Paul Theroux’s Riding The Iron Rooster

| June 21, 2009 | 5 Comments

Paul Theroux Iron Rooster China Paul Therouxs Riding The Iron Rooster

Riding The Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux
Ivy Books pp464

Alright, let’s face it. We all love to hate Paul Theroux. And he loves to hate you. This is quite evident in his year spent exploring China by train, and his impressions about what has and has not changed in the country, as gathered in hundreds of conversations with Chinese citizens, make up a large portion of the book.

You’ll learn nearly as much about Theroux (or the character of Theroux, travel writer) as you do about the place. The train rides in themselves do not allow for much adventure—they are more or less a catalogue of food eaten and persons who annoy the writer by sharing his cabin. However, if you spend enough time with this writer you will begin to see that his cynicism is a real reaction to much of what he sees on his travels.

Thus ‘Riding the Iron Rooster’, is part history book, travel guide, and part adventure memoir. In it—most annoyingly in the first half—Mr Theroux gleefully points out the idiocies and self-indulgences of American travelers riding the Trans-Siberian into China, all the while cleverly disguised as one of them.

While the book was weighed down by this at the beginning, the pace and tone improve substantially later in the book—especially when he turns his sights toward Chengdu and, further west, to Tibet.


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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

Comments (5)

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  1. Teresa Laurence says:


    Theroux writes his account in China—all of his accounts for that mattter—with one part wit and three parts sarcasm. He casts a jaundiced eye upon everything and everyone. Because of this his account becomes suspect and probably owes more to fiction than non-fiction. Still, who can resist a good story?

    • Daniel says:


      Agreed, Teresa. However, he needles people about their participation in, and impressions of the Cultural Revolution at every opportunity. While I was glad for the historical information, it had gotten old—and I mean really old—by the third chapter.

  2. Jen Laceda says:


    Sadly, I haven’t read any of Theroux’s travel literature (you I call myself a travel blogger?). However, I finally succumbed to the pressure and bought “The Great Railway Bazaar” last week. It’s sitting on my shelf, begging to be read. Why haven’t I read it? This thing called a 9-to-5 + 2 y.o. daughter. That’s my Life Math!

  3. Carrie says:


    Theroux’s books are very hit and miss with me. I loved Riding the Iron Rooster, but one of the reasons why I loved it was because I had just moved to China and was doing a lot of travel by train. I also really enjoyed Dark Star Safari. I’m having a hard time getting through Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.It’s probably one of the few books on my bookshelves that I won’t finish. In all honesty, I’d rather read Bryson or Pico Iyer.

  4. Debbie says:


    I think Theoroux’s is a backward, whinning, shitty asshole. I would rather donate my money to some charity than to buy his books that degrades some nationalities with his disgusting, unprofessional, prejudiced, biased as well as racist mentality. Mate, not everyone is educated especially in a third world country..comparison of what you know to someone who hasn’t been to school in his whole life is not a levelled playground..weren’t you supposed to be the educated professional??

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