Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
When lending books, I write mini-reviews in emails to friends. Those emails inspired me to keep writing reviews and make them available on my web site. The reviewed books are primarily non-fiction, outdoors and/or adventure books.
For some of these books, complete bibliographical information may be available at Linda Patton's Books for Hikers page.
Appalachian Trail | Other Trails and Long Walks | Mountaineering | Natural and Social History | Extreme Endeavors | Fiction
Other Trails and Long Walks
Natural and Social History
An Unfinished Odyssey on the Appalachian Trail, a Memoir by Abe Allen, 2003.
More of a coming of age story than a Trail story, this rather disappointing book is more about the maturation of a high school boy than the story of his hike along the Appalachian Trail. The book is only 136 pages of widely spaced lines of fairly large font text and he doesn’t get to the trail until Chapter Eight on page 47. Anytime I pick up a book like that, my initial thought is that it’s written for grade schoolers. My next thought brings me back to school for those times when my own papers and essays weren’t quite long enough so I padded them by increasing the line spacing and type size. But, with his philosophical references to Thoreau’s “Walden,” Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and others, it’s clearly not meant for such a young audience. (September, 2005)
A Journey North by Adrienne Hall, 2000.
While this book, like many others, is the story of a hiker's journey from Georgia to Maine, what makes it unusual is that it is written with an environmentalist's eye. Hall, with a Masters in Environmental Studies, includes not only information about the environment, but about threats to the trail. She includes the historic perspective that brought the trail to its current state and current pressures as we enter the 21st century. This information is completely woven throughout the book and may, for those just looking for a personal account of the A.T., seem like it gets in the way of the story.
Those interested in thinking about the trail in a more global perspective and those planning to hike the trail may appreciate knowing a bit more about outside influences on the trail. This book gives all that and a personal accounting of the trail, too. (April, 2006)
Me and the Boy by Paul Hemphill, 1986.
An alcoholic father with a few months of recovery under his belt and his son, ten years estranged due to divorce, hit the trail to get to know one another. They don't come close to completing the promised thruhike but do manage to reestablish a relationship even if it took quite a few false starts along the way.
Unfortunately, this books seems to promise a full thruhike on the overleaf and disappoints those looking for the full journey. They barely complete a quarter of the trail (father a bit less, son a bit more). This book is less about thruhiking the Appalachian Trail, and more about the father's journey towards sobriety, accepting his relationship with his own father, also an alcoholic, and finding a relationship with his son.
As an author, Hemphill's journey also takes on a forced feel, well acknowledged in the book, as he's under contract to write about his experiences hiking with his son on the trail. Those same professional ties also lead to inclusion of what seems to be unnecessary name dropping of a variety of authors, publishers, etc. (January, 2006)
The Appalachian Trail Hiker by Victoria and Frank Logue. 4th ed, 2004.
Formerly called "The Appalachian Trail Backpacker," The Appalachian Trail Hiker is the jack-of-all-trades of "How to" books, walking the line between being a guide for both thruhikers and section (or day) hikers. While that line is just too gray for the book to be a master of thruhiking, it does cover most of the physical considerations necessary for a thruhike. Most of that same information is also relevant for hikes of shorter durations or can be ignored if not relevant. This book is a great place for those new to backpacking who are planning a thruhike to start. Those with significant experience on the trail, whether on the Appalachian Trail or not, may find this book just goes too far back to the basics. Much of the information introduces newcomers to the basics but may not go into enough depth for them to be prepared to make decisions about gear purchases.
The book also shows the personal biases of the writers. Freestanding tents get more positive comments without as many arguments against while non-freestanding tents get more focus on drawbacks with fewer positive arguments. The same is true for external backpacks.
The book includes quite a bit of current information but inexplicably misses some information commonly used or sought by long-distance hikers. There is a picture of a Jetboil stove (new in 2003) with no accompanying descriptive text and surprisingly no mention of silicone impregnated nylon (silnylon) as used in three-season, single-wall tents specifically designed for thruhikers (as early as 1999). The book also barely skirts around the discussion of the psychological issues associated with thruhiking. In my experience, most people do not get off the trail due to gear failure, injury, or lack of money so the ability to find ways to deal with the psychological issues is also a requirement for a successful thruhike.
There are also a few errors in the book, some of which could potentially be dangerous. Some of these were errors of omission and some were just inaccuracies. I have forwarded these corrections and other comments, observations, and inconsistencies directly to the Logue's. These edits may be read here. (January, 2006)
A Woman's Journey by Cindy Ross, 1982.
As much a sketchbook as a personal account of Ross' two year journey along the Appalachian Trail, this book takes some getting used to. With text written in her own hand, Cindy's cursive is easy enough to read but not quite as easy as a book printed with standard font. Once you get used to it though, Cindy's style flows through and her stories are engaging. The experiences she had on the trail over 20 years ago still ring true today. Her sketches, add to her narrative on every page and bring a different character to the book than would normally be achieved by the typical mid-book series of photographs. (April, 2006)
Appalachian Trail in Bits and Pieces by Mary Sands, 1992.
I don't know what to think of this book... It's about a "mature" woman who discovers backpacking and ends up using her section hikes as tools for bringing groups of Girl Scouts backpacking. There's a bit of self-discovery, a bit of coming of age stories with the girl scouts who accompany her on her hikes, a bit of trail journal that seems repetitious from one foray to the next, and not a whole lot else to tie it all together. There was also a bit too much of the learn from experience in it for my taste. It seemed like one good book such as the Complete Walker would have taught her so much and made their hikes so much safer. (September, 2005)
The Appalachian Trail: Wilderness on the Doorstep. by Ann and Myron Sutton, 1967.
This book, copyrighted 1967, is not another thruhiker journal. Rather, it is a book that covers many sections of the trail from Georgia to Maine, incorporating history, geology, descriptions of flora and fauna, perspectives of the trail both from thruhikers as well as day hikers, weekend hikers, and those who do longer sections.
It also covers information about what hikers need in terms of equipment and preparation.
In many ways, it is interesting to read if only to understand what has remained the same and what has changed in the last 40 years. (April, 2004)
Walkin' on the Happy Side of Misery by J.R. "Model-T" Tate, 2001.
A joy to read! This book was written by J.R. Tate - or was it Model-T - Tate's alter ego? J.R. Being the retired Marine and Model-T being the alter ego that wants to let down his hair. Together, they walk the trail and related their experiences along the way. The most humorous book I've read by a thruhiker, it kept me laughing or at least chuckling as I read. This was the story of their thruhike and the book did not attempt to be more than just the stories of the man walking the trail. With little more than a passing remark here and there for perspective's sake, there is no attempt to turn this into a history book, an ecology book, or a political discourse. While he did not ignore the sad and painful moments along the way, they are written in the same voice that draws you in to the rest of the book. The joy of meeting trail family after even a brief absence comes through as does the loneliness that comes from saying goodbye to loved ones while getting back on the trail, knowing that everyone you know is now well ahead of you on the trail. (August, 2005)
Other Trails and Long Walks
Where the Waters Divide, A walk Along America's Continental Divide by Karen Berger and Daniel R. Smith, 1993.
Most hikers who walk the Triple Crown of America's National Scenic Trails start with the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. Karen Berger, having married Daniel Smith who had already hiked the two "easier" trails, started out on the Continental Divide Trail. "Where the Waters Divide" is the story of their hike from Mexico to Canada.
Interspersed within their story, is historical information about the areas they travel through as well as pertinent information about some of the pressures on the environment along the way. There were times when they were able to put aside their own beliefs and be open to understanding the validity of others' points of view, even if not adopting them as their own.
Whether it was my own state of mind or the writing of the book, I found the book was uneven in how well it captured my attention. There were times when I could put it down and leave it for days and then other times when I enjoyed reading significant portions of the book without a break. (August, 2007)
Walking the Trail, One man's journey along the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Jerry Ellis, 1991.
The slightest bit of research or a single visit to an outfitter and Jerry Ellis' walk could have been quite a bit more comfortable. Walking in 1989, rain pants and more appropriate footwear were readily available. But, without the drudgery of hiking in wet jeans, there would be very little of the physical walk represented in the book.
