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TURN LEFT AT THE TROJAN HORSE

A WOULD-BE HERO’S AMERICAN ODYSSEY

A quest for authenticity and self-acceptance, marred by occasional sentimentality and banality, but ultimately redeemed by a...

Herzog’s third travel memoir (Small World: A Microcosmic Journey, 2004, etc.) follows the highways cross-country to his college reunion at Cornell University, examining the idea of the hero along the way.

The author begins close to Mt. Olympus, Wash.; like his role model, Odysseus, he headed for Ithaca (New York in this case). Herzog took off in a mammoth Winnebago, visiting hamlets called Troy, Calypso, Siren and Plato, as well as some places he once called home. Camping in RV parks and Wal-Mart parking lots and eating in homegrown cafés, the author talked with a wide variety of people, including farmers, cops, small-town politicians and more. There is “Hobo Dan,” who supports his lifestyle by making earrings out of gopher paws; Bud, a sassy 95-year-old who brags that his driver’s license is valid until he’s 102; and Ray, a volunteer cosmologist who has recorded the weather in Pandora, Ohio, every night since 1949. Herzog is at his best when he allows these amusing, winsome folks to tell their stories in their own voices. He also captures stunning details of the American landscape—black Angus cattle grazing peacefully on a pale green mountainside; a Yield sign riddled with bullet holes presiding over a crossroads in the middle of nowhere; steam rising from the ground in a former coal-mining town in Pennsylvania; a monument honoring a faithful dog named Shep. The exhaustive self-analysis, on the other hand, becomes tiresome, though there are flashes of excellent self-awareness, like Herzog’s characterization of himself as “sushi-eating, Gap-wearing, left-leaning interloper” at a tractor-pull competition. Attempts to draw parallels between his experiences and classical mythology result in some jarring transitions and tedious digressions, but the denouement, the hero’s return, is irresistible.

A quest for authenticity and self-acceptance, marred by occasional sentimentality and banality, but ultimately redeemed by a near-perfect ending.

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8065-3202-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Citadel/Kensington

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2010

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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