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Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Monday, 12 January 2009

Don't throw out that old guide book...

A rare copy of a 16th century map

60 seconds to change the world

Can a simple idea help make the world a better place? Each week we ask a guest to outline an idea to improve all our lives. Here, author Vitali Vitaliev says that we should all start using old guide books to help us understand our reality better.

I don't remember who said history repeats itself but every time it does so, the price goes up.

I think one of the main reasons for human kinds' problems is that we don't learn from history and we don't look back often enough.

What I suggest is that we throw out all modern guide books and gazetteers, and start travelling the world, using exclusively guide books and gazetteers that are at least a hundred years old.


It's amazing what power, these seemingly dry facts and figures have.

I compare them to an ossified time carcass, which everyone is welcome to feel with his or her own imagination.

It gives you a beautiful perspective of where exactly you stand in time and without this scale of comparison, we will never realise where exactly we are.

Have we progressed or have we regressed?

I think that if you do start using old guide books, it will help us to understand our reality better.

Vitali Vitaliev is a Ukrainian-born writer on enclaves, which can be mini-states or isolated parts of nation states.

Below is a selection of your comments.

The 'old' world was a very white European dominated one, and no doubt old travel guides will reflect this. This is not a criticism but an observation and we could learn a lot from reading about how the world was viewed back then. No wonder we never learn from history, when it is always altered by these same people, who attempt to rewrite history every chance they get.
Kit Jefferies, Shirley, West Midlands, UK

I have a geography textbook from the 1930s. Throughout it, it is almost frantically concerned with which nation controls which strategic points. It's also a portrait of a Europe that I hardly recognise.
Nathan, Durham, UK

Ok, so where do we find these 100 year old guidebooks?

A Rowell, Doha, Qatar

I once tried to tour Greece using Pausanias 'Description of Greece' (2nd C. AD). It was incredibly depressing, he would say something like 'And here you will see a row of votive statues by Phidias' or 'There is magnificent gold and ivory statue of Apollo' - and what you got was rubble of a road and some thistles.

G.M. Bradshaw, Coventry UK

What a wonderful collection of trivial (and meaningful) facts! Interesting and unique. I am sharing it with my colleagues.
Heidi W, New York, New York

While I think there is something to be gained from reading old guide books, they would fail to serve the practical function of helping you find your way around a modern city. The streets are often different and most of the attractions have changed. It would probably be more interesting to read a guidebook from one hundred years or more ago about your own city because you are already familiar with it. You can only evaluate whether a city has progressed when you can compare the new city to the old and if you don't know the new city, it is hard to compare.
Kat, St Andrews, Scotland

This is a lovely idea, but surely impractical? Might as well take a guidebook for Brazil on a holiday to Thailand. At least this would show us how the rural areas have shrank and disappeared, so we are reminded to take care of the world around us and not build on every field.
Kay, Southampton

I collect old cookery books for a similar reason. It's a snapshot of how life was. Nigella and Jamie will provide the same in the future, and people will look back and think why did they eat that?
Jeannette, Wales

There are many such guidebooks available from Although they may lack illustrations, depending on the format you download them in, they are always fascinating and often surprising. For example, one I am reading just now shows that it was considered perfectly normal - on both sides - for a British person to travel for pleasure in France in 1814, when the two countries were at war.
Alastair Scott, London, United Kingdom

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