Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review: Richard Bangs' Adventures with Purpose

Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose by Richard Bangs

The concept for this book is great and most of the adventures are amazing. The book is full of good stories and compelling personal journeys. Many of the places and stories in this book are fascinating. There were many highlights in this book for me –like the trip down the Neretva River in Bosnia or visiting an isolated village in Papua New Guinea. I found the last chapter of the book—a quick sketch of an African safari—to be touching.

At issue for me, unfortunately, is the writing. It took me over a month to read Adventures with Purpose and I struggled to finish it. Bangs is clearly a storyteller at heart and I imagine his wit comes across better in person than it does on the page. Bangs is a very casual writer and his writing doesn’t hang together very well. I think if the editing had been better it would have vaulted this book to the next level, because the bones of a great book are here.

After struggling to stay involved with the book, I asked my husband (who is also a voracious reader and is unlike me an outdoorsman) to read Adventures. He, too, found it difficult to get through and gave up about a quarter of the way through.

The first several chapters highlighted the plight of places/people in need of help. In the first chapter, for example, takes Bangs to the Nile, where he explores work to bring the crocodile back from the brink (see photo at top, from a NY Times article). In another, very interesting chapter, he visits the Moken people of Thailand’s Andaman Islands, who are struggling to recover from the devastating 2004 tsunami. There was a good mix in these chapters of both environmental/ecological and humanitarian concerns to which Bangs brings attention.

I was really disappointed, then, when the book lost this focus on helping. Richard Bangs’ definition of purpose is broader than I expected, but I thought that once the scope expanded to include stories of personal purpose, the book bogged down. The chapters on mountain climbing, in particular, were indulgent and out of place in this book—especially when there so much other material Bangs could have explored in more depth in some of the other chapters. Bangs, in my opinion, should have cut the number of chapters in half and put more energy and information into the remaining chapters.

In the end, I am torn about whether to recommend this book or not. There are so many good things to say about Adventures but the overall product is spotty. Adventures with Purpose is also a syndicated public television show; I would be interested in checking it out. Find out more about it and Richard Bangs at his website here.

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