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The Happiest Man in the World: An Account of the Life of Poppa Neutrino Hardcover – March 13, 2007

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Over the last few years, Wilkinson (Mr. Apology and Other Essays) has been spending quite a bit of time in the company of "Poppa Neutrino," a homeless man who's performed as a street musician in New Orleans and New York and traveled across the Atlantic in a homemade raft. So "lavish and prodigal" is Neutrino's history that his barroom encounters with Kerouac and Ginsberg at the height of the beat era are dispensed with in a few sentences—after all, by that time, he'd already been crisscrossing the country for several years himself. In Wilkinson's company, Neutrino spends time in Arizona trying to persuade football coaches to use a passing play he's developed that could conceivably revolutionize the offensive game, winding up on a Navajo reservation where he volunteers with a high school team. Then it's off to Mexico, where he puts the finishing touches on one more raft, which he hopes to sail down the coast to South America and then across the Pacific. For the most part, Wilkinson simply observes, acting as our conduit to this abrasively compelling personality. But that's like saying Boswell was simply observing Johnson: the portrait of Neutrino that emerges from these encounters and anecdotes is a truly captivating story. (Mar. 13)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Carrying forward the New Yorker tradition of close observation channeled into pristine and nimble prose, Wilkinson specializes in portraiture, whether he's profiling his mentor, William Maxwell, or the assorted eccentrics in Mr. Apology (2003). Here he reports on a man who has lived by his wits and convictions, combining the vow of poverty and the spiritual quest of a wandering mendicant with the devil-may-care venturesomeness of Kerouac's on-the-road seekers, a busker's resiliency, a cardsharp's nerve, a prospector's dreams, an explorer's curiosity, and an athlete's rigor. Now in his seventies, westerner David Pearlman, aka Poppa Neutrino, has for decades roamed the country, gathering followers, forming a band (The Flying Neutrinos), and emulating his hero, Thor Heyerdahl. Yes, this dog-loving, vagabond apostle for freedom has built out of scraps "the largest and most complicated rafts and taken them to more places and on more arduous voyages than anyone else in the world." Neutrino lives a strangely heroic and deeply provocative life of deprivation, daring, and faith, and Wilkinson, taking his cues from the great Joseph Mitchell, tells Neutrino's enthralling story with wonder, respect, and marvelous literary finesse. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First American Edition edition (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065437
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065431
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,173,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Alec Wilkinson has written for _The New Yorker_ for years, and has ideas about who makes a good subject for his prose. "I do not believe that someone is a proper subject, or a laudable figure, only if he has made a lot of money or been a politician, an actor, a freakish public figure, or a criminal," he writes in _The Happiest Man in the World: An Account of the Life of Poppa Neutrino_ (Random House). Indeed, Poppa Neutrino is none of these. He is a rafter, a football strategist, a street musician, and most of all an independent being who in his seventy-odd years has relentlessly done things his own way. This makes him a real hero, but it also makes him a nut; there is no reason the two cannot be conjoined, but his way of living his life is not one readers can expect to be completely comfortable with. "I wouldn't suggest that anyone regard Neutrino as a model," Wilkinson confesses. "It wouldn't be sensible. I don't even myself regard him entirely as one." Model or not, Neutrino is unique, and he is happy, and if you jettison materialistic standards (as Neutrino surely has) he is a success, and Wilkinson's delightful, amused, and affectionate portrait lets us in on the life of an eccentric who is as worth knowing in his way as any tycoon or president.

Neutrino's mother was an incorrigible gambler, and his father was a sailor who wasn't around. He flunked school and was thrown out of the Army because he enlisted at fifteen. He attended seminary and was thrown out, and then headed a group called the Salvation Navy, which traveled on waterways and made money by painting signs.
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Format: Hardcover
Alec Wilkinson's book has one big thing going for it: Poppa Neutrino, aka David Pearlman. Even a hack writer couldn't ruin this story.

Wilkinson begins with a 3-pronged hook - (1) Neutrino has just created a football play that will revolutionize the game; (2) he is planning to build a raft from scraps and sail across the Pacific; and (3) he's so eccentric that he changed his name after a dog bite in Mexico.

The first part of the book, in my opinion, is the best. It's a history Poppa Neutrino from birth to age 70. Peppered throughout are his philosophical musings. We learn of his childhood in San Francisco as the son of a Gambling mother, memories of falling asleep under card tables and living on the road, joining the army at 15, fights, love affairs; other highlights include Neutrino and others starting a religion, creating a band, sailing across the Atlantic in a raft. At first, I thought I was reading the greatest put-on ever written; the book seemed to be pretending to be non-fiction, and yet had to be totally, outrageously, fabricated. There are many elements of tall-tale here, and since Neutrino is the one retelling his story, one has to believe he is stretching the truth a little. Getting his teeth punched out, and then sticking them back in his gums backwards, where they remained for 30 years, is one example. Nevertheless, fact or fiction, the history of this itinerant man, his adventures, his outlook on life, are golden. Wilkinson sticks well to the meat of the narrative; but at times he treats major events too brusquely. Some of Neutrino's adventures need more space - they are that compelling. I think an extra 100 pages to the man's history would have benefited the book.
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Format: Hardcover
Alec Wilkinson has given us a brief profile/biography/story/peek/ into one of the most fascinating individuals you will ever encounter, either in a book or on the street. If you could take Woody Guthrie, Thor Heyerdahl, Jack Kerouak, John Ledyard, Huck Finn and Red Green (of the Red Green Show - PBS), throw them all into a sack and mix them well, then you would come up with the subject of Wilkinson's biography of Poppa Neutrino. Now Poppa is not his real name which is actually David Pearlman, but Poppa took the new name after he received a near fatal dog bite in Mexico and had some sort of revelation.

There are those individuals in our society that are simply different, live by a different code and have a completely different view of life and of values. Poppa Neutrino is certainly one of those individuals. Starting with a rather unique and unsettling childhood, Poppa has lived his life just the way he wanted to. During his 70 plus years of life (so far), he has been the leader of a band of roving musicians and street performers, join the military while under aged, has been a preacher and religious guide, street person, panhandled, seldom has spent over six months living in one place, has had a couple of wives and several children, sailed across the Atlantic to Ireland in a home made raft made up of scraps he picked up here and there, written songs, written a couple of books, been a professional gambler and is beyond a doubt, one of the best throwers of bull manure you will ever run across. Neutrino has rejected just about ever thing our society has to offer. He has lived at the point of complete poverty most of his life, has been homeless most of his life, yet, when all is said and done, obviously would have it no other way.
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