, he lists books he recommends reading prior to your trip, and carrying with you. 

In summary, "In the Footsteps of Dracula" is a unique look into an interesting topic, tying history and fiction together with a travel journal and pictures. It also provides you with the information you need if you choose to take the journey yourself. But whether you actually take the journey or not, reading the book is an adventure in itself.

UPDATE (19 Dec 2015) Amazon shows the 3rd edition available. You can buy it here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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