Strange and Dangerous Dreams: The Fine Line Between Adventure and Madness
Mountaineer Books, 2006, 245 pages.
Written by an avid mountaineer, who is also a practicing psychologist, author Geoff Powter delves into the little known, often surprising personal history of nearly a dozen notable explorers. In this exceptional approach to understanding the impulsion that fuels the adventurer, you may find that the psychology of and extraneous influences on these men and women are more interesting than the first-hand accounts of their harrowing journeys. As delineated in several cases it is astonishing to learn that the machismo these explorers are known for is often only a veneer that veils a surprisingly meek persona.
Adventurers are prone to the paradox that, if they are successful in their quest, they’ll be regaled as a new paradigm of inspiration and bravery; yet if they fail to reach their goal, they are often stigmatized as madmen and lunatics. Aside from the deleterious conditions inherent in an adventure, the adventurer is also subject to pressures unrelated to weather, land and sea. It is often these forces that prove most difficult to contend with as they are exerted on the mind, rather than the body. Powter points out that adventures initially envisioned for purposes of discovery, research and challenge, often become a vehicle used by a government to establish their national character. Even successful adventurers, Powter indicates, can suffer from an ominous sense of failure as in the case of Meriwether Lewis. Known for being fearless, stalwart and keen, and blessed with a preternatural intuition, Lewis’ post-expedition life was haunted by his incessant questioning of whether he had truly succeeded in his mission in the eyes of Thomas Jefferson, who was, even though far away, always regarded as the true leader of the adventure. The eleven adventurers in this book are categorized into three groups: the burdened, the bent and the lost. Although at times painfully melodramatic, this book nonetheless proves equally interesting, if not more so, than reading about the conquests and harrowing attempts themselves.
Joel N. Young
Jim Perrin: The Climbing Essays (Best Book: Mountain Literature, 2006 Banff Mountain Book Festival)
Jim Perrin, The In Pinn
Neil Wilson Press, 2006, 320 pages.
Through sixty numbered climbing essays grouped to cover three phases of his career and a dozen more covering his early life and family, Perrin provides us with a unique memoir. Using essays, describing, climbs with his son, Perrin expands the books theme to include two generations of British rock climbing. As much about climbing and his climbing peers as about Perrin himself, the selection of works included tells as much about Perrin’s character From the selection of works, one gets the feeling that Perrin sees himself a rebel of the same ilk, though not quite as good a climber, as Joe Brown or Don Whillans. Nearly every essay contains reference to some extraordinary action or event. Many of the essays contain elements related to drug and alcohol use so common in the 1960s as to make them passé. Is this truly an important part of Perrin’s character or are they included for their shock effect?
As an anthology of essays edited by the author, one would expect this book to have a thematic arrangement designed to reveal the writer’s life and character. While the elements are there, for this reviewer they are not well linked. Individually most of the essays were interesting and entertaining in themselves. The essays did not form a cohesive whole. Additional essays linking the various themes covered in the book would have smoothed the stories’ flow and greatly improved the readers’ understanding of Perrin’s life. As presented, the pieces did not portray the humorous chronicler of climbing I met a year ago in Banff when Perrin was promoting his 2005 award-winning biography of Don Whillans, The Villain. One wonders if this was a work in progress that Perrin decided to rush to press on the heels of his earlier success. Though I have not seen this book in U.S. bookstores, it is available at www.amazon.co.uk and probably other on line sources.
Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community
Thomas Berry & Mary Evelyn Tucker (Editor)
Sierra Club Books, 2006, 173 pages.
Now in his ninety second year, noted Earth scholar and “geologian” Thomas Berry continues to explore the intersection between cultural, spiritual and ecological issues, and to offer a deep spiritual re-vision of the human/Earth story-a re-vision Berry articulates as necessary for recovering a future for all Life on Earth.
Berry devoted the first four decades of his career to cultural history and cross-cultural religious studies-writing, teaching and lecturing as an academic scholar. Over the last two decades, Berry has focused on articulating a collective story of origin sufficiently expansive to span across the world’s great religions while also encompass ing discoveries from science regarding the epic history of the universe. With the publication of Dream of the Earth (1988), The Universe Story (1992), and The Great Work (1999) Berry has become a central spokesperson for an cologically-rooted spiritual consciousness known as the New Story. Evening Thoughts (2006) is a collection of twelve essays and speeches spanning these last several decades of Berry’s work. The book’s first selections describe the magnitude and causes of Earth’s human-derived ecological crisis. Underlying this crisis, Berry says, is a collective deprivation of spiritual consciousness alienating the human from the story of the Earth. The book’s middle essays focus on specific challenges, including global warming, ethnic tension and the growth of nationalism. In the final essays Berry returns to the large-scale perspective of the epic story of cosmic evolution and the contribution of the human to that story. In the Appendix, Berry offers Twelve Principles for Understanding the Universe, and Ten Principles for Jurisprudence Revision.
For followers of Berry already familiar with his work, Evening Thoughts will provide further context and depth around Berry’s classic themes. However, because the selections were not originally intended as a collection, Evening Thoughts, taken as a whole, appears somewhat disjointed and repetitive. A reader new to Berry would be advised to start first with one of Berry’s earlier works (mentioned above) for a more cohesive presentation of his compelling themes.