Where Underpants Come From is a travel book in the same way that books by Danny Wallace or Dave Gorman are travel books – mainly in that they are stocked primarily in the travel section of Waterstones. Although this book does have more travel in it than most by the aforementioned authors, it would still be fair to say that it is a challenge book. In this particular book, the author has challenged himself to research exactly where his newly bought cheap pair of pants were made – all the way down the line from the growing of the materials to the placement on the shelf.
This is a sound enough idea for a book of this kind, but unfortunately is not quite interesting enough. Much of the book involves him visiting similar factories where he learns that material is made by big machines, eating delicacies that he quite enjoys until finding out it is actually dog he is eating, or visiting quaint little Chinese towns and discovering that whilst the Chinese can be very different to us, they are not so bad really. This sometimes comes across as a little ignorant and a little ‘let’s laugh at how strange this other country is’ which is ironic as I don’t believe that the writer is actually anything of the kind.
His best bits are in the discussion of the history of the places he visits and the culture behind it. His writing of the different religions of China in particular is concise, understandable and quite witty and the big shame of the book is that he focuses too much on the underpants and eating out side of the journey and too little time on the bits that are truly interesting, different and make up the best passages of his book.