20 Mar 2022


 YAY! That's me almost caught up with the books of 2021 {I have one more review to go}. Notice I say books? That's because I'll be sharing my thoughts on not one book nor two but seven ... Well! sort of.

Given this series of the Penguin's Great Journeys series of book as a gift, I've so far shared my thoughts on the below books {please click on the pencil to see my reviews of them} which, with the eight books shared here plus the final 3 books {Adventures In The Rocky Mountains by Isabella Lucy Bird, Life on the Golden Horn by Mary Wortley Montagu and The Congo and the Cameroons by Mary H. Kingsley} which are to be reviewed later, means I've now read all of the books in the series.    

 The Cobra's Heart ~ Escape From The Antarctic

 From The Meadow's Of Gold ~ In The Heart Of the Amazon Forest ~ The Custom's Of The Kingdoms of India ~ Piracy, Turtles & Flying Foxes

 To The Holy Shrines ~ Can-Cans, Cats and Cities of Ash ~ 

 Sold As A Slave 

My Thoughts ... With all of the books paying homage to works that are much longer, all of the books in the Penguin series of Great Journeys {each around one hundred - one hundred and fifty pages} offer the reader a glimpse into a much longer, possibly daunting, text that they may well have never considered. I know a few of them even made me want to take a look at the book from which the abridged excerpt had been taken ... others, well, not so much.

Not so much to my liking to my liking, I didn't particularly like Hunt For the Southern Continent by James Cook, Jaguars And Electric Eels by Alexander von Humboldt,  Borneo, Celebes, Aru by Alfred Russel Wallace or The Shipwrecked Men by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.

On the one hand it was nice that what I can only describe of as Cook's idiosyncratic/grammatically challenged writing wasn't edited but urgh, at times I struggled. Then there was the fact that, like all of the books in the collection, this was very much of its time and I found myself, if not exactly offended by, struggling to get past the Captain's colonialist views and opinions.

As for Alexander von Humboldt, hmm! Apparently taken from his 'Personal Narrative Of A Journey To The Equinoctial Regions Of The New Continent' which in itself was taken from a twenty one, that's right, a twenty one volume long account of five years spent in South America, to me this one hundred page extract seemed to wander aimlessly and I'm afraid much as I might have enjoyed the insight into the culture of the indigenous Indians of the South America, the describing of all that flora and fauna just didn't do it for me.

Try as I might not to approach this book with modern sensibilities {something I alas struggled with}; 
I'm afraid I just couldn't get passed the killing of the many animals {the Orang Utans or the Mias as Alfred Russel Wallace refers to them in particular} that seemed destined to end up stuffed in someone's library, their skeleton in a glass display case.

Alas one of the most dull books in the series, to say nothing of the fact that it was probably the one that caused me to roll my eyes the most. As if considering himself far superior to the native peoples wasn't bad enough, that Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca portrayed himself as an almost Christ like figure amongst the indigenous population didn't exactly endear me to him.

More to my liking, I thought Across the Empty Quarter by Wilfred Thesiger an OK read.

Full of bizarre but I'm guessing useful information should one ever find oneself wondering what to do if lost in a desert with one's camel who was refusing to give up her milk. That what I'm putting down to bad editing or perhaps badly chosen excerpts resulted in the book ending unexpectedly and somewhat unresolved, disappointing but, other than that, Thesiger, who, whilst documenting the generosity bestowed upon him by the Bedouins alas comes across as believing himself superior, 
paints a wonderfully vivid picture of his journey across Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter.

Now this is more like it, I actually quite enjoyed A Journey to the End of the Russian Empire by Anton Chekhov, Fighting In Spain by George Orwell and Snakes With Wings And Gold-digging Ants by Herodotus.

To my mind one of the best books in the whole series. Made up of two sections, the first, abridged letters to Chekhov's family and friends, the second, report on life on Sakhalin ... and in particular that of the penal colony there. Yes, there's the not altogether unexpected torture, execution, racism, sexism, child prostitution and the use of women being sold/used as a currency BUT there is also the equally fascinating {less gory} insight into the lives of the native Gilyak people, free Russians who had settled on the island.

Other than 1984 and Animal Farm I don't think I've ever read anything by Orwell so this was something of a revelation. An account of his experiences as a soldier during the Spanish civil war {something I know relatively little of}; amongst all of the horrors experienced which leave the reader in no doubt as to the bleakness and futility of war, there are also some wonderful wry funny observations which makes this book highly readable ... so much so that it is one of the few books in the series which made me want to read the books {namely Orwell's 'Homage To Catalonia' and 'Orwell In Spain'} from which the extracts for this book were taken.

A mix of fantastic stories and history, a fun if ever so slightly bonkers read
that nevertheless offers a fifth century perspective insight into some 'exotic' peoples and places. I'm still trying to figure out what percentage of Herodotus' writings are reliable and which, a sort of Wikipedia of his time, are questionable. 


Gina said...

Congrats on catching up! 👏 I've still got a few to go, but we'll get there in the end. Sounds like an interesting mix of stories too... thanks for sharing!

Kelly said...

I'm just not sure if these are for me. There's a part of me that feels I should just read the real thing rather than an abridged version, but then often that never comes to pass. So maybe getting a taste this way would be a good thing.

Did you ever get a chance to read Brad last book?

nightwingsraven said...

From your reviews Anton
Chekhov's, George Orwell's
and Herodotus' books really
piqued my curiosity. I will
definitely keep them in mind.
And thank you for your honest
and excellent reviews.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Mmm! Not really sure about abridged versions, I think I would still prefer the full length book, although apart from the George Orwell, I don't think many of the others really appeal to me all that much!

It's great that you have almost managed to catch up with your reviews from 2021 though. I must admit that my posts are much fewer and further between these days, as I have made it a rule that I have to review a book as soon as it is read, or at least write and schedule the post ready for a later date, before I can even pick up the next book. It certainly focusses my mind and posting less is definitely relaxing some of the tension I was feeling!

Happy Tuesday :)

the bookworm said...

That's great you got caught up. I've only read 1984 and Animal Farm by Orwell also so this one sounds interesting.
Have a nice week!