In my experience, travel books have a built in advantage, the reader is already pre-disposed towards the destination so even crap books get a bit of a bye. But even adjusting for that factor and the fact that I am an idiot, sometimes a book comes along which is a sheer pleasure to read.
this book by Tom Miller, first published in 1986, takes you through a journey behind the Panama Hat which is made in Ecuador. He has a fascinating way of describing the country, the Indians, the regular moans about coffee, the issues with the traffic and bus travel, he describes the hat, Gosh, he describes the hat process. The man ends up in the depths of the forest to pluck the particular straw and then moves through entire supply chain from those depths of the forest down the history, geography, religion, culture, anthropology, economics of Ecuador to the showrooms in New York where these Panama Hats, now revalued hugely from the original price of literally cents to the farmers of the straw to the hundreds of dollars that a purchaser of a Montecristo Fini hat will pay. Some of these straw hats are so finely woven that they can hold water.
Amazing book. I learnt so much about the country. Like India, it also lost huge swathes of territory and does stupid nationalistic things like map controls (you cant show the land that Ecuador lost in the war with Peru). And I now have to go check out the bookstores in Quito, found out there are two there which stock English language books besides the usual fiction pap. And the man has a sense of deprecating humour which is lovely and refreshing. Loved it.
And it doesn't talk about Galapagos at all. So as a very respected member of the travel book species, it comes very highly recommended. One of the best books that I have read. So much that I recommended it to my son, whose response was a gratifying “ummm, ok”