Imagine a City: A Pilot’s Journey Across the Urban World

Knopf. Jul. 2022. 416p. ISBN 9780525657507. $30. TRAV
Vanhoenacker (Skyfaring) writes from his unique perspective about the wonder of travel to the world’s major cities. The text is often erudite and poetic. Beautiful imagery and historical facts abound in chapters loosely organized around themes like air and prospects. Vanhoenacker’s initial impressions of cities—particularly during descent—are what makes this lengthy book most appealing. There are buried treasures, such as the discussion of the ocean’s many shades of blue, best seen from an airplane. The author’s exploration of his ongoing struggle with coming out lends some tenderness to the sometimes-lofty musings. But there is also a sense of disconnection as Vanhoenacker jogs and drinks coffee alone during his 48-hour layovers. He comments on the downsides of being a pilot, the “painful paradox” of visiting a city often but not being present long enough to contribute to a friend’s life in a meaningful way.
VERDICT Readers learn bits and pieces about Vanhoenacker’s childhood, career path, and significant relationships, but overall the book lacks a strong personal narrative, which is disappointing. Extended descriptions of the author’s hometown of Pittsfield, MA, might challenge the patience of a U.S. reader expecting to read about more distant locales. Not recommended.
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