WHY: “Lopez tells revelatory tales, poses tough questions, and shares wisdom, all while looking to the horizon, ‘the sill of the sky, separating what the eye could see from what the mind might imagine.’”
—Donna Seaman, in a starred review for BOOKLIST
“Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.
“‘Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.’ So writes Barry Lopez, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them.
“Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge.
“The author’s chapter on talismans — objects taken from his travels, such as ‘a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite’ — is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, ‘we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.’
“A winning memoir built around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.” —KIRKUS, a starred review
“His curiosity is so infectious that readers will be captivated.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“A peripatetic journey around the globe and across the sweep of time.”
—Wade Lee-Smith, in a starred review for LIBRARY JOURNAL
. . . . .
FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK:
The boy and I are leaning over a steel railing, staring into the sea. The sun is bright, but shade from a roof above us makes it possible to see clearly into the depths, to observe, quivering there, what’s left of the superstructure of a battleship sunk seventy-two years before.
My grandson is nine. I am in my sixty-eighth year. The memorial terrace on which we are standing, alongside my wife, has been erected above the remains of the USS Arizona, a 608-foot Pennsylvania-class battleship overwhelmed at its moorings on the morning of December 7, 1941, by Japanese dive bombers. It sank in minutes. The flooded hulk, a necropolis ever since, holds the remains of many of the 1,177 sailors and marines killed or drowned on the ship that morning. I’m explaining to the boy that sometimes we do this to each other, harm each other on this scale. He knows about September 11, 2001, but he has not yet heard, I think, of Dresden or the Western Front, perhaps not even of Antietam or Hiroshima. I won’t tell him today about those other hellfire days. He’s too young. It would be inconsiderate — cruel, actually — pointedly to fill him in.