Seeking a connection with the Cherokee who were made to march along the Trail of Tears, Jerry decided to walk the route from its end back to its beginning.
This book is all about connections. Connections wtih the people, places, and stories he finds along his walk. While he frequently connects with people who do have Cherokee heritage, he only occasionally manages to find meaningful connections with these people. Mostly, his connections are with needy or lonely people who take the opportunity to talk to someone who is willing to listen in exchange for a place to sleep for the night. He rarely connects with people who feel a need to share in Jerry's experiences.
Jerry only briefly makes connections with his own feelings. Though he goes through his intended sweat lodge experience upon completion of the walk, it's unclear whether the walk held any meaning for him afterwards.
Of course, during the walk, just as many long-distance hikers find, he comes to realize that most people really are good people and only want to help him along the way, not hurt him.
There is a smattering of his spiritual beliefs sprinkled through the book, but not enough to prove a distraction to those of us who prefer to avoid such books.
Unlike David Kunst in "The Man who Walked Around the World", Jerry does not expect the world, or in this case, the region along the Trail of Tears, to conform to his views, but unfortunately there is not a whole lot of substance to this book. Having just taken months to read Aldo Leopold's book, this book took me just a couple of days to plough through. (January, 2005)
The Man who Walked Around the World by David Kunst and Clinton Trowbridge, 1979.
While there is no question that David Kunst's walk was extraordinary, I also find his attitude towards the people in the countries through which he walked to be extraordinarily horrible. Throughout his walk, he shields himself as best he can from the local populations and instead embraces whatever form of "western" culture he can find wherever he goes.
He expects us to appreciate his "prowess" with women without giving any explanation for his estrangement with his wife.
His descriptions of the local environment focuses primarily on how many obstacles he has to overcome. Rarely does he present any positive aspects of the cultures he's passing through.
I have to wonder why he would even attempt such an endeavor, much less finish it, if what he really wanted was the comforts of western society. I'm sure he could have found a way to set some sort of record, since that seemed to be his goal, while staying within the comforts of familiar culture.
There are much better books about such incredible endeavors. Give this one a pass and if reading about walking around the world is a goal, give Steven Newman's "Worldwalk" book a read instead. (May, 2004)
The Longest Walk, An Odyssey of the Human Spirit by George Meegan, 1988.
How do you cram the experiences of a 19,000 mile continuous walk over seven years into one 400 page book? You don't. But George Meegan did his best in this book which recounts his journey on foot from Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay.
The resulting effort is a tasty morsel for any armchair traveler, whether or not they have personal experiences walking long miles. With a country by country and region by region sectioning of the book, you can follow along and feel the differences in the environment, people and cultures he travels amongst as he makes his way north. The seasons change again and again, the roads vary from good to bad to non-existent, and the people he encounters, seem to be more generous the less they have. You can feel his hunger during those times he goes without and his conflicted joy during visits with his family. Being with them is fantastic. Leaving them to continue the journey is agony.
This man is a true traveler. He recognizes in his book that "The tragedy of travel is what you don't get to see, whatever it is that lies just beyond the horizon - and that means most anything except for the thin line of one's trail." p95. (February, 2005)
Eight Feet in the Andes by Dervla Murphy, 1983.
Dervla Murphy, her nine year old daughter, Rachel, and riding mule, Juana, largely followed the path of the conquistadores south through the Andes. This journal of their 1,300 mile trek one autumn covers in detail their daily trials along the way.
Having just finished "The Longest Walk" prior to reading this book, I find them at opposite ends of the details scale. While Meegan crammed 19,000 miles into 400 pages of well-spaced type, Murphy was able to include countless recountings of buns, biscuits, sardines, and potatoes into 270 pages of closely spaced type. That said, she leaves little to be imagined about how they accomplish their trek. Her description of the physical geography, people she meets along the way, the effects of the drought, the ravages of the earthquake, and occasional forays into the sketchy political situation bring you into the moment.
Murphy mixes in frequent doses of conquistadore history as they periodically follow the Camino Real, the same road Pizarro had taken 450 years earlier, to their final destination, Cuzco.
Juana, the mule, is an integral part of the story. While Rachel ends up walking 900 of the 1300 miles, Juana is there to carry her when necessary and carry the majority of their gear. Her presence, and the need for appropriate feed, frequently dictates how, when, and where they travel. Her four feet also lend themselves to half of the title of the book. (February, 2005)
Rabbit Proof Fence (movie review based on book) by Doris Pilkington and Nugi Garimara.
From the 1930s to the 1970s, a government edict pulled aboriginal children from their homes to be educated and assimilated into white society. These people became known collectively as "The Stolen Generations." Rabbit-Proof Fence is the story of three children pulled from their family, and how they escaped their settlement to walk over 1200 miles through the Australian desert to get home.
Rabbit-Proof Fence makes thruhiking the long trails of North America seem like a walk in the park. (March, 2005)
The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz.
"The Long Walk" by Slavomir Rawicz. It's the incredible story of a Polish cavalry officer, caught between two sides during World War II. Given the option of being caught by either the Germans or the Russian, he is caught by the Russians, put in the Gulag and eventually force marched to Siberia where he and a few others escape by walking south through Siberia, the Gobi, and the Himalayas to India.
I rarely reread books and this is one I think I've read three times now. I've bought the book about six times because I keep "lending" it out and it never comes back.
Walking with the Wild Wind, Reflections on a Montana Journey by Walkin' Jim Stoltz, 2003.
I've met Walkin' Jim and I like him. I like his music. I like his photography. And, I like his book. But, I don't love it. Part journal, part environmental rant, part internal reflection, and part non-fiction story, I don't feel it is all that successful for any one of those purposes.
The journal seemed a bit repetitive. It reflects the truth of hiking where you see a lot of similarity in the day to day walking and even though it's all fresh to the hiker who finds the 20th elk encounter as fascinating as the first, it just doesn't make the best reading. The italicized reflections on previous journeys are often much more interesting than the primary text. A book based primarily on those varied experiences might be more interesting.
His mother's illness, a thread running through the book is certainly something many of us can relate to but I wasn't sure if it belonged in a book about a journey through the Montana Wilderness.
His inclusion of environmental topics was no suprise to anyone familiar with his music or slide shows. While he may walk for himself, he experiences have always ensured he can bring an understanding of wilderness and the threats to wild lands to his audiences across the US.
I had no problems reading a bit here and then putting the book down. I did however, have to remind myself to pick the book up again. Not the best sign for a book. (2006)
America one step at a time by Daniel Rogers, 2003.
So I had the honor of reading this book while taking some time off my 2007 AT hike at the home of Dan and Nina Rogers. Dan shares his journey from Ohio to California, on foot, with us through this book. It's an easy and quick read. He takes the time to get to know the people along the way, not pass judgment on them, and also share the history of the areas he travels through. It's neither an exhaustive history book (no surprise), nor a complete journal (no surprise there, either), but his desire to explore America comes through and the stories he shares brings us right into the moment.
I also liked it because he visited many of the places I've visited in my travels and reading about them from his perspective brought me right back to my own moments. (April, 2007)
The Shadow of Kilimanjaro, On Foot Across East Africa by Rick Ridgeway, 1998.
Not just the story of Ridgeway's walk across east Africa, This book encompasses the history of the area as well as the controversies, still ongoing, for the best way to manage not only the wildlife and conservation issues within the national parks, but the issues surrounding the indigenous tribes and their use, both historical and current in the areas within and outside the parks.
Rick along with a contingent of wardens, rangers, and his friend, Iain Allen who organized the safari, summited Kilimanjari and then walked from there to the coast, largely following waterways which eventually drain into the Indian Ocean. They are on foot where those on safari usually view large game animals from the safety of vehicles. They are on foot when an elephant charges, when they come upon buffalo, crossing crocodile infested rivers, and in camp when a hippo wanders through. They see the famous Tsavo lions, known both as man-eaters, and for the male's lack of manes.
