The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1986, Volume 32, Number 2
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Review

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

The Tourist: Travel In Twentieth Century North America.

By John A. Jakle. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. pp. xiv, 382. $24.95 Cloth. $12.95 Paper.

Reviewed by Richard Lowitt, lowa State University, author of The New Deal and the West (1984) and other historical studies.

This is a book that will delight tourists of all kinds from the inveterate to the armchair variety. Utilizing a data base of several hundred travel accounts: published diaries, journals and travel books, all written in the twentieth century between 1900 and 1960, John A. Jakle, a professor of geography at the University of Illinois, presents a fascinating, incisive, carefully structured and well-written study that examines virtually every conceivable aspect of a major industry, which, he concludes, “is a principal means by which modern people define for themselves a sense of identity.”

Much attention is devoted to the process of touring. Separate chapters ex-amine travel by railroad and steamship, by automobile before, between, and after the first and second world wars, by bus and air. By the 1920s the automobile, assisted by the development of a highway system, became the chief means of touring. The implications: sociological, economic, geographical, et. al., are carefully examined by the author, who is concerned that tourists derive something more than relaxation, pleasure and satisfaction from their travels. Diligent tourists, he insists, sought something more than rest and relaxation. They viewed travel as an opportunity “to place in perspective everyday existence” and considered it “an art that could be enhanced and improved with practice.”

These talents could be developed by the tourist in viewing nature, various regions of the country, most notably the American West, the cities, and manifestations of history in manifold forms: museums, shrines, sites, communities, etc. These themes are developed in separate chapters that are full of shrewd observations and at times penetrating insights. Jakle’s chapters are models of clarity in style and structure with the opening paragraphs stating his premises and the concluding ones succinctly reiterating the basic points presented. And he does not focus exclusively on the United States. Canada is included in his account, despite that fact that his data base is heavily biased toward this country. However, Alaska and Hawaii receive slight attention, perhaps because they became tourist attractions after the terminal date of his study, 1960. And, surprisingly, San Diego receives equally slight notice though it assuredly merited a place in the chapters examining “The American West as a Region” and “The Metropolis as an Attraction.”

Additional critical comments are minimal. Most annoying to me was the continual misspelling of Jonathan Daniels’ first name. Most perplexing was the author’s ignoring the remarkable set of guide books covering every state and several cities prepared during the New Deal under WPA auspices. In all, however, this is a pleasurable book, well worth perusing as you contemplate your next vacation.