I was recently sent a copy of Jim Malusa’s new book,“Into Thick Air – Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents” and asked to review it. I happily accepted and had the great pleasure of reading the book during the first two months of my 2009 European bicycle adventure.
In this 336-page book, the author sets out not to travel to the highest points in the world (as many mountaineers and climbers aim to do), but instead to ride his bike to the lowest points on six of the seven continents (The author chose to exclude Antarctica, largely because of the fact that the lowest point on Antarctica is buried deep within the ice. In addition, his reasoning is likely due to that fact that the cycling conditions on much of Antarctica are almost entirely intolerable). The title, therefore, is an obvious play on words, making a sharp contrast between the authors experience of riding to the lowest points on earth and that of Jon Krakauer’s famous novel, “Into Thin Air” in which several experienced climbers are left dead after a harrowing Mt. Everest summit attempt.
The story begins in Australia and jumps chapter by chapter to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and finally, to Death Valley California where the story comes to an end.
But because the story doesn’t take place in a single city, state or country… and each continent has been divided up into its own chapter or two, the book often time feels like a collection of short books, rather than a single book with a solitary purpose.
But this is a good thing! And the stories, while often times very different from one another, interrelate and connect in ways you would not imagine.
By the time the book comes to it’s conclusion, you get a sense that the journey for the author (or maybe for the reader himself) has just begun. The reader gets a sense that he could, at any moment, begin plans for his own bicycle touring adventure and travel the world in much the same way that the author has done throughout the book.
But what struck me most about “Into Thick Air” was not the stories of strange locals in foreign countries or the author’s observations on far away lands (although these were well documented, intriguing, and often times, laugh-out-loud funny), but the question of what makes us want to travel in the first place.
Time and time again the author was asked by those around him what the purpose of traveling to the lowest points in the world would be. After all, the author wasn’t trying to set a record or become famous for being the first person to cycle to the lowest points on the globe. The point, it seemed, was simply to accomplish something in which he had set out to do.
This recurring theme (Why one travels in the first place?) made me continuously ponder my own predicament and wonder why it was that I traveled or did anything at all. What, after all, is the point of travel?
The author, when asked this question by curious locals, often times responded by saying that he was a fan of desert climates, but I imagine there was something more to his reasoning. And for me, this question of why we travel in the first place made me extremely curious.
Whether we travel to this highest points in the world or the lowest points on each continent, why is it that we go anywhere or do anything?
I’m not 100% sure what the answer is, but I have some ideas. And I believe the author has some ideas of his own as well. In fact, I’m sure that you too (especially after reading this book) will have some ideas of your own as well.
While “Into Thick Air” may not be the most memorable of books you will ever read, it is certainly a good read for the armchair or experienced world travel. Filled with historical insights and charming descriptions of local affairs from around the world, Malusa’s writing will take you to places you never before dreamt of visiting. And once it’s all over, you’ll be glad you went along for the ride.
Whether you are looking for a good book to read, a piece of inspiration that will get you up off the couch and out the door on your own world adventure, or material to ponder your own reasons for travel of any kind, then Jim Malusa’s “Into Thick Air” is certainly a recommended read.
Click here to get a copy of “Into Thick Air” now.
0 thoughts on “Jim Malusa’s “Into Thick Air” – A Book Review”
I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Malusa a while back (I recommended your site; he may have already sent you a copy by then.). I, too, live in Tucson and he’s been doing a few readings and slide shows to promote the book. He does a good presentation.
I also recommend the book. It’s a good, fun read. And, I don’t know about you, but the first few pages (the Autstralian chapter) were laugh out loud funny at times.