While both Bongo and Danny Woodley, wardens, were along for the walk, there was one present on the walk there only in spirit. Bill Woodley, Bongo and Danny's father, had dies in 1995 but was present in spirit for the walk. The book repeatedly returned to Bill due to his historic role in shaping the national parks and enforcing anti-poaching laws in the past.
While summiting Kilimanjaro and walking through desert in 100+ degree heat is not easy, their way was smoothed quite a bit by Iain's planning. They only carried what they needed for the day, each night walking into a camp set up by Iain's employees. Chairs, dining tents, fully prepared meals, and even showers were the order of the day.
From the long-distance hiker's perspective, this was slackpacking at its best. (August, 2007)
The Last of his Kind by David Roberts, 2009.
Brad Washburn, the consummate mountaineer, is brought to life in this in-depth biography by David Roberts. From his childhood forays to the Whites and then Switzerland, to his college days in Alaska, and beyond, we find out what shaped the man who felt his greatest achievement was with the Boston Museum of Science. A wonderful photographer and cartographer, his explorations and photos of Alaska, the Himalayas, the Grand Canyon, and other places still hold a place in the modern mountaineers maps and planning pictures. (October, 2009)
High Crimes, the Fate of Everest in an age of Greed by Michael Kodas, 2008.
High Crimes starts out with an edge of bitterness to it. When reading however, it becomes understandable why the book takes that tone.
After the 1996 Everest tragedies, the world got a glimpse of the egos that come to odds with each other and normal western mores while climbing the world's highest peak. In this book, Kodas allows everyone to appreciate the full extent of the situation, the lying, the stealing, and the inhumanity that inhabits the high peak with the climbers. It also brings to light why responsibility on the high peak is completely up to the self. Even when there appear to be clear culprits in events that have lead to the deaths of many climbers on the mountain, there can be no justice.
Anyone aspiring to get involved with climbing any of the worlds highest peaks should read this story. It can help understand the full extent of how life-threatening such climbs can be, even outside the normal risks associated with the Death Zone and personal preparedness. (August, 2008)
Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, 2004.
It's hard to feel sorry for someone who refuses to learn from his own mistakes. It was infuriating to keep reading about Ralston's brushes with death knowing that as each one unfolded, he insisted he learned not to do that again but it was obvious he wasn't willing or able to transfer his risk taking from one specific venue or activity to another.
That said, the book was interesting. It interspersed periods of time while stuck with episodes form earlier life experiences. Unfortunately, while each part seemed sort of interesting, the book rarely held my attention for long. I enjoy books that I pick up, don't notice the passing of time, and put down a few hours later surprised that I've read the whole thing already. This book was not at all like that. I had no problems putting it down and frequently forgot to pick it up again until I "found" the book again.
To be sure, there was a bit of uneasiness on my part that may have made the book difficult to read but since I've read other books with similarly unpleasant episodes without it affecting my reading of the rest of the book, it's hard to blame just that.
But, for anyone with a morbid curiosity about how a man could come to cut his own arm off, this book was straightforward, told it as it was, and wasn't particularly gory. (October, 2006)
Climbing High, A Women's Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy by Lene Gammelgaard, 1999.
While written by Lene Gammelgaard, I was glad to find that it is not "women's" book. It is one person's account of her own experiences not only on the mountain during the tragedy, but of her life situations leading up to her presence on the mountain at that time. The recounting of the tragedy is a very small part of this book, taking less than 20 pages starting on page 175 of this 203 page book.
Lene's portrayal of herself as a strong woman oftens has overtures of having to prove herself to others as much as herself.
This book was written in 1996, before Krakaur's book, but was only translated into English in 1999. For the most part, Lene has only good things to say about Anatoli Boukreev, the Russian who took a lot of flak from Krakaur.
Once again, I am struck by how the effects of hypoxia can affect individual perspective at high elevation. (September, 2006)
Not Without Peril, 150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire by Nicholas Howe.
Some of these stories made me wonder how such fools could get themselves into such situations. Some stories made me wonder if I could get into such situations. Many situations had taken place so long ago that changes in equipment long since updated, may prevent similar problems from happening again.
The Death Zone by Matt Dickinson, 1997.
Thoroughly enjoyable, this book just tells it like it was from the perspective of a Matt Dickinson, a filmmaker there to film a British group. They were climbing the North Face of Everest during the 1996 tragedy.
There are no personal heroics in this book. No speculation about why things happened the way they did. This book does cover the personal feeling Dickinson is having at various points along the expedition, especially with regards to the Indian expedition in which three people died and the Japanese expedition which, at first blush, seems like they should have been in a position to help - but didn't. You begin to understand just what these groups are up against as Dickinson begins to understand what it means to be in the Death Zone along his push for the summit days later.
His coverage of the tragedy on the south side of the mountain is limited to what was heard over the radio and what he found after returning to Kathmandu. This book is not about that tragedy so is not a repeat of Krakauer's and Boukreev's books.
The book is about what happened with the British expedition, how once again, the mountain seems to pick and choose who will or won't climb. Dickinson who's previous high elevation was in the 5,000+ meter range summits while Brian Blessed, the man he was to be filiming and who had been to 8,300 meters in the past, didn't make it past camp five. There's even humor on the summit when all the still cameras, save the disposable "fun" camera purchased on a whim at the last minute, fail. It's seems an ironic metaphor for the climbers themselves. (February, 2005)
Doctor on Everest by Kenneth Kamler.
It's partially about the '96 tragedy. It's one of the better books I've read on Everest. Well written, finds humor where few would see it, and some better details about the actual hiking and climbing than most other books. While it is about the doctor's experiences, it seems less about "me" and more about the experience than many other books. (April, 2004)
True Summit, What really happened on the legendary ascent of Annapurna by David Roberts, 2000.
Having read both "Annapurna" by Maurice Herzog and "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer, I had always been struck by the difference in the attitudes between the people in the groups heading for their respective summits. I had always attributed those differences to the nationalistic pride associated with France funding the group headed for Annapurna versus the individual financial contributions by the members of the ill-fated Everest attempt.
In "True Summit", Roberts uncovers the truth about the Annapurna expedition through the letters, journals, manuscripts, and interviews with both Herzog and family and friends of the other expedition members. Signed documents pledging allegiance to Herzog, the expedition leader, and agreements that no other members of that group could publish accounts for at least five years after the expedition assured that Herzog's account as seen through his rose colored glasses and self-agrandizing attitude would be the "official" accounting of the expedition without regard for the other members' perspectives.
Like with modern day expeditions, there were plenty of disagreements, hurt egos, unacknowledged contributions, and suspect decisions that would have detracted from the heroic stature given Herzog upon the expedition's return to France. The story of the suppression of these perspectives is as much a part of the story as the truth itself.
The effort that went into the research and organization of the material used to pull this book together was also quite a feat. Much of the material was available only in French, just recently published, and some only came to light as a result of Roberts efforts to find the truth.
This book is a "must read" for anyone who has ever read Herzog's "Annapurna." (December, 2005)
Touching my Father's Soul, A Sherpa's Journey to the Top of Everest by Jamling Tenzing Norgay.
I highly recommend it as not yet another version of the 1996 tragedy on Everest, but as a completely different perspective on climbing Everest.
Jamling was with the IMAX expedition so had little to do with the tragedy and rescue efforts, but his book describes how he came to be there and intermixes his experiences with the story of his father's climb with Hillary. He also covers the Tibetan Buddhism that he and other Sherpas adhere to in a way that makes it interesting and yet not overly "spiritual".
For the most part, it is an easy read without seeming simplistic.
Do be perfectly honest, I think I liked it more than both Krakauer's and Boukreev's book. (2004)
Left for Dead by Beck Weathers, 2000.
This book is just one of the plethora of books published in the aftermath of the 1996 Everest tragedy. It spends only a few short chapters on the actual mountain during the ill-fated expedition, instead leaving it up to Krakaur to write the "definitive" book on the expedition.
This book primarily concentrates on Weathers' personal history both before and after the accident. The book came out in 2000 so there was time to reflect after the tragedy. There is a lot of information on his relationships, his depression, and the changes brought about by the tragedy.
