I’ve always been envious of people who can memorize poetry. Or prose passages, quotes, strings of digits. I’m tolerable good at minute fact-based recall—hence the appeal of little historical anecdotes, dates, foreign languages, minerals, functions in programming languages—but I’m hopeless with literature or poems. Or so I thought.
There’s a problem. Or perhaps not a problem so much as an absence of anything actively useful. I read a lot. I pursue a lot of interests. I see a lot, I go to a lot of places (more now than before). So much that I have become overawed, and, in turn, passive where I should really be active. I’ve transformed into an absorptive entity. This cannot stand.
What good is pummeling my way through Plato, learning the art of frankincense distillation, taking weak little steps towards astrophotography, sampling weird Austrian wines made from the Zweigelt grape or solving confounding problems in the world of mobile Web development if I keep everything entirely to myself?
Ambrose, like many biographers before him, is a man enamored of his subject. To him, Meriwether Lewis is the paramount, curious, bootstrapped Renaissance man of the early 19th century; this bosom buddy of Thomas Jefferson is the bold Yin to William Clark’s relevant but slightly duller Yang. His biographic sweep of Lewis primarily concerns the exhilarating rawness of the journey of the Corps of Discovery during 1804-1806, but it is at its core a story about the man, not merely the events for which he is yet championed.
Can't think of what to read next? Consider one of these picks: I liked them!
"Anathem" by Neal Stephenson
Reviewed Jan 08, 2009
“The Ghost Map” by Steven Johnson
Reviewed Dec 24, 2009
At the beginning of the year, I set some outlines for some reading I’d like to accomplish in 2010. These goals represent not only book titles, but, in some cases, areas and concepts I’d like to explore. There’s some philosophy and some science in here, as well as some classic novels I never seem to get around to reading. Let’s see how it’s going.
“Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann
Reviewed Feb 22, 2010
There are so few flaws in Colum McCann’s National Book Award-winning novel about humanity and grief that it’s difficult to find a toehold for comment. McCann’s agitated, love-hungry characters weave an emotional fabric so dense that it proves tricky to unravel and examine.
It’s tempting to try to find literal ties to events in this book Esquire bills as the “first great novel about 9/11.” Set in New York city in August of 1974, Let the Great World Spin loosely revolves around George Petit’s guerrilla tightrope walk, strung between the barely-completed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The novel’s characters stare up at Petit’s performance awestruck, his bravery (or hubris) impacting their own personal sagas.