Immersion Journalism at Its Best

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Ted Conover really knows how to craft a journalistic narrative that draws the reader in and doesn’t let them go until the very last page. He takes facts and details and conversations and experiences and turns them into a story that readers can relate to, even if you’ve never been to Sing Sing (where he worked as a corrections officer) or China (one of the roads he focused on in his latest book, Routes of Man). Even after I’ve returned one of his books to my shelf–the top one, where it snuggles against the Tim O’Briens and the Haruki Murakamis–the broader themes that he tackles stay with me.

In his first book, Rolling Nowhere, Ted stole aboard freight trains and road the rails, learning the ropes and getting to know the hobos who called that life their own. He embraced adventure and turned what could have been awkward social encounters into opportunities to learn about a little-explored phenomenon. Now, married and the author of four additional books, Ted has finally returned to the rails. And this time, he brought along his son. I highly recommend reading his latest article, “My Train-Hopping Odyssey Through the American West,” in which he introduces his son Asa to life on the rails and struggles with the twin desires to let Asa get a taste of adventure and to protect him from what is, admittedly, a somewhat dangerous outing.

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Book Review: Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman

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Savage Harvest book coverI only purchased this book because I read a short excerpt in my National Geographic magazine and thought maybe it sounded interesting. I had never heard of Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance in New Guinea in 1961 on a trip to collect art for his father’s new Museum of Primitive Art. I didn’t know that his boat had capsized or that he tried to swim to shore or that the most prevalent rumor about his death was that he had been killed and eaten by one of the New Guinea tribes.

I learned a lot from Savage Harvest, which really drew me in with its sprawling vistas and cultural questions. Did the tribes of New Guinea know the truth about Rockefeller’s death? Would they reveal their secrets to Hoffman as he delved deeper into their culture and into their lives? The narrative expertly wove together Hoffman’s quest for answers with an account of Rockefeller’s journey, and it didn’t skimp on historical background.

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