Don't bother reading it if you're looking for information on the tragedy but do read it if you are interested in the person from his own, and the people around him's, perspective. (2004)
Touch the Top of the World, a blind man's journey to climb farther than the eye can see by Erik Weihenmayer.
An easy read, I plowed through the book in one disjointed day. The story of a boy's journey into blindness and then self-discovery by not acceeding to society's perception of whatever is appropriate for blind people as he grows into a man. He discovers an affinity for climbing and takes it to the limit by climbing three of the seven summits. Along the way, he admits to being a male chauvinist pig but eventually finds a woman who can deal with his attitude towards life. She supports him in his endevours and even marries him on Kilimanjaro. This book covers four major climbs including Denali, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, and in Yosemite, the Nose (El capitain).
Erik has since gone on to climb Everest though this book does not cover that accomplishment.
This book is not written in an "inspirational" format though it conveys an inspirational story. Rather, it is the story of how one man chooses to live his life. The fact that he is blind makes it more interesting, but if he were one to use blindness as an excuse for taking the easy, then he would never have become a climber and this book wouldn't exist.
While I've always enjoyed outdoor adventure books, I have to admit to laughing loudest at the point where Weihenmayer takes the lead on a night hike when his partner has forgotten their headlamp. "Don't Quit", the poem his father recited to him, also takes on special meaning when applied to long-distance hiking...
"When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
Natural and Social History
See Rock City, a Story through Appalachia by Donald Davis, c. 1996.
A boy grows up in Sulpher [sic] Springs and writes about various parts of his life and how they influence him as he grows older. This book presents an interesting slice of life for those unfamiliar with the rural NC from the 40s to 60s. Engagingly told in the first person, it's a quick and easy read. (October, 2009)
Thirteen Miles from Suncrest by Donald Davis.
Turning 10 on January 1, 1910, a boy receives a journal. We then read about the next three years of the boys life in the woods of the NC mountains. Davis, brings us all back to life one century earlier, where modern technology takes extra long to arrive. We read about farm life, 'politicks,' medical care at the time, transportation, education and more. We share in the family joys and tragedies. It takes some getting used to to read a journal as written by a ten year old, but once engaged, it's easy to keep on reading. (October, 2009)
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann, 2005.
New technology has been changing the way scientists think about the numbers of people and complexity of civilizations in the Americas before Columbus' visit.
Areas previously thought to be untouched have turned out to have had significant human impact which in many cases is still evident - once you know what to look for. Also, the population, previously thought to be small, may have been greater than Europe's at the time, into the tens of millions. And some of the cities in the Americas would have been larger than any city in Europe at the time.
Charles Mann brings many of these newer findings to light in a comprehensive book that shows how the earlier civilizations many have arrived in the Americas, moved around, and established themselves throughout the western continents. He also shows how the initial observations of multitudes of people, and later observations of very few people can be rectified. Also, the landscape in both North and South America had been dramatically changed by humans long before the Europeans, who thought of the land as untouched, arrived. Why this wasn't apparent to the Europeans is also brought to light.
The fact that these theories and facts are still ignored in current history textbooks is troubling given that much of this information has been around for decades. (October, 2009)
Charlie's World: The Improbable Adventures of a Hong Kong Cockatoo and his American Family by Audrey Ronning Topping, 2000.
An American living in British Hong Kong rescues a cockatoo from a life of misery after it had been kidnapped from Australia and sold to a drug dealer in Hong Kong. This bird, eventually learned to speak in five languages, not to mention a variety of other animal languages. Moving with the family from Asia to Europe to eventually New York, the experiences it goes through over twenty five years with the family run the gamut from the usual hilarity to the heart-wrenching.
The book is well written and entertaining. (September, 2009)
Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. Pepperberg, 2008.
Pepperberg seeks to test the intelligence of a Gray parrot and determine if parrots are just amazing mimics or if they can actually learn. Alex not only proves he's a intelligent bird, redefining what it means to be a bird brain in the process, but goes well beyond Pepperberg's initial hopes and expectations for the bird. This book takes you through the thirty years that Alex and Pepperberg spent together, documenting not only the parrot's accomplishments, but the uphill battle Pepperberg waged to get acceptance from the scientific community.
The recognition that eventually came to Alex and Pepperberg was most shown by the widespread tributes to Alex that appeared in media around the world after the parrot's death in 2008.
If you're interested in birds and animal intelligence, this book is interesting and entertaining. As close as Pepperberg and Alex became, it's still describing an experiment so it's narrative doesn't flow quite as well and Topping's book. (September, 2009)
Snow Falling in Spring, Coming of Age in China during the Cultural Revolution by Moying Li, 2008.
Born in 1954, Li lives through the Great Leap Forward and comes of age during the Cultural Revolution. She comes from an educated family and her family ensures that she is also educated. As such, her family could easily be a target. Having read other books about the Cultural Revolution, I realize her family, in many ways, is lucky and gets off easy. That doesn't mean without difficulty. Her father is imprisoned, her mother moved, her grandmother denounced, their house ransacked and all books destroyed. Throughout this time, Li mostly manages to continue her education both in school and in the privacy of her own secret book club.
This story takes Li from her childhood to the time after the revolution when she is one of the first Chinese to leave China for an education in the US. It includes information on her grandparents to put her own life in historical context.
It's small book (just 165 pages), but well written and easy to read. (September, 2009)
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, 2001.
Two young men, sent to a remote mountain village for "reeducation" during the Cultural Revolution, read forbidden books with a nearby villager's daughter. This wonderful story of their emergence from childhood to adulthood and the escapades they pursue to limit their exposure to the rough workloads in the fields is an easy and quick read. (April, 2008)
Marching Powder by Thomas McFadden and Rusty Young, 2004.
This is the incredible and true story of one British international drug smuggler´s time in the most amazing prison. San Pedro, La Paz, Bolivia´s minimum security prison, requires prisoners to pay an entrance fee, pay for their own lodging and food in "neighborhoods" that they choose based on ability to pay, and houses not only the prisoners, but often their wives and children. Most of the prisoners are there for drug offenses and the prison ends up producing some of the best cocaine in the country. All the officials there are corrupt; money makes the rest of the world go around and it makes the whole prison system work, too.
Unofficially, foreigners are not allowed but tours may be had for a fee. Even the Lonely Planet Guide books document visiting hours. If visiting hours aren´t convenient, then other times can be arranged - for a fee. It´s even possible to spend the night at rates not much more than the hostels in town.
It´s easy to forget while reading this thoroughly engaging book that it is written by a drug smuggler doing his time in jail. It´s also easy to forget that Rusty Young, a free man, chose to spend three months not only visiting Thomas, but at times living in the prison in order to ensure this book got written. (March 2009)
My Stroke of Insight, a Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., 2008.
A brain scientist writes about her own experience of having a stroke and her recovery from that stroke. This should be required reading for anyone who knows a stroke victim or has experienced their own stroke. She tells her story as only a brain scientist could.
She tells of her life before the stroke, how she decided to become a brain scientist, the day of the stroke, and then her full recovery that took years. This book gives hope to stroke victims, and is a great book for anyone who may ever come into contact with a stroke victim. (August, 2008)
The Zookeeper's Wife, a War Story by Diane Ackerman, 2007.
Diane Ackerman wrote this book based on journals, articles, interviews, and other sources. It's the true story of how the zookeepers from the Warsaw zoo helped hundreds of Jews and others at risk during World War II. The level of detail can seem to lead the book astray at times but it always comes back to the story at hand. It also explores the relationship between people and animals, not only at the zoo, but through the Nazi schemes to eradicate certain species while simultaneously trying to use reverse genetic engineering or animal eugenics to bring back certain animals that had already gone extinct.
For those seeking pure human stories about the Holocaust in Warsaw, there are better books. For those open to another way of looking at the war, this one is well written and brings an engrossing and true story to light. (June, 2008)
First they Killed my Father: A daughter of Cambodia remembers by Loung Ung, 2000.
