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Where Underpants Come From

Simon & Schuster (2008)
RRP $29.95

If the title gets you in, you won’t be disappointed.

Joe Bennett is a travel writer from New Zealand and a very clever bloke.

His previous books include Love, Death, Washing-Up, etc and Fun Run and Other Oxymorons.

Mr Bennett always chooses interesting destinations, in this case China, but the hook is how he gets you started on the journey.

Unlike Gavin Young or Michael Palin, Mr Bennett is more concerned with the motivation for travel rather than the mode of transport.

Mr Bennett was driving home from a two-dollar-shop in Auckland with a multi-pack of undies when he began wondering how anyone, from the cotton farm to the cash register, could have made a profit from his new jocks.

So began his journey to China.

If, like Mr Bennett, you really knew next to nothing about China before the Olympics (and the coverage didn’t really correct that), Where Underpants Come From is a brilliant introduction.

The writer takes a whimsical idea, starting with the bar code on his pack of smalls, and follows the trail all the way through suburban Shanghai factories to a cotton field on the border with Afghanistan.

Along the way he shows readers the next world super power and introduces much of what shapes China.

Mr Bennett points out that aside from the past 200 years China has in fact shaped the world for 2000 years.

The rest of us just didn’t realise.

The civilisation that gave Italy pasta and brought us gun powder now makes everything from your DT’s to your PC.

This is a sharp writer with a great premise and a travel yarn well spun.

Reviewed by Phil Smith, Journey guest writer