On visiting Paris, I'm ashamed to admit, I briefly considered not making the journey to see the Eiffel Tower. After years of reading literary references to the famous landmark and seeing it in the backdrops of films, I was concerned it wouldn't live up to my lofty 22-year-old's expectations.
Thank goodness the magic of that seductive city changed my mind. I caught a glimpse of the tower from the rickety balcony of my hostel one evening, its lights twinkling enchantingly in the distance, and made a plan with my companions to visit the following day.
"Now standing at the base of the spire of lattice ironwork, your eyes drawn up its peak, you realise just what a feat of engineering it must have been in its day." So writes Jheni Osman in her introduction to the tower in Lonely Planet's enticing new book The World's Great Wonders.
Osman's thoughts echoed my own as I stood beneath the tower and gazed up. Whatever I'd expected it to be — elegant, beautiful, enigmatic — I hadn't thought I'd be awed by its construction. But I was.
It's always a big call to try to round up some of the world's "must-see" sights and justify the choices, but Osman has done an admirable job with this collection.
Subtitled "How they were made & why they are amazing", the book lists 20 natural and 30 man-made "wonders", though readers are given additional travel inspiration in some of the chapters through nods to sites with similar attributes.
No continent is left out in a roll call that names perennially famous sites such as the Great Pyramid of Giza alongside modern day headline-maker the Large Hadron Collider and lesser-known marvels such as Afghanistan's remote Band-e Amir lakes.
At first browse, I felt the descriptive nature of the chapters' introductory paragraphs jarred a little with the factual information on subsequent pages. It's a style I soon got used to though and probably broadens the appeal for readers who prefer to pick and choose their editorial style or to read these sort of books in a non-linear manner.
As a Lonely Planet publication, the images are predictably top notch, but what elevates this book are the diagrams and statistical snippets. It's an overview of 50 sites, so don't expect anything too in-depth; but there's a fascinating account of how France's Millau Viaduct was put together and a straightforward explanation of how blue holes are formed, among much else.
Helping it bridge the gap between coffee table book and travel guide are tips on how to get to each place and suggestions about what else to do in the area, though as a hardback it'd be too bulky to carry with you.
This book should inspire even the most travel-hardened (or OE-jaded) soul to be surprised by the wonder in our world all over again, and maybe even to book a trip.
THE WORLD'S GREAT WONDERS:
How They Were Made & Why They Are Amazing
by Jheni Osman