I once heard an interview with Ung on a Boston NPR station. It must have been a repeat of her 2000 NPR interview which they were probably playing with the release of her new book in 2005. The interview piqued my interest but I hadn't gotten around to reading the book. When traveling in Cambodia and looking for a book in Kampot, I saw this one in the book store and picked it up. It was timely as I was just learning about the role of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodian history.
In this book, Ung tells the story of her life during the Khmer Rouge regime and in its aftermath, from 1975 to 1980. As a solidly middle class family in Phnom Penh, her family was forced to flee the capitol city with the rest of the population in April of 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge marched into the city. They took their vehicle as far as the gas lasted but then spent six more days on foot. Thus began four years of scrambling to find shelter in villages that did not want the newcomers, separations that tore the family apart for months and years at a time, and the death of four of her family members. She was forced to pretend to be an orphan until it was no longer pretend and she was forced to be trained as a soldier. She was reunited with her family at the end of the war but as a refugee, was once again separated from her family when she and one of her brothers were sponsored to go live in America. Her resilience through this time is remarkable for a 5-10 year old.
It was amazing to read this book while traveling through Cambodia, seeing the areas Ung traveled through, seeing what's changed and what hasn't in the last thirty years. The book made me wonder what her life has been like since immigrating and Ung does have another book, "Lucky Child, a daughter of Cambodia reunites with the sister she left behind" which addresses this. I'll have to read that one at some point.
All in all, it was a fantastic read, even if you're not in Cambodia. (February, 2008)
Himalaya by Michael Palin, 2004.
This book, written in journal format, may just inspire me to write better journal entries. It´s Michael Palin´s (of Monty Python fame) journal as he toured with the BBC during the filming of his series on the Himalaya. I can only wish I had seen the series as well as read the book. His engaging style draws you in without overdoing the humor, something one of my felow travelers assumed when realizing who had written the book. Sure enough, Palin can find the humor in interesting situations, but he only plays it up if it really is worth playing up. Otherwise, you are left with a feeling for who the people are who inhabit some of the highest reaches of the planet as well as what these places are like and how they compare with western European or maybe just British topography.
I just wish I had the resources and ´authoritative´ backing of an organization like the BBC to go to many of the places he visited. The introductions he´s had along the way are well outside the realm of possiblity for most travelers. (March, 2009)
Escape by Carolyn Jessop and Laura Palmer, 2007.
The FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter Days Saints) is a polygamist and extremist group spun off from the Mormon Church. I had heard about them when they had made the news; most recently when a large number of children and women had been removed from one community after a report of abuse had been made to the police.
But it was only when I read "Escape" that I realized that such a way of life could still possibly exist in the US.
After 17 years in a marriage she did not want, Carolyn escaped from her community with her eight children. This is the story of her life in a polygamist marriage and what it took to escape that marriage with her children. (August, 2008)
Child of the Jungle, the true story of a girl caught between two worlds by Sabine Keugler, 2005.
A girl who spends most of her formative years with her family living in relative isolation in Indonesia struggles to cope with modern day life back in the western world. She knows how to use the real bows and arrows of the stone age tribe they lived with better than how to cross a busy road. She is also more familiar with jungle mores than those of her own western peers.
This story of her life in the jungle living with the Fayu tribe and her continuing struggle to cope with western civilization is a fascinating read. (August, 2008)
Three Cups of Tea, One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, 2006.
A wrong turn while descending the mountain range from a failed attempt to climb K2 changed Mortenson's life. Weakened, disoriented, and separated from his guide, he stumbled into a village, so small it wasn't even marked on his map. The villagers treated him as a dignitary and helped reunite him with his guide the next day. After recovering from his expedition, he returned to that village to thank them for the helpful treatment he had received. He stayed long enough to have become "family," get to know the villagers, and see what hardship they lived with. By the time he left, on an impulse, he promised to build them a school.
To the amazement of the villagers, he returned the next year and started the process to build that school. In doing so, he found a purpose in life and started a remarkable decade in which he built over 50 schools with a focus on educating girls at least through fifth grade. These schools were not only in northern Pakistan, but in other regions of Pakistan and eventually in Afghanistan. He built secular schools for sunni, shia, and a number of other less well known belief systems.
Far seeing high-level clerics who could see the value in giving girls basic education overturned at least two fatwas against Mortenson called by local mullahs. With few financial resources of his own, it was far-seeing benefactors who made the schools possible from a financial point of view. It was Mortenson's ability to connect with the locals, and adapt to whatever conditions he found himself in which enabled all of these schools to be built.
While he started by building a school, the scope of Mortenson's projects, through the Central Asia Institute which he founded, grew to include, clean water, health programs and clinics, cataract surgery, and more.
While I'm not usually one to climb up on a soapbox, this book tells an important story, not just of the American who found a calling, but of the villages and people whose situation was so changed by the prospect of a basic education. In case it's not obvious, I highly recommend "Three Cups of Tea."
[I have recently become aware of the controversy surrounding both the credibility of some of the claims Mortenson made in his book as well as for the way finances are handled both on a personal and organizational level with the CAI. If you are interested, you may also want to read about this on the CBS site. -MF, 4/29/11]
Stones into Schools, Promoting Peace Through Education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson, 2009.
Mortenson, author of "Three Cups of Tea" and founder of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), continues to build schools for those remote locations least likely to receive aid from other sources. This book continues where Three Cups left off and focuses on how the CAI now finds appropriate villages and builds schools in remote reaches of Afghanistan.
While Mortenson is the 'author' of this book, it is likely that Mike Bryan and Kevin Fedarko, mentioned only in the acknowledgments, wrote the lion's share of this book. Mortenson continues to spend time in Pakistan and Afghanistan but it's now obvious that he spends a great deal less time there now than he did before, instead choosing to stay in the US and using the recognition he achieved with the publication of "Three Cups of Tea" to speak on behalf of the CAI and generate funds for the ongoing projects in Asia.
While the problems and difficulties he now faces aren't quite as suspenseful as those documented in "Three Cups", "Stones into Schools" still tells an important, intriguing, and book worthy tale well worth a read. (December, 2009)
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2007.
This is an extraordinary and true story of Ayaan, a Somali woman who grew up in Muslim East African nations. Even as she was growing up, she was, unlike most of the women she was surrounded with, always questioning the Quran and looking for ways to rectify the inconsistencies she found within it in her own mind. She was continually trying to learn more and assert herself in a society where women were generally invisible and taught to be subservient and obediant.
After being married off without her own permission, Ayaan eventually sought asylum in Holland where she stopped on her way to Canada where she was to join her husband. She had to buck intense pressure from the Islamic community and her own family who were seen as dishonored due to her infidelity.
Unlike most immigrants from Somalia to Holland, she sought and received an education, got involved with politics, and was eventually elected to parliament. Her attempts to affect policy by bringing to light the abuse women live with in immigrant communities brought death threats. When those threats became too much for Dutch authorities to deal with, she eventually moved to the US.
Like many westerners, I had been under the impression that Islam valued peace and it was only the extremists that gave the rest of the followers a bad name. Reading this book, however, allowed me to realize that any strict following of the Quran is extremist and harmful to women. Unlike many other religions, many in the Islamic community do not allow for "modern day" interpretations of the Quran and stick to literal readings. It's only modern interpretations that allow for more moderate action while following Islam. Until more of the people accept a modern interpretation, Islam will continue to be a violent religion to women. (August, 2008)
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, 2007.
Weisman's book is a very powerful book. It brings together, bit by bit, what would happen to Earth should all humans cease to exist one day. How would the earth recover, or would it recover from the impact humanity has had on this planet.
While I've seen how the many areas can recover during my travels, noting the jungles takover of Mayan temples in the Yucatan, similar situations at ruined temples in southeast Asia with large trees growing in, around, and through well built stone temples, and of course, much closer to home, the ubiquitous miles and miles of stone fences through the thick forests of New England. Having seen such situations, I've contemplated the subject matter of this book, but to see it from a worldwide perspective, brought together in one place, with more than a bit of science and research to back it up, this book made quite the impression.
