In A Sense of the World, Jason Roberts makes the case that James Holman was the greatest traveler not just of his time, in the 1800s, but of all time before then. On his own funds and initiative, Holman covered at least 250,000 miles. If that was not remarkable enough, Holman was blind.
As Roberts sums up Holman’s achievements:
He could claim a thorough acquaintance with every inhabited continent, and direct contact with at least two hundred distinctly separate cultures....Alone, sightless, with no prior command of native languages and with only a wisp of funds, he had forged a path equivalent to wandering to the moon.
Roberts reconstructs Holman’s time and travels with a vivid narrative style. The hero makes Roberts’ job easier by being continuously remarkable: learning to ride a horse by echolocation, playing politics with Queen Elizabeth, getting thrown out of Siberia by the Russian czar, and (literally) so on.
Along with drawing on Holman’s own writings, Roberts deftly taps other original sources and literature for additional color, such as this comment from the time about Edinburgh’s polluted air: “you might smoke bacon by hanging it out the window.”
I liked the book a lot, but recognizing that the subject matter is well off the beaten path, I suggest you test-drive this short excerpt at the author’s site. You will know quickly whether A Sense of the World is for you.