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A Sense of the World


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About the Author

Jason Roberts is the inaugural winner of the Van Zorn Prize for emerging writers (sponsored by Michael Chabon) and a contributor to the Village Voice, McSweeney's, The Believer, and other publications. He lives in Northern California.


In his first book of narrative nonfiction, freelance writer Roberts (McSweeney's) tells the story of James Holman, who enjoyed a brief period of fame in the early 19th century as the "Blind Traveler." After serving in the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars, he was blinded at age 25 by a mysterious illness. What Holman decided to do with his life after losing his sight was amazing and inspiring: he became a world traveler and author, going as far afield as West Africa, Ceylon, and Siberia; his best-selling books were known to such figures as Charles Darwin and Sir Richard Francis Burton. In time, Holman's fame was eclipsed by the efforts of jealous rivals, who mocked the thought of a blind travel writer. By his death, his works were no longer in print, and he had been largely forgotten by a public who had perhaps only ever seen him as a novelty. Holman's accomplishments deserve Roberts's labor of love, a well-written popular history that will appeal to an audience interested in stories of individuals triumphing over physical difficulties. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Robert J. Andrews, Duluth P.L., MN Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

In this vibrant biography of James Holman (1786-1857), Roberts, a contributor to the Village Voice and McSweeney's, narrates the life of a 19th-century British naval officer who was mysteriously blinded at 25, but nevertheless became the greatest traveler of his time. Holman entered the navy at age 12, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars. When blindness overcame him, Holman was an accomplished sailor, and he engineered to join the Naval Knights of Windsor, a quirky group who only had to live in quarters near Windsor Castle and attend mass for their stipend. For many blind people at the time, this would have been the start of a long (if safe) march to the grave. Holman would have none of it and spent the bulk of his life arranging leaves of absence from the Knights in order to wander the world (without assistance) from Paris to Canton; study medicine at the University of Edinburgh; hunt slavers off the coast of Africa; get arrested by one of the czar's elite bodyguards in Siberia; and publish several bestselling travel memoirs. Roberts does Holman justice, evoking with grace and wit the tale of this man once lionized as "The Blind Traveler." (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Adult/High School-An engaging account of a most undeservedly obscure figure. The book itself is a fortuitous happenstance; had a certain volume not caught Roberts's eye during a "wander break" through the stacks on a library visit, the story of Lieutenant James Holman, known to his contemporaries as the Blind Traveler, might still be lost to a modern audience. Born in 1786, Holman began service in the British navy at the age of 12. The rigorous lifestyle ravaged him physically; by age 20, pain had left him nearly incapacitated; five years later, he was blind, ill, and strapped for funds. Holman pursued a course-travel-that proved the best remedy. The Blind Traveler traversed the globe, encountering a plethora of colorful characters and gaining short-lived fame, if not fortune, from his narratives and memoirs. Roberts re-creates each journey, both geographical and physiological, providing insights into 18th-century beliefs, mores, and worldly knowledge, along with a ghastly array of "cures" inflicted on Holman by practitioners of medicine. The admiration and respect that the author feels for his subject are unmistakable, but in no way diminish the accomplishments of "the most restless man in history." Black-and-white reproductions show Holman as he was depicted by contemporaries during his travels. This volume is an obvious addition to any number of booklists, from biographies to "nonfiction that reads like fiction."-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"Roberts is a beautifully assured writer."--Seattle Times
"Vibrant...evok(es) with grace and wit the tale of this man once lionized as "The Blind Traveler."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"(A) meticulous recreation of Holman's world."--Miami Herald
"A well-written popular history that will appeal to an audience interested in stories of individuals triumphing over physical difficulties."--Library Journal
"An admirable work, testament to the determination, resourcefulness, and skill of not only its subject, but also its author."--Boston Globe
"Gives us a man who embraced wanderlust at a time when the continents and oceans were much, much bigger."--New York Times
"Vibrant prose."--Washington Post

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