History, geography and travelogue wrapped up in a single package
Dec 20, 2009
In the early years of his career as a journalist, Simon Winchester hatched the rather ambitious idea of touring the globe to visit the far-flung remains of the rapidly dwindling and little known remnants of the British Empire. Although the sun still does not set on what little remains of these imperial holdings, Winchester recognized that this was a tenuous political situation unlikely to last for too many more years. He felt that there was a moving, fascinating and important story to be told of these vastly separated, profoundly isolated and mostly forgotten specks of land that reflected on Britain's somewhat tarnished past glories and conquests.
I'll admit this is a personal opinion (and you may well disagree) but I'd suggest that any fool with sufficient motivation and desire can complete the research and develop the information necessary to write a non-fiction book. But it is only a very special and exceptionally talented author who can write non-fiction in such a fashion as to turn that book into a compelling page-turner that reads like a novel and holds a reader's interest with the grip of the most exciting thrillers. Like Bill Bryson or Canada's Pierre Berton and Ken McGoogan, Simon Winchester is one of those authors with the ability to vault over that rather daunting bar.
Blending history, geography, biology, geology, sociology, linguistics and anthropology into a positively delicious cocktail, Winchester tells us the stories of such little known imperial tidbits as Tristan da Cunha, St Helena, Pitcairn Island, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Ascension and BIOT (the British Indian Ocean Territory). While he is clearly a Brit to his very toes and positively wallows in his love of British tradition and custom from cricket to high tea, he certainly doesn't shrink from chastising his own government for imperial high-handedness and political shenanigans. For example, he clearly suggests that white supremacist racism may be the underlying reason that the residents of St Helena are not accorded the right to emigrate to England as full citizens? What were the secret political deals that were made with the US military when the residents of Diego Garcia in the BIOT were summarily evicted from their homes?
Having been written in the early 1980s, "Outposts" is clearly outdated but it is nevertheless immensely entertaining and informative. Simon Winchester ranks high on my list of authors that (at least for now) I'll buy without reference to anyone else's reviews. Yes, he is that good!
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About the reviewer
Paul Weiss (cpw1952)
A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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