First, let me clear up an obvious misunderstanding: The Time Traveler’s Handbook: 18 Experiences from the Eruption of Vesuvius to Woodstock, by Johnny Acton, David Goldblatt and James Wylie, is NOT a how-to book about how to build a time machine or operate one (I know, I know, wouldn’t that be the coolest book in the world and wouldn’t we absolutely have that book in the library if there was such a book?). You can complain about truth in advertising all you like on this one, but don’t let that keep you from taking out this wonderful book, which has a terrific concept and is well-written, well-researched and fun.
The concept of the book is that it’s a guidebook for people using a company that does time travel. So you book a trip with this company and these are the descriptions of the possible trips you can take, with all the kinds of detailed advice you’d expect to see in a travel guide, but describing historical details and physical details of places that usually don’t exist any more in that particular form, and, in the best cases, giving you hour by hour or round by round details of what’s going to happen in this particular historical event. It’s a fabulous way to look at historical events, bringing them to life in a way even the best historical fiction (let alone straight histories) can’t quite do (how often, for instance, do you see details about what kind of food you’d be able to eat and what kind of toilet facilities you can expect to see, in a historical novel?).
You probably won’t be equally interested in all the events and places offered by the fictitious time travel company, but if you have any interest in history at all, you’re bound to find something that intrigues you. You can get a close up and personal view of Woodstock, day by day and hour by hour (with advance information about when the rain is going to start, for instance), or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or what you can expect as a fellow traveler with Marco Polo and Kublai Khan going through the Khan’s territories. You can join in with the women marching on Versailles in the early part of the French Revolution, or watch the Rumble in the Jungle where Muhammad Ali defeated the great George Foreman. You can see the Beatles in Hamburg before they were the famous Beatles and watch how they developed; you can wander through New York City in the 1930’s to witness the birth of Be-Bop. The descriptions are vivid and lively, incredibly detailed and immediate. My only regret, after finishing this book, is that there isn’t (as far as I know) a real company offering these kinds of trips, because I would absolutely sign up a bunch of them. You can do the next best thing: take this book out and time travel vicariously.