At AS220: A virtual world tour

'Action Speaks!'
By PHILIP EIL  |  October 2, 2013


This past spring, Arthur Frommer — the 83-year-old whose name has been synonymous with travel-guide writing since he published Europe On 5 Dollars a Day in 1957 — bought his brand back from Google. The “Frommer’s” name had been sold to the tech goliath a year earlier for around $23 million, but Google’s plans to use Frommer’s material to help provide “a review for every relevant place in the world,” hadn’t fully been realized. “I feel like I’m starting all over again,” Frommer told The New York Times about getting his name back.

News of Frommer’s re-launch was soon followed by the announcement that Jason Cochran had been hired as editor-in-chief of It was a logical choice. Cochran had not only written for Frommer’s previously as a freelancer; he had also written for the New York Times, New York Post, New York Daily News, Travel + Leisure, and USA Today; been given a golden pen for his travel writing by the government of Croatia; and had writings enshrined in a museum in Australia. Plus, his fiery blogging on the subject of travel-guide writing — “The error of guidebooks of our generation has been that they think they should be less like the editorial pages and more like directories. . . Poisoned by a fear of offending and possessed by the generic, guides lost the point of being guides. They became catch-alls, overseen by desk-bound editors who have neither the experience of their destinations nor a concept of the particular ethics of the writers who they pay to cover them” — is enough to make you stand at your desk and applaud.

Cochran was also a logical choice for the second panel discussion of this year’s “Action Speaks!” season, which examines, as always, “underappreciated 20th-century dates that changed America.” On October 10, Cochran will be joined by Elizabeth Becker, author of Overbooked: The Global Business of Travel and Tourism, and Mimi Sheller, professor of sociology and director of Drexel University’s Center for Mobilities Research and Policy, for a discussion of how Europe On 5 Dollars a Day changed the way we see the world, both in person and in print.

The Phoenix caught up with Cochran over the phone in advance of his trip to Providence — a city he said he’s eager to explore. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF 1957, THE YEAR THE FIRST FROMMER’S GUIDE WAS PUBLISHED? It was a turning point for the way Americans interact with the rest of the world, and I think that the Frommer’s guide book series is an important part of that. But just a part of that.

The jet age is of course very important, [and 1957 was] around the time also that the ocean liners began their very quick, very precipitous decline. So you no longer had to take a week on either end to get to Europe; you could do it, of course, in ten hours or something. So all of that was happening at once and, within 10 years, the average American’s relationship had completely changed with the rest of the world. We became engaged with other countries and other cultures in a way that most of us hadn’t engaged with other people unless we’d been sent over for war.

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