It also made me rethink much of what I've known to be better, ecologically, for the environment. Biodegradable plastics aren't biodegradable, they just break down to pieces too small to be readily seen. But, they are ingested by smaller organisms with just the devastating effect as larger pieces have on larger organisms. Instead of fish eating balloons, it's plankton, ingesting such tiny pieces of plastic that they can't be seen but they do kill those plankton just as readily as the balloon kills the fish.
There is no 'off' button on a nuclear reactor. Even automatic failsafes require human intervention at some point. A safe shutdown only delays the leakage of "hot" materials into the environment. It won't prevent it.
Weisman draws no conclusions from his research. Instead, he lets us draw our own conclusions.
While some of it is surprisingly heartening, there's plenty of room for concern. (September, 2008)
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.
First published over 55 years ago, with few exceptions this book could have been written today.
Leopold's keen observations about his natural surroundings in Wisconsin somehow made me feel as if I understood nature a bit more. One passage about migrating geese perfectly mirrored an experience I had just had a day earlier. Leopold's observations about how natural resources are used are still current. Fragmentation, ecological balance, wildlife preservation, biodiversity, and the unfortunate need for governments to assign economic value to natural lands are still issues in the forefront of conservation.
While the US has set aside more land for conservation since the book was written, the same issues surrounding wilderness preservation both in the US and abroad are still with us.
I recommend this book for anyone who has any interests in the outdoors, whether as a hiker, hunter, farmer, or otherwise. Others, with no interest in the outdoors, would do well to read this book as well. Everyone should have some understanding of the natural world in which we live and how human civilization affects the environment. (January, 2005)
Bayou Farewell, The rich life and tragic death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast by Mike Tidwell, 2003.
Tidwell spent a year traveling in and around Louisiana's southern coast, working with fisherman, learning about the coastal ecosystem, and experiencing the cultures of groups of people for whom there is little parallel in the rest of the US. What he finds is disturbing and should be considered a wake-up call to the rest of the nation.
With a "tamed" Mississippi River, sediments which would normally support the land formations along the coast can't get through and an amazing amount of land is being lost to the ocean each year. With that loss of land is the loss of cultures tied to those marshes and waterways that are now becoming part of the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Published two years before Hurricane Katrina ravaged southern Louisiana, Tidwell's book, foresaw the devastating affects of a massive hurricane on the Louisiana coast.
With small scale restorations proven success record, large scale siphoning of Mississippi River sediments back into the coastal marshes, must be funded, not just by Louisiana, but by the federal government. This is not just a Louisiana problem, this is a U.S. and beyond problem.
This book should be read, absorbed, and shared. Coastal Louisiana does not have the advocacy base of places like the Everglades, but is just as important not only to the environment, but to amazingly large portions of the U.S. economy. (March, 2007)
Mustang, The Forbidden Kingdom by Michel Peissel, 1967.
With China occupying Tibet, venturing into Mustang in 1964, an area mostly surrounded by Tibet in northern Nepal, was a risky prospect even for Nepali. Closed to foreigners for all of modern time, Peissel seeks and eventually receives permission to travel to, and live in Mustang in order to study the area, the people, and the history.
What follows is his account of the months he spends living and traveling in the region. With his visit is the ever present conflict between "outsiders" having an effect on an otherwise stable population though he often does try to minimize his impact.
Mustang, a true kingdom, is basically an independant region which pays a token yearly homage to Nepal. Peissel lives amongst the people and is granted extraordinary access to move around and talk with all manner of people, including the king and his son, the crown prince.
His study and participation of the daily lives of the people and the parallels he draws between their lifestyles and western lifestyles is eye-opening. Unlike many isolated cultures, the people in Mustang seem to be well aware of the rest of the world even if their view may be a bit skewed. Travel both into China and Nepal gives them contact with other and a wider world view than might otherwise be expected. Their philosophy and attitudes towards living life are also a refreshing take on life when compared with the attitudes prevalent in western society.
Though many are reluctant to talk about what is apparently a sacred history with him, he does eventually find the books with the information about the history he has been looking for. While he purposefully abstains from acquiring and removing artifacts, he does acquire and keep books which describe the hard-to-find history of the region. Whether there are other copies of these handwritten books left behind is unclear and if he truly is removing the sole copies of these books, then I cannot help but believe that taking these books is just as bad, if not worse, than the taking of the art objects he left behind. This is one of those cases where the research and seeking of knowledge from the western world may be reducing the cultural heritage of another group of people.
Mustang has since been opened up to tourists though with the remote nature of the area and the high cost of permits, it is still much less frequently visited than the Annapurna region to the south. Those planning a visit to Mustang would probably enjoy reading this book if only to understand what has remained the same, and what has changed in the 40 years since the first extended western visit to the region. (March, 2006)
North of Monadnock by Newton F. Tolman, 1957.
This book takes a "native's" view of life in the small town and backwoods of the area north of Grand Monadnock both in the 1950s and in earlier times. Those of us who have hiked the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, have, perhaps, had a little taste of the area though it's also obvious that this area has changed quite a bit in the nearly 50 years since the book was printed.
That said, while some of the book may describe politically incorrect views, much of the views that are currently accepted are described as going out of style in the middle of the last century. Apparently, what goes around, comes around is not only true for fashion, but even popular ethics and morality seem to come in cycles.
The tone of this book is conversational and very humorous. The author has the knack of seeing the humour in everyday situations and knows exactly how his regional backwoods ways compare to those of people from other parts, whether country town or big city. This is especially apparent in his anecdotes about the newcomers who move into the area. (April, 2004)
Fire by Sebastian Junger, 2001.
Not one story, but rather a collection of stories, "Fire" brings together Junger's articles of strife ridden areas to one book. Those areas include everything from stories about how wildfires in the American west are fought, how stalemates are maintained on the island of Cypress, the atrocities of war in places like Kosovo and Afghanistan, why wars are fought in places like Sierra Leone, and even wars against changing times being fought by whale hunters in the Caribbean. (January, 2006)
Seabiscuit, An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand, 2001.
Seabiscuit, a horse with impeccable breeding and dubious form, was an unlikely champion who captured the hearts and minds of an uncertain nation emerging from depression and facing a war. Together with a rider who needed another chance, a trainer whose way of life had become obsolete with the popularity of the automobile, and an owner who loss of his son had left a hole in his heart, they built an unlikely grouping who were able to benefit from each other's strengths in ways they couldn't in much of the mainstream racing circles.
Together, they won races, set records, and proved to the world that Seabiscuit was the greatest horse in the world with his win over War Admiral. Pollard, the jockey, was seriously injured in a fall off another horse and was not expected to walk again, much less ride. Seabiscuit suffered a career busting ligament injury that would have permanently sidelined their respective peers. Together however, they managed to rehabilitate each other and make an unprecedented comeback after a year spent recuperating, strengthening, and retraining.
Hillenbrand does a wonderful job of capturing not only the horse's life, but the lives and lifestyles of those surrounding him.
In 2003 when I saw the movie based on this book, I was left with enough questions to make me want to read the book. I have finally managed to read the book and I'm much more impressed with the book than I was with the movie. For those who have seen the movie, this book goes into much greater depth, fills in the gaps, and straightens out the inconsistencies and questions the movie left behind. (September, 2007)
Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer, 1953.
Unlike the movie, Harrer's book is about his entire experience in Tibet, not just the part where he befriends the Dalai Lama. Imprisoned in British controlled India, Harrer escapes the prison in northern India and with Peter Aufschnaiter, another escapee, travels further north to Tibet in the hopes of gaining asylum in the neutral country. Through guile and deceit, he travels primarily east through western Tibet, over high passes in the Himalaya, and eventually makes his way into Lhasa. On multiple occasions, officials along the way had not only instructed him to leave the country, but had even sent servants, guides, and pack stock with him to ensure that he did leave. Even still, he manages to slip away and continue his journey east.
