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Jungle Excursions

Certain frontline soldiers in Vietnam, Michael Herr has written, went off to battle in the jungle whistling the themes to the television shows Combat and The Mickey Mouse Club, making Vietnam the first television war in more ways than one.

Brian Alexander, a journalist, carries a different television talisman into the jungle in Green Cathedrals, one of the first books in the genre of so-called literary travel to skirt literature entirely. His inspiration for traveling to seven of the world's rain forests—all but one in the tropics—was, he writes, the old Tarzan serial, its half-hour episodes full of rushing rivers and crocodiles agape, of savage natives and scantily dressed jungle goddesses. None of the usual bookish precedents for adventure travel—Kipling, Masters, London, Hilary—figure in his pages, which bear the stamp of their electronic origins, all short attention span and superficiality, but with bursts of intelligence and interest nonetheless.

Alexander makes no grand claims for the program of travel that underlies Green Cathedrals. Inspired by Ron Ely's onscreen antics though he may have been, Alexander apparently felt the need, as a travel writer, to add the tropics to his resume. "I felt I could never win the game," he offers in a sole literary allusion, "if I did not, at some point, move my token into a jungle square...

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