Picks and Pans Review: In a Sunburned Country

updated 07/24/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/24/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Bill Bryson

In this, his latest travelogue, the author of the laugh-out-loud funny A Walk in the Woods notes that Australia is a "vast and empty" place with a cattle ranch bigger than Belgium and a school district twice the size of France. Bryson does cover some serious ground. But at times he seems in so much of a hurry to move on that his takes on famous sites—like the Great Barrier Reef, which he's too chicken to explore with a snorkel, and Uluru (Ayers Rock), where he arrives too late to climb—barely scratch the surface. Parts of the book are thoroughly entertaining: Bryson's fact file on deadly spiders and snakes is jaw-dropping, and his trademark chatty tone is amiable, if at times irritating. But too many pages are spent regurgitating history books and recounting forays into obscure museums, and too few are devoted to his often hilarious experiences with local culture (such as mastering the art of boogie-boarding) and encounters with weird tourist attractions like the Big Lobster, a fiberglass monstrosity on the Victorian coast. The end result is like stepping off a bus tour, stuffed with knowledge but ultimately groggy. (Broadway, $25)

Bottom Line: Drowsy Down Under

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