Once in Lhasa, he is quickly accepted into the culture and with one short hiccup where they try to expel him, ends up staying in Lhasa for years. He is soon employed by the government having proved his value as a jack of all trades. Eventually, he meets the Dalai Lama and they start a lifelong friendship. He stays in Lhasa until he, the Dalai Lama, and many other Tibetans flee Tibet before the Chinese occupying forces. (August, 2007)
Return to Tibet, Tibet after the Chinese occupation by Heinrich Harrer, 1985.
Heinrich Harrer, author of "Seven Years in Tibet," returned to Tibet in 1982, thirty years after the Chinese occupation forced him out. He, along with the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetans unwilling or unable to live in Chinese occupied Tibet who had the means to get out and across the border to India in the 50s, had long awaited a thawing in Chinese attitude and the early eighties was the first time the Tibetan Autonomous Region had been opened up again to outsiders. This book is both a "then and now" comparison as well as a comentary on the political situation as of 1982.
For Harrer, after having lived in Tibet for seven years, it must have been strange and quite restrictive to conform to the itinerary of a tour of only two or three weeks. He also found evidence that much of the relaxing that the Chinese authorities had touted were "eye-wash" designed to make tourists feel like temples were being restored, food was plentiful, etc. In reality, Must of the "restoration" work was staged only when tourists were present, markets with plenty of food looked good but upon closer observation, the locals weren't buying and the goods got packed up as soon as the tourists went away, etc.
While I hadn't read "Seven Years in Tibet" before reading this book, Harrer's "Return to Tibet" stands on its own with only a few references to the older book that left me curious. Of course, those who've read "Seven Years" (or seen the movie?) will probably gain more from this book than those who have not.
This book was first published in 1983 with the first American printing in 1985. (March, 2007)
Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid , 2000.
"Hot Sour Salty Sweet, a culinary journey through southeast Asia" is a coffee table sized book (ie. big and heavy) that's a cookbook/photo journal/journal. Having traveled in southeast Asia in the 70s and 80s, Alford and Duguid returned in 1997 when restrictions against travel had loosened enough that they could travel the length of the Mekong River from the Yunnan Province in China all the way through to the river delta in Vietnam.
Their research into the foods as used and cooked by the local tribes and the history of the tribal movement from region to region may answer questions about how "new world" foods came to be used in the region. They also "found" local experts in traditional food preparations along the way and had some fantastic experiences with home stays as well.
The book is organized, not by region, but by food type. With soups together, salads together, meats, etc. Each chapter has more journal type information as well as information about the distinctions by region for each type of food. For example, some regions/tribes use fish sauce, others salt. Each recipe shows an English name, the local name for the dish, and the region it came from.
Sometimes I wish I enjoyed cooking... but I'm glad I have a sister who does (it's her book). I get hungry just reading it and I can't wait to get to the region to eat the food... [Just months after I wrote this, I left for the region and spent six month exploring the area - and enjoying the food.]
This book is neither a pure cookbook nor a pure travelogue, etc. It's more of a jack of all trades and master of none. But, the pictures were beautiful and their travel experiences provided a basis for understanding the inclusion of various recipes, etc. (June, 2007)
A Pearl in the Storm by Tori Murden McClure, c. 2009.
McClure takes the stubbornness she survived with as a child and turned it into the strength and fortitude necessary to plan, execute, and complete acts of extreme adventure. She mixes stories from her childhood with situations she finds herself in during her ocean voyages. The ocean voyages, it takes two to succeed, are are examples of how she ignores situations that would cow ordinary people to persevere. Injuries that would immediately have others crying for rescues are those that barely make her pause. As long as the answers to "can I continue to row" and "will my boat stay afloat" continue to be "yes", she stubbornly refuses to activate her EPIRB, a distress beacon, even in the face of hurricane force winds, multiple capsizes, and broken bones.
This book is a quick and easy read. (November, 2009)
Survive! by Peter Deleo, 2005.
Peter Deleo and two friends flew into the Sierra Nevada in November of 1994. they crashed there with no flight plan filed. This book is the story of Peter´s 12 day walk through winter conditions in mountainous terrain with many broken bones and other injuries but nothing in the way of gear or food. He was trying to affect a rescue for himself and his friends. He made it but not his friends.
The book is a great read and a fascinating story of human endurance and survival. I kept telling myself I would put it down at the next chapter but kept reading right through. (December 2008)
A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, 2007.
The sometimes horrifying story of life as a boy in the war torn country of Sierra Leone is described in vivid detail in this first person account. Separated from his family at age twelve and forced to repeatedly flee ahead of advancing rebels, Beah survives on his own and with groups of other boys before being conscripted as a 13 year old into the military. He learns to fight the rebels responsible for killing families like his own and then torching villages so that nobody can live there.
The details are graphic and unsettling but nothing about this story appears to be sugar coated. At 15, Beah gets pulled out of the army by UNICEF to go through a long rehabilitation process. He is eventually united with an uncle he never knew but when war breaks out again, is forced to choose between rejoining the military or fleeing the country. He chooses to flee and ends up in America, adopted by a woman he had met when he had been a chosen as a child representative of Sierra Leone to the UN at a conference.
This story is something that most Americans can read about, understand, but never really know. Even our own military, well trained and with an adult's perspective on life and war, cannot know what is it to be a boy soldier. (September, 2007)
Adrift by Tristan Jones, 1980.
"Adrift" is the fantastic story of a man who truly knows how to pull himself up by the bootstraps. A sailor who has written other books about his many sailing voyages, this time writes about his mostly land-based saga between major sailing trips. Jones, perhaps never really adrift while on the ocean, finds himself adrift on land when politics and money prevent him from getting to his boat, the Sea Dart.
Jones' voyages between the politically unstable countries of South America, to the changing Briton as it becomes closer to Europe, and to America where he truly does find his own opportunities pay off. His command, not only of language, but literature, travel, politics, and humanity, make this book so rich a read that I was sorry to finish the book which I did in just two days.
Written in the 70's, it is interesting to see how things have changed, or stayed the same. It's also interesting to see how some of his personal predictions for the world have panned out.
For me, my ultimate compliment is for me to actively seek out and read other books from the same author. I can't wait to get my hands on "The Incredible Voyage." (January, 2006)
South: The Last Antarctic Expedition of Shakleton and the Endurance by Ernest Shakleton.
Five books in one. This book details the nearly five separate adventures that took place in Shakelton's unsuccessful trip across the Antarctica. It describes in somewhat more detail than most would want to read about the Endurance, the story of its getting stuck in the pack ice, the story of the survival of the men from the endurance, the 700 mile overseas trip in a small boat to get to South Georgia island, the overland trip on South Georgia island, the multiple attempts necessary to rescue the stranded men, and the fact that nobody dies on that portion of the expedition.
The other expedition of men who were to set up supply depots on the far side of the continent were not so lucky and lost a few men but miraculously, most survived. Their boat got swept out to sea before it was fully unloaded and the crew was forced to survive until rescue could be arranged. The story of the boat, and those left ashore were included along with the story of the men who did the depots, those left behind to wait for the rescue boat, and the story of the rescue itself.
Beyond the Deep, The Deadly Descent into the World's Most Treacherous Cave by William Stone and Barbara am Ende with Monte Paulsen, 2002.
This book, about one man's obsession with the Huautla Cave System, starts with the Prologue in 1979 when a sump prevents further discovery in the cave but piques the interest of Bill, the protagonist. Bill, now obsessed with the cave, is a competant caver with marginal social skills and limited to non-existant management skills. His technical skills however, enable him to develop the rebreather technology that will, hopefully, allow them to spend enough time underwater to crack the system. If they crack the system, it may become known as the world's deepest cave system.
This book is primarily about their five month 1994 expedition to Mexico. Written eight years after the expedition, there seems to be little or no sugar coating on the circumstances surrounding the tragedies, mishaps, and relationships involved in the expedition.
While Bill's apparent insensitivity and lack of organization made me wince a few times, the book itself is a good read and kept me interested to the end.
