Friday, October 06, 2006

Book Review: A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts

Believe it or not, there was a time not long ago when you couldn’t see every square inch of the Earth from a satellite…and access it from a Web page on the Internet. In fact, vast parts of our world not only weren’t known, they hadn’t even been explored by “civilized” men and women. That began to change in 18th century and reached a climax in the 20th century. Somewhere in the middle, a man with vision but no sight took it upon himself to visit the world’s unvisited places, and A Sense of the World is his amazing story. It’s very intriguing reading!

I love adventure stories, simply revel in the sea adventures of Horatio Hornblower and that genre. James Holman (1786-1857) lived in that time, and he wasn’t some romanticized fictional character, but a living, breathing seafarer in the British Royal Navy. His personal goal was to see the world, and if he hadn’t gone blind in his 20’s I’m quite sure he would have done literally that. When he did go blind, he didn’t let that blindness get in his way. He lived a full, adventurous life, traveling alone – yes, alone – throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, Russia, Southeast Asia, Australia, South America, and the South Seas. Mr. Holman climbed mountains, including the fuming Mount Vesuvius, and he galloped on horses. He explored difficult terrain in the Australian outback through swamps and over difficult mountains. He rode a swollen river as ballast in a carriage and wandered through a miserable Russian swamp, but worst still, he fended off bandits and the bitter cold of a Russian winter. Then he suffered the indignity of being hauled back 5,000 miles across the entire Russian frontier for political reasons never explained to him, short of his goal of making across the entire country. All this on a small government stipend and no formal command of any of the languages he encountered.

The story of James Holman is nothing short of remarkable. The book’s subtitle well describes him: “How a blind man became history’s greatest traveler.” I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy reading history, biographies, travelogues, and adventures.

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