Road Reads

Sunday, April 1, 2007

BOOK: "What Every American Should Know About Europe," by Melissa Rossi (Plume, $16)

TARGET AUDIENCE: Guidebook readers who don't immediately skip to the "Where to Shop" chapters.

Despite its alarmist title, this book is fun, with irreverent histories, cheeky commentaries on high-profile personages and from-the-hip, opinionated critiques of governments du jour. These are garnished with fact nuggets: More Turks live in Berlin than in any other city save Istanbul; 95 percent of Italian adults younger than 30 still live at home; Austrian President Heinz Fischer is fluent in Esperanto. The guidebook-style readability is aided by liberal use of boxes and shaded paragraphs.

Oddly, though, Norway and Switzerland are missing (among others). Rossi's explanation? They're not European Union members. Oh. Yeah. So? Her discussion of Spain's Opus Dei will raise some Catholic hackles, and the Hungarian tourism office won't appreciate her broad-brushing of Budapest's merchants as rip-off artists. She capriciously designates "Hot Spots" (Ibiza and The Hague, okay, but Auschwitz?). Still, most readers will find something to make them smile or raise their eyebrows. Did you know that Spanish chef Ferran Adria invented Rice Krispies paella?

-- Jerry V. Haines

© 2007 The Washington Post Company