Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Book Review: Wildebeest in a Rainstorm
One of the best things about extended travel is that it allows you to catch up on your back reading. That's just what I did while I was away, and I started with the latest book from Jon Bowermaster entitled Wildebeest in a Rainstorm: Profiles of Our Most Intriguing Adventurers, Conservationists, Shagbags and Wanderers.
The book is a collection of articles that Bowermaster has written over the past twenty years for magazines such as National Geographic Adventure and Outside profiling some of the top environmentalists, activists, and adventurers from around the globe. Peter Beard, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Richard Branson, and George Schaller are just a few of the fascinating people in the book.
Wildebeest offers a perfect display of Bowermaster's writing style, which is, as always, excellent, even over these disparate articles written over the course of two decades about individuals who are all unique in their own right, but share some common characteristics, such as an adventurous spirit, focused determination, and a deep seeded concern with the well being of the planet on some level or another.
A perfect example of this is Peter Beard, an artist and activist, who spent much of his life in Africa, lured there at a young age by Karen Blixen's classic book Out of Africa. Beard is the subject of not just one, but two of the articles contained in Wildebeest, and he is also credited with the quote that gives the book its title. The first article is more of a profile of Beard's life working in a variety of countries on the continent sometimes as a hunter or doing wildlife research, and later taking photographs that would eventually make him famous. The second article follows a number of years later, when Bowermaster catches up with Beard in a New York hospital after a female elephant did its best to send Beard out of Africa permanently. Both stories are well done, and give you insights into Beard's character, which is both inspiring and sometimes tragic, at the same time.
One of the best elements of this book is that Jon happens to be friends with a number of the people that he had profiled. There is a casual familiarity in the way that he writes about them that makes it seem like we're joining him and a buddy as they go off on an adventure in the wilds of Nicaragua, Chile, or some other far flung place. Those friendships also put him in a unique position of understanding these men and women far better than just any writer who is sent off to cover a story.
It was also interesting to read some of the older articles and realize just how relevant they remain today, not only in the case of the particular person being profiled, but for the various causes or environmental issues that remain concerns years later. Bowermaster closes each of the chapters with a very brief update on what has become of the particular person as well, and there were times when I was reading that I couldn't help but look forward to those short follow-ups to find out how things have changed.
All in all, another good book to add to your bookshelf. It is a very quick and interesting read, and if you're like me, you'll be rushing to the Internet to see if you can find out more about these adventurers, and what has befallen them since Jon originally wrote their story.