I had been looking forward to this book, as I had heard good things about Allegra Goodman. As a former "lab rat", I was especially interested in this story. I had read that even as Goodman got the science right, her strong characterization was the true delight of the book. Unfortunately, that's not my experience with it. The science sounds right, but not much else does. Maybe this book is better read than listened to, but to me the prose sounds flat and mundane. The characters remain 2-dimensional, because too much is explicitly told instead of shown through the characters' actions. In many parts of it I felt that Goodman really belabors her point and used 5 sentences when 1 would do. Maybe my problem with it is that it reminds me too much of my experience in the lab: a lot of slogging through repeated experiments, with not much to show for at the end.
This book recounts Rory Stewart's experiences walking across Afghanistan. Stewart has a subtle, understated style, and his reading perfectly matches the tone of his book. I was totally absorbed by the tale, learning of his travails as he traveled from one poor village to another, totally depending on the kindness of strangers. He gives a very even-handed account of Afghans, and a glimpse of the almost alien (to most Westerners) culture the people are steeped in. Along the way he points out that unless actual people are engaged, any effort to introduce Western values and structures are merely another imposition on the people. His story is so engaging that I could almost imagine myself walking along with him, looking at the stark landscape, and encountering the people eking out a living in it. I definitely recommend this book.
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