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University of Iowa News Release

July 11, 2006

Travel Writer Roberts Chronicles Blind Traveler In July 25 WSUI Reading

Travel writer Jason Roberts will read from his new book, "A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler," at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 25, on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on UI radio station WSUI, AM 910.

The reading will originate in a free event hosted by Julie Englander in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City. Listen on the Internet at

"A Sense of the World" is a biography of Englishman James Holman, a dedicated traveler who lost his sight at 25 but refused to let blindness keep him at home. Holman (1786-1857) was known simply as "The Blind Traveler" -- a solitary, sightless adventurer who fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon and helped chart the Australian outback.

Roberts says of researching and writing the book, "It was essentially a quest, which almost became a personal mission. I didn't have to do too much research to become aware that we should be naming junior high schools after this man -- he should be part of our emotional landscape, like Johnny Appleseed and Helen Keller. . . . Holman really was a person who experienced the world more completely than anybody before or since. He spent 50 years simply going out into the world and experiencing it for no other reason than to understand place."

A starred review in Publishers Weekly called the book a "vibrant biography": "Roberts, a contributor to the Village Voice and McSweeney's, narrates the life of a 19th-century British naval officer who was mysteriously blinded at 25, but nevertheless became the greatest traveler of his time.

"Holman entered the navy at age 12, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars. When blindness overcame him, Holman was an accomplished sailor, and he engineered to join the Naval Knights of Windsor, a quirky group who only had to live in quarters near Windsor Castle and attend mass for their stipend.

"For many blind people at the time, this would have been the start of a long (if safe) march to the grave. Holman would have none of it and spent the bulk of his life arranging leaves of absence from the Knights in order to wander the world (without assistance) from Paris to Canton; study medicine at the University of Edinburgh; hunt slavers off the coast of Africa; get arrested by one of the czar's elite bodyguards in Siberia; and publish several bestselling travel memoirs. Roberts does Holman justice, evoking with grace and wit the tale of this man once lionized as 'The Blind Traveler.'"

A review in Time magazine asserted, "Moving, mesmerizing . . . 'A Sense of the World' is inspiring -- but in the real way, the way most 'inspirational' books aren't. Holman wasn't a 'Fear Factor' thrill seeker; he was a deeply Romantic figure, a man ransacking the globe for peace of mind even as he fled the demons of disappointment and bitterness nipping at his heels."

And Dave Eggers, author of "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," wrote, "Jason Roberts has brought something great into the world. To know ourselves at all, we have to know about people like James Holman, and this is a brilliantly executed biography of this extraordinary man. Where the story of The Blind Traveler could have been maudlin or corny or draped in historical cobwebs, 'A Sense of the World' is alive, magisterial, suspenseful, frequently funny. Full of wonder and with a commanding sense of narrative, this is one of the best and most life-affirming biographies I've ever read."

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

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