Thomas Kohnstamm

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Thomas Kohnstamm
Born November 24, 1975
Seattle, Washington, United States
Occupation Writer
Genre Gonzo, Travel, Non-fiction
Notable works Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?

Thomas Kohnstamm is an American author, and travel writer who worked previously for Lonely Planet.[1][2][3] His book Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, a gonzo style memoir was published by Random House/Three Rivers Press in April 2008. The author drew criticism, and according to the author, death threats,[4] after he was quoted as admitting to performing a "desk update" for the History chapter of a guidebook to Colombia.[5][6] He stated in the interview that "They didn't pay me enough to go (to) Colombia. I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating - an intern in the Colombian Consulate." This quote was incorrectly interpreted as implying that he had updated destination sections of the book, for which he would have been expected to visit the country, rather than merely background material. A quote was also taken from his book that said "...what I can’t plagiarize, I can always make up," calling into question both the accuracy and the practices of his fellow travel writers.[7]

Subsequently Kohnstamm agreed that the situation had been "blown way out of proportion."[5][6] and agreed his "regrettable" and agreed his choice of words had been "unfortunate" and "flippant". He claimed that the "...what I can’t plagiarize, I can always make up," quote lifted from the book had been intended "to be humorous" when taken in context.[5]

Lonely Planet immediately responded to the furor: Regarding Kohnstamm's claim to have written for the Colombia guide without having revisited the country, Lonely Planet clarified that he had only been commissioned to write the introduction and history chapters for that book, stating "when he was commissioned it was understood that he wouldn't be going to the destination",[8] an explanation confirmed by Kohnstamm, who claimed this quote too had been taken out of context by the Publisher's publicists.[5][9] Lonely Planet's publisher Piers Pickard defended their rate of pay, and the accuracy of their work.[10][6]

Other writers defended Kohnstamm's claims in regards to the behaviour of those in the industry, contrasting with those of Pickard who claimed "no freebies — period", before admitting that they could be taken when "obtained through a tourist office", but not in "exchange for positive content".[6] Pickard also admitted to the practice of completing guides from a desk, but only in "cases where writers cannot travel to dangerous areas" or the scope of the project, suggesting "We can't cover the whole of the Australian outback. That's like imagining our authors sleep in every single hotel".[6] Lonely Planet, through editor Christopher Ward, re-assured their readers that in Kohnstamm's work there were "only the kind of minor inaccuracies we would normally expect of guidebook text that was coming up to its review date",[10] indicating that his description of his own fallacies may have been partly made up too.

The book received positive reviews. One reviewer observed "were I his editor, I’d want his blood",[2] but also admitted "As a reader...I could not get enough of the most depraved travel book of the year". Another review praised Kohnstamm's "spirited prose".[11]


  1. ^ Carlin Romano (April 27, 2008). "You'll never look at a travel book the same again". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  2. ^ a b Richard Woodward (May 4, 2008). "Armchair Traveler". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  3. ^ Joshua Bernstein (September 16, 2008). "Are these the dumbest travel trends?". Forbes Traveler. 
  4. ^ KC Summers and Thomas Kohstamm (April 29, 2008). "Can You Trust your Travel Guidebook?". The Washington Post. 
  5. ^ a b c d Frank Bures (April 14, 2008). "Thomas Kohnstamm’s Lonely Planet: The Firestorm Around ‘Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?’". World Hum. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Peter Munro (May 4, 2008). "A guide delusion makes it Lonely at the top". The Age. 
  7. ^ Tim Shipman (April 14, 2008). "A travel writer on a not so lonely planet". The Daily Telegraph. 
  8. ^ Alexi Mostrous (April 14, 2008). "Lonely Planet writer, Thomas Kohnstamm, claims he fabricated guidebook". The Times (London). Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  9. ^ David Appell (April 25, 2008). "Fluff, Loathing, and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in Travel Journalism". Huffington Post. 
  10. ^ a b Lonely Planet. "Thomas Kohnstamm and our guidebooks". Lonely Planet. 
  11. ^ Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2008). "Starred Review - Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?". Kirkus Reviews. 

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