Letting Your Guide Be History

Doug Mack argues that guidebooks like Fodor’s and Frommer’s “are uniquely effective documents of a changing world—and, more to the point, they have been underappreciated actors in creating social change”:

They … stand out for shaping history, if not always intentionally, because of their authoritative reputation—they have long been the best insight into that which would be otherwise unknown. Most notoriously, the Nazis claimed to have used Baedeker’s guides in a 1942 series of air attacks on English cities, which would become known as the Baedeker Blitz. There’s some disagreement among historians as to whether the Nazis really did use the books, but this was Nazi propagandist Baron Gustav Braun von Sturm’s claim: that Baedeker had unwittingly identified the targets by highlighting Britain’s most beloved landmarks and towns, the places whose destruction would deal the biggest blows to the national spirit, including the cities of Bath and Norwich. More recently, shortly after American troops entered Iraq 10 years ago, Lonely Planet Iraq was pressed into duty for precisely the opposite goal, assisting officials who were prioritizing sites for protection.

Other guidebooks have specifically sought to right societal wrongs, like The Negro Motorist Green Books, a series published from 1936 to 1964, which guided African Americans traveling the U.S. in the era of Jim Crow. As civil-rights leader Julian Bond, whose parents used Green Books, told the New York Times in 2010, “It was a guidebook that told you not where the best places were to eat … but where there was any place.”