Three decades of getting himself into strange circumstances and harm’s way haven’t slowed down Cahill (Pass the Butterworms, 1997, etc.), as this new collection of adventure-travel pieces attests.
Like a glass of Puligny-Montrachet, Cahill is peerless. His intents—to bring back reports of adventure and peculiar doings in the field—are entertaining and provocative if seemingly mad, the locales often murderous in mores ways than one, while the writing, with its low humor and sneaky insights, is pure pleasure of its own kind. This gathering of 30 articles (from National Geographic Adventurer and elsewhere) has all of the author’s talents on display: his gift for the apt simile, however crude (“Like Cuban toilet paper, Tommy the Turk doesn’t take shit off anyone”); his knack for inflating and puncturing his subjects—himself included—in one breath (“Bob Perkins is perhaps America’s best-known atlatl maker and theoretician. This is not to suggest in any way that he is universally respected”); his facility for leads that will kindle interest in any reader (“It was a money-laundering scheme for rapacious dimwits and hoggish simpletons”); and, best of all, his stamina, allowing him to write the whole story with the same artful brio. He’s ready with advice on traveling with strangers: “If he acted recklessly in seriously terrifying situations—I’d just make myself scarce and let him deal with the fallout. Jerks die.” He’s out there, reporting from the remote—chasing the rumor of a Caspian tiger; outfoxing a Malian warlord for a chance to visit a godawful salt mine; encouraging a class of third-graders to behave like forest gorillas; letting salt-hungry bees in the Congo feast in his armpits—reminding us that outlandish acts of travel and experience are still available and, in the most elemental fashion, vivifying.
What good fortune it is to be back in the saddle with Cahill, letting him take the heat while we look over his shoulder.