I'm not sure how the caving community has received this book. From an "outsider's" perspective, it was fascinating. From a caver's perspective? Does this give away too much information? Were they using techniques that would minimize their impact on the cave? Does it really matter in those areas that are periodically flooded and scoured anyway? Etc. (June, 2004)
Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica by Sara Wheeler, 1999
Sara Wheeler was a writer who spent seven months in Antarctica. This book documents her time there, living with and traveling amongst the different groups of scientists in residence there.
While she mentions the people she runs into, she rarely goes into any depth about those people or her interactions with them. Rather, she prefers to base the depth of her book in the past exploits of earlier explorers on the continent. She does discuss her own impressions and reactions to her times on Antarctica and goes into where she goes, which camps she visits, what's going on at each camp, and yet what's missing is her interactions with the others she comes into contact with. The culture of each camp does come through in her book as does the psychological affect of spending time in such an environment.
The occasional glint of humor and irony in the book had me laughing out loud at times. For example, when talking with the captain of an ice breaker who had just arrived in the southern polar region, he let on that he had come from the north pole. Yep, he is bipolar.
Endurance, an epic of polar adventure by F. A. Worsley, 1931
FA Worsley was captain of the Endurance, the boat crushed by pack ice during Shakelton's trip to the Antarctic. Worsley includes the story of that ill-fated expedition, the story of the rescue, and the story of further adventures with Shakelton including war-time and post-war return to the southern oceans where Shakelton eventually dies and is interred on South Gerogia Island. With Worsley's perspective on Shakelton, it gives another perspective on the voyages, including a bit more honest perspective on the participants' state of mind which may not have always been as upbeat as Shakelton's book seemed to have indicated.
This is a good book and anyone interested in early Antarctic exploration would enjoy reading it. (February, 2006)
Voyager by Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan.
A fascinating account of the trials and tribulations of the development process and actual flight of the Voyager, a plane which in December of 1986, flew non-stop around the world without refueling. It covered not only the intricacies of developing and flying the plane, but much of the interpersonal trials between Dick and Jeana.
It also opened up a whole new world of home built aircraft that usually flies below the radar of most of us who primarily fly in big commercial aircraft. This community is much the same as many other niche communities, tight knit and often somewhat mysterious to outsiders. (June, 2004)
[March 3, 2005: Nearly 20 years after the first non-stop, unsupported flight around the world, Steve Fossett has completed a solo, circumnavigation of the globe without stopping or refueling. Financially supported by Sir Richard Branson, with the plane designed by Burt Rutan, Dick Rutan's brother, Steve completed the 23,000 mile flight in 67 hours. Not without its own hiccups, perhaps this flight will also serve to produce a book worthy of a read.]
How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angier, 1956.
Finding this book in the Adirondack cabin in which I spent this summer of 2007 piqued my interest. I enjoy hiking and backpacking and in general enjoy being active in the outdoors, but I have long recognized that I have very little survival knowledge. Being from 1956, I was curious about what information in this book would still ring true, and what information would be obviously out of date.
As it turns out, quite a bit of the information would still be useful to anyone who truly faces a survival situation. Methods of capturing animals for food, finding shelter, creating fire, and even manufacturing clothing. However, certain assumptions on the authors part could leave some of us city dwellers at a loss. For example, he largely assumes that once a wild animal has been caught, that the survivor would then know how to kill and dress it. Even identifying the innards that the author identifies as nourishing could prove problematic.
The sections that are completely out of date are largely confined to identifying ideal clothing materials for survival situations, medicines for inclusion in emergency kits, and a very overly optimistic take on the signaling knowledge of those in planes likely to pass overhead.
While I did learn quite a bit even from a quick end-to-end reading of this book, the biggest thing I learned is to just plain try to avoid getting into a survival situation in the first place. Of course, if I ever did, I would certainly hope to retain some of what I've read. (August, 2007)
12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time by Mark Jacobson, 2003.
As much about the family as their travels, this book interweaves stories of the experiences the Jacobson family has with some history of the areas they visit as well as how their family relates to each other both on the road and at home. With a few "Talkback/Backtalk" pages written by the oldest child, 16 year old Rae, the book not only presents the experiences from the perspective of the Dad, but also from the perspective of the daughter, a reluctant participant. Not nearly as much a travel book as the title would imply, it's an easy read and still worth the time - especially if you happen to be contemplating an international trip with children. (September, 2007)
Centennial by James Michener, 1974.
Like other Michener books, this historical novel can´t proceed without the pre-history of the area surrounding the story. Written about a fictional community in Colorado, this novel includes information about the geologic formation of the area, the dinosaur inhabitants and occupation of the area as animal and human migrations brought life in and out of this area.
Written under the guise of a history professor doing research in the area, it seems unabashedly self-referential in that the research the fictional professor would need to do would be the exact same research Michener had to do to write this novel.
Though only a small portion of the book, the novel brings the reader right up to date with the politics of the area at the time the book was written. It therefore provides an interesting snapshot into the politics of the early 1970s and how it affected Colorado at the time. (May, 2009)
Playing for Pizza by John Grisham, 2007.
I picked up this book because I saw it was written by Grisham. I've enjoyed many of his legal thrillers in the past but this didn't look like one of them. And it wasn't. But it was enjoyable and I'm not even a sports fan or more specifically, I'm not a football fan.
This light novel about a washed out NFL quarterback playing as the star on an American Football team in Italy was a thoroughly enjoyable diversion from my usual reading material of thrillers, mystery novels and non-fiction adventure books.
The quarterback, no longer wanting to play as even third string material on any American team, agrees to play for a pittance on an Italian team. And he's one of the only paid players on the team. He's put on a pedestal and expected to bring the team all the way to the Italian Superbowl. He rediscovers the joy of playing for football's sake and a relationship with an American coed opens his eyes to the possibilities of life outside of America.
It's a funny and engaging story. (October, 2008)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, 2003.
Conflicting spiritual beliefs form an underlying current that helps define the basis for the relationship between two boys growing up in Afghanistan. One is a wealthy boy, growing up an atheist but from a Pashtun (Sunni Muslim) background, and the other his Hazara servant. a practicing Shi'a Muslim. Their "professional" relationship is blurred by the time they spend together as inseparable playmates from early childhood to early adolescence.
As the peace comes to an end, the privileged boy escapes to America and creates a good life for himself, eventually finishing high school, college, getting married, and becoming a successful writer.
His life in America is interrupted when he has a chance to redeem himself from some leftover boyhood baggage. It entailed returning to a still dangerous Afghanistan, nearly unrecognizable after years of war torn strife at the hands of both the Russians and the Taliban.
This story is a page turner. I picked it up late one afternoon and didn't put it down until I had finished it later that evening. Anyone who appreciates a good tear jerker should be warned to keep a box of tissues at hand. (September, 2007)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, 2007.
"A Thousand Splendid Suns," Hosseini's second book, is another wonderful book that's difficult to put down and yet deals with subjects that can be hard to read about. It's the story of two women, their families and how their lives eventually come together over 30 years while living through the war ravaged Afghanistan, torn apart by the Russians, the Taliban, internal strife, and finally the Americans. Their lives are forced together even though they come from vastly different spiritual belief systems. (April, 2008)
A collection of books by Tony Hillerman.
Tony Hillerman is a prolific author of formulaic mystery novels. While formulaic however, it is a formula that works. The books are entertaining, quick reads, that impart knowledge of the indian cultures of those involved in the various plots represented by each book. Each book necessarily explains a bit about the individuals relationships, clans, geneology, and how, in indian (mostly Navajo and Hopi) culture, why this is important. These relationships are usually an integral part of each book. The rituals associated with the beliefs of the dinee (or people) are also presented and made integral to the story. His books also impart a sense of the pressures that living within two cultures, the Navajo and the white man, can bring to those who either choose, or must, live and/or work within the gray areas where these cultures meet.
Officer Jim Chee is the protagonist who walks this line daily while he represents the tribal police but also must meet the needs of white man's law. There are usually multiple seemingly unrelated cases that Chee investigates that usually end up coming together. Working with other law enforcement agencies also muddies the picture in his novels. Tracking ability and Chee's keen observational skills also come into play in each novel.
Last updated, April 29, 2011.
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