BOOKS: Coleridge Baedeker

A travel writer searches for the sources of Kubla Khan

The cargo manifest for Caroline Alexander's learned and delightful work of literary voyaging (The Way to Xanadu; Knopf; $23) might read something like this: toothbrush, 1; wide-brimmed straw hat, 1; large, leatherbound geographical and poetical tomes, six or seven dozen. But Alexander's account of her travels, undertaken to set foot and mind on the actual places around the globe that inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge's misty and fantastical poem Kubla Khan, carries its erudition lightly.

Her journeying begins as it should, in libraries, and in particular with a 1927 work, The Way to Xanadu, by the British scholar John Livingston Lowes. He...

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