Journalist Stodola dives into the psyche of the beachgoer and gets to the heart of what drives humans to seek out the sand. At the same time, she grapples with the darker realities of resort culture: strangleholds on local economies, reckless construction, erosion of beaches, weighty carbon footprints, and the inevitable overdevelopment and decline that comes with a soaring demand for popular shorelines.
... sharp and exhaustive ... Stodola’s careful critique of the invasive species that is the luxury resort helped clarify my beach-hater’s reflexive outrage. And yet, as she piled on her profiles of resorts all over the world, I felt dizzy and exhausted. Luxury can swiftly glut. I also felt morally queasy about her pursuit. Her travels officially counted as research, I understood. But I began to wonder how someone so perceptive, intelligent, and ethical could so studiously anatomize the pervasive harm wreaked by these places, and yet take long-haul flights around the globe to spend time at many (many!) more of them than nailing her argument required. She recognizes the ways in which she is complicit—she makes that clear in The Last Resort—and still she kept choosing to be complicit ... Is it enough of an excuse that Stodola overindulged in luxury with the aim of writing this book? I’m not sure. I recognize that part of her point is to convey the mad hedonism of the resort world. Still, I felt better on arriving at her penultimate chapter, in which she brings the purpose of the book back into focus by suggesting ways to rethink the luxury resort. Stodola gathers a slate of proposals from environmentally minded people she meets during her travels, and does her best to stick to the practical, mostly avoiding the sweepingly wishful ... I am glad that The Last Resort exists, because it gives me ammunition to shoot down the next island-vacation proposal ... At the same time, I am afraid that I am the book’s custom-built audience, given my wariness of beaches. The people who might most benefit from this book—those who have bought into the myth of paradise with an ocean view, deleterious impact be damned, and have the means to regularly experience a version of it—don’t want their illusions destroyed. If they were to receive The Last Resort as, say, a (passive-aggressive) birthday gift, they might well immediately fling it into the giveaway bin ... If I can’t help feeling that Stodola tries to have it both ways, which I read as a kind of hypocrisy, the reason I find it hard to swallow is that I so often do the same.
... aims, in well-intentioned, widely researched and somewhat scattershot fashion, to make you profoundly uneasy about the very act of visiting the beach ... There’s a lot of borrowing in The Last Resort, and the bibliography may divert you quickly to the more focused histories Stodola consulted ... the disorienting number of places Stodola alights, the number of vegan dishes and drinks she reports ordering, some at swim-up bars does make one scratch the head about what this book proposes to be, exactly; it tends to seem more last hurrah than last resort.
Stodola details both the disastrous effects of overdevelopment on multiple beachfront sites as well as hopeful instances of conservation, charting the steps needed to curtail the devastating consequences of unchecked development: difficult, expensive measures that may save a quite different beach resort for future generations. Avid travelers and environmentally conscious readers alike will appreciate this treatment.