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Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents Paperback – April 28, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"...his descriptions of desert landscapes can be extraordinary...You can almost feel the dry gusts turning Malusa's lips into cracked leather." --New York Times Sunday Book Review


"It's unlikely that biking to the lowest places on Earth will earn him a mention in history books. But he is a great storyteller." --The Globe and Mail, Toronto



“[H]is descriptions of desert landscapes can be extraordinary. You can almost feel the dry gusts turning Malusa’s lips into cracked leather.” —NY Times Book Review

“Malusa’s intrepid curiosity enlivens his over-the-road tales.” —Booklist

“It's unlikely that biking to the lowest places on Earth will earn him a mention in history books. But he is a great storyteller.” —Globe and Mail
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (April 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 157805141X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578051410
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #548,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

After graduating in the top 80% of the class of 1975 from Catalina High School in Tucson, Arizona, I worked as fry-vat lid opener at Kentucky Fried Chicken, steel bender at A&J Sheet Metal, and deconstructionist at Cro-Magnon Demolition. I later attended the University of Arizona, which eventually granted me a degree in botany. I still live in Tucson. Judging from how I spend my waking hours, nowadays I'm mostly the father of Rosita (aged 14) and Rudy (17), husband of Sonya (52), and keeper of a red brick house (65). I'm afraid I'm not a very good botanist, largely because I lack the quick and ready recall of Latin names. Still, there's work enough, and since 2009 I've worked as a research scientist at the University of Arizona, making vegetation maps of the places nobody else wants to go: the big dry wastelands along the Arizona/Mexico frontier. For a long time my writing was more compulsion than job, meaning that I made little money from venues like The Tucson Weekly. Then I got lucky and landed gigs with Discovery Channel Online and Natural History magazine, who sent me all over the place: Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, the Atacama Desert in Chile, carnivorous flies in Panama, and Three Gorges Dam in China. When prompted by Discovery to invent a yearly travel piece, I naturally aimed for the desert. The result was a series of trips over six years, each a bicycle tour to the lowest point on each continent. The bike would be a gimmick if not for my fondness for camping and solitude. The low points are merely a destination, a pleasure to behold after a thousand miles on the road. My story is in the movement, and it's told in my travelogue, Into Thick Air.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Terry W. Sprouse on May 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
On the surface, "Into Thick Air" appears to be an interesting book about a guy who rides his bike to the lowest points on earth, writing descriptions of what he observes along the way. But, only a few pages into the book you suddenly realize that this book mines much deeper ore. This is a book where you can glean keen insights into the human condition and learn things that could completely change your view of the world.

As Jim Malusa rides through some of the most isolated areas of earth, and we meet the people he encounters along the way, he sheds remarkable insight and light on their lives and their culture. Frankly, it made me care about people in remote areas of the world that previously I had never given a second thought to. Malusa made them real people, sometimes amazingly caring people, who I came to care about as I learned how they lived normal lives under uniquely difficult living conditions.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras and I appreciate Malusa's ability to ingratiate himself into the culture. Living on the edge of life and at the mercy of the elements necessitates that you rely on local people for help. Camping in the wrong place can result in uncomfortable meetings with alligators, venomous snakes, or worse! Getting information on where to camp, and where not to camp, is more than a passing concern, it is a matter of life and death. On several occasions, Malusa was rescued from a thorny situation through the kindness of strangers.

Beyond the cultural insights and description of landscape and wildlife, Malusa's thrilling experiences and narrow escapes from disaster makes the book read like an adventure story.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Vivona on June 18, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very enjoyable and well-written book about bicycling and culture. If you enjoy cycling this is a must read. If you know nothing about cycling this is still a great book to enjoy. Malusa's wit and perspective are unique and very readable. He has a open personality and shows that by dropping expectations one can remain fully open to the pleasures and lessons available from traveling to unexpected places. I cannot recommend it enough. Pull up a chair and enjoy this excellent book!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By JK on July 14, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a well-written and warm account of several bicycle adventure tours into the lowest points on Earth. It is saved from being just another bike adventure book by Jim Malusa's humor and his deftly woven interplay between his misadventures and his deep knowledge of the geology and ecology of the areas he travels through.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
A brisk and enjoyable read, Jim Malusa's travelogue takes us around the world as he pursues his goal to bike to the lowest point on each of six continents (excluding Antarctica), a counterpoint to mountain climbing (ex. - "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer). A botanist by trade and bicyclist by passion, Malusa journeys to far flung places such as Patagonia and Djibouti are described in both whimsical and informative fashion. Unlike other means of transportation such as bus, plane, or train, getting about on a bicycle clearly engages one in a much more direct manner with the surrounding environment. Mr. Malusa's described encounters with the land he traversed and the peoples he met, rendered in colorful detail, were utterly absorbing, informative, and often amusing. At times I felt like I was there and at times I really wished I were there. An adept writer, I found myself re-reading his well-turned phrases, as Malusa painted marvelous word pictures of the peoples and landscapes he encountered. I came away with a heightened appreciation for this marvelous world in which we live and a desire to explore and experience more of it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. J. McCamish on September 21, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm an avid touring cyclist and enjoy just about any traveling adventure another cyclist writes. Of the dozens of touring accounts I've read, this is by far one of the most enjoyable, fun, interesting, and knowledge filled adventures I've encountered to date. I learned so much more about the people and countries Jim Malusa visits than I could have anticipated. I'm not going to write a long-winded review. Read the book if you like adventure, you won't be disappointed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S on January 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
Jim style of writing makes for easy and enjoyable reading. Lite and humorous, yet with enough detail to give you something to bite into. I read it cover to cover on a cruise.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tom Ponte on April 23, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This has to be one of the best travelogs I have ever read. The writing style is very witty and informative. I would put Jim Malusa right up there with Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson. His wit with metaphors is fantastic. Too bad he hasn't written more. As for the two star review because the trips to the lowest places on earth did not constitute a real adventure, you have to be kidding. Most Americans would be scared to death to ride a bike from Moscow to the Caspian Sea or to Djibouti. Most of these places are well off the beaten track, without a lot of services and often interacting with locals that have never seen or a very unaccustomed to tourists. That is not a real adventure? Malusa adds a fair amount of spicy factoids and historical interest items but in a way you are not conscious you are getting a lesson. He did some homework on these places before he left and not just where are the best tourist attractions. The lessons are nicely woven into to the present conditions and culture of the places he visits. Along that line he is also a biologist or naturalist of some sort and his descriptions of natural aspects of the adventures are interesting without being preachy or too academic. He does sometimes use names for species without a lot of description so sometimes if you aren't familiar with the species by name you have a hard time picturing what he is talking about but, not always. If you are tuned into the natural world to that level you will get that much more out of it. But that is a very minor criticism.

Jim Malusa please think up some other wacky adventure on your bike to write about, preferably in some cultures as different as possible from the USA. God willing!
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