Two Book Reviews

What I Know: “I See Things Better With My Feet” by Carolyn Lee Peerman

Do you know that each and every one of us is a discoverer? James Holman (1786-1857) discovered the world with his feet. James Holman was blind yet he had the courage to plunge wholeheartedly into a world that was beyond his comprehension. Although a prolific writer, in his most profound moments he felt not blind but mute. In the winds of the hills, and in the solemn stillness of the buried foliage in the green woods, there was an intelligence that entered into his heart. He was on the verge of tears, not that he could not see, but that he could not portray all that he felt.

A Sense of the World How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts (2006) has to be one of the most astounding books you could ever read. This is a book for the ages and Jason Roberts deserves accolades for rescuing Holman’s life from obscurity. As Jason Roberts writes:

“Time, if not space, renders all of us travelers. Cling as we might, we are ultimately compelled to let go of the familiar, to forge affinities with the new, and to sense the approach of the more unfamiliar still. We feel our way.”

Even when James Holman was impoverished, increasingly threadbare, and still in debilitating health, he kept traveling alone, without counsel. Even when his works fell out of print and his new writings went unpublished, he never wavered in his purpose “to enter into the business of life, communion with the world and its multiplying delights.” Never explaining his blindness, Holman’s adventures were neither acts of machismo nor self-aggrandizing stunts. A profoundly inspiring figure, his became one of history’s most richly lived lives. On an evening in June of 1821, James Holman’s friend, Robert Madden, climbed with James to the mouth of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius, when the violence was at it greatest height. Robert described James as insisting on “walking over places where we could hear the crackling effects of the fire on the lava beneath our feet, and on a level with the brim of the new crater, which was then pouring forth showers of fire and smoke, and lava, and occasionally masses of rock of amazing dimensions, to an enormous height in the air.” Refusing a ride on mule back, Holman hiked the full distance. “I see things better with my feet,” he explained.

Here is a solitary, sightless adventurer who astonishingly circumnavigated the world but also fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon, helped chart the Australian outback, and inspired Charles Darwin and Sir Richard Francis Burton. With cheerfulness and the resolution of his great mind, the charismatic, witty James Holman triumphed, becoming one of the wonders of the world he explored.


“Give a Damn” by Mark S. Lewis

Author Mark Lewis states, “The goal of Give a Damn is to help you develop a greater awareness of the thoughts that currently or eventually lead you to selfish and irresponsible behaviors. My objective is to teach this world (and you, specifically) what it really means to Give a Damn.” And for those of you who may be offended by his use of the term, damn, he says just to swap out the phrase “Share Your Love.”

Lewis laments, at some length, the lack of caring for others, especially if they are not related or known to us. He gives examples such as an old man knocked down in a hit-and-run accident who lay in the road for several minutes before anyone stopped to help him; he later died. Contrast that with his story of an injured dog helped out of the road by another dog, even at the risk of its own life!

He makes the argument that humans have not always been so uncaring and self-centered; in fact he says that it makes little sense from a survival standpoint… so how did we get to a place where “good deeds and a strong work ethic” are not highly valued? He notes nine primary institutional/ societal categories that are culpable:

1. Government
2. Special Interest Groups
3. The Legal System
4. Education
5. Religion
6. Family Values
7. Wealth
8. Technology
9. Media

In subsequent chapters he details changes in each of these elements, many of them interactive and interdependent. Technology and its tendency to cause a decrease in face-to-face interactions gets a hefty amount of the blame. He cites a 2010 study at the University of Michigan demonstrating “how college students’ scores in empathy have been steadily declining since 1990… Most social scientists agree that increased ‘screen time’ is a contributing factor…” to the result of a 2006 survey showing 64% of 18 year olds “said that making money was the most important goal of all!”

So, what does he suggest as ways to reverse this decline in caring, empathy and personal responsibility? He cites seven values we can all internalize that will begin the journey back:

Commitment
Honesty
Accountability
Respect
Courage
Ethics
Integrity

He admonishes readers to be truthful, first of all, to ourselves and begin to think before we act. “Attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it… 100 years from now the world may be different because you Gave a Damn.”

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker