Sarah Anderson

The Birth of Baedeker

Worth the Detour: A History of the Guidebook


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A guidebook is a good reflection of the age in which it is written: how people travel, why they travel, where they go and what they do when they get there are all riveting morsels of social history. Indeed, there is a danger that guides can be so informative that they replace the real thing: ‘The orthodox Baedeker-bestarred Italy – which is all that I have yet seen – delights me so much that I can well afford to leave the Italian Italy for another time’, as E M Forster said.

Initially guides were written more as official documents, and seen as books of learning, than as the consumer articles they have become; a desire to understand the world was probably behind the creation of the first guides, and the exotic experiences of other countries could be tempered by the reassuring words of a compatriot. The first known guide to have survived is that of Pausanias on Greece, written in the mid second century AD (it is not infallible but there are remarkably few errors).

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