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Truly enjoyable light reading
on March 26, 2016
Lost at Sea is a compilation of some of Ronson's pieces of research published in articles or presented in TV segments, now modified, enlarged or updated for this book. Ronson explores different fringe subjects, situations and characters, we get acquainted with ordinary people who are nothing but extraordinary, "weirdonary" I might say.
This compilation is organically structured in six parts, although some of the articles could also be included in several of them.
1/ THE THINGS WE'RE WILLING TO BELIEVE delves into the matter of faith, no matter is religious and accepted, just popular New-Age beliefs or Fringe Science. We get acquainted with the superstitions and pseudo-scientific beliefs that contestants in TV quiz shows have. We discover the new generation of sentient robots, Zeno, Aiko and the incredible Bina48, part of different engineering projects to create ciberconsciousness and emotional almost-human robots. Then we met a GP, Dr Munchies, who is at the core of a support group for supposedly highly evolved psychic telepathic "Indigo children" previously considered just ADHD. One of my favourite articles in the book involves Ronson (a lapse Jew) joining a group of agnostics for the Alpha Course, a 10-week course organised by celebrity pastor Nicky Gumbel in the Holy Trinity Brompton church to transform hardener believers into confirmed Christians.
2/ REBELLIOUS LIVES has two articles on people who were supposed to be something but turned out to be much more or simply something different. This is the case of the broadcaster Ray Gosling who was arrested for falsely stating in front of the cameras that he had killed a former lover out of mercy a few years earlier. And also the case of the aggressive sexist racist rap duo Insane Clown Posse who turned out to be heartfelt Christians and were sending cryptic very-Christian palimpsest messages through their diabolic lyrics.
3/ HIGH-FLYING LIVES showcases some interesting sides of well-known artists. We accompany the pop singer Robbie Williams to an UFO convention, and visit and open the many boxes in Kubrik's manor house in England, and talk to his widow about family matters.
4/ EVERYDAY DIFFICULTY shows apparently normal people who, all of the sudden, see themselves involved in dangerous situations. We visit the American town of North Pole to investigate why a group of teens living in town that breathes Christmas all year around were preparing a mass-shooting in their school. We attend the trial of a couple of people who won "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" apparently using a very simple but effective coughing signalling system. We witness the dirty tricks played by credit-card and loan companies, which are targeting poor people and neighbourhoods on the knowing that they won't be able to pay their debts, and how , they use data-sucking companies like Mosaic and Acorn to map and target people in these para-scam credit business. We also attend a convention of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and met the foundational founder Richard Bandler and his business partner Paul McKenna, and experience first person (through Ronson) what NLP does to you and dig into Bandler's not-so-well-known past.
Then we move to France, where English people are retiring trying to fulfil their French Fantasy and find that France is not a fantasy of theirs, like a couple who moved to a Provencal castle and the wife ended dead. From France to the UK, to the posh country town of Maesbrook to investigate why Christopher Foster (a British self-made millionaire, who had everything one might want in life) killed his whole family, pets included, set everything on fire and then he shot himself, and why other millionaires in the area aren't surprised about this.
Faith taken to the last extreme is what Ronson explores in next chapter, which summarises the research he did for a doco on the sect called "Jesus Christians", who decided to donate one of their kidneys as an act of love, and Ronson's interactions with some of the donors and with their leader, the Australian Dave McKay.
5/ STEPPING OVER THE LINE presents three cases in which the protagonists are doing something that is not socially acceptable, dubious or plain illegal. We learn about the world of underground euthanasia, the fraudulent "visions" of the late psychic Sylvia Browne (America's most divisive psychic), and the paedophilia trial to Jonathan King.
6/ The last part revolves about the subject of JUSTICE What is legal and not and why. Why is not legal to do chemical experiments at home when some of the major discoveries of our world were made in family garages? Is the USA system good enough for the poor and for the rich? How do the poor and the rich see the tax system applied to them? Ronson takes then a cruise to investigate the disappearance of the staff member Rebecca Coriam to learn about the many disappearances happening in International waters and how cruise companies seem to have a pact of silence. Finally, we go out late at night with some members of the Real-Life Superheroes Movement, like Phoenix Jones, to tackle night violence and prevent bad things from happening to good people.
There are common themes in most of the articles included in the book. Firstly, they deal with people with beliefs and ways of being and behaving that aren't mainstream, and not always acceptable, illegal at times. They also deal with people who aren't always what they seem to be. Many of the articles revolve about Parascience and Parapsychology subjects.
Ronson is a good writer, creates a good atmosphere and is able to see the world with great compassion and proximity, even when he is examining people whose activities, opinions of preaching are very much contrary to his own views. He is very good at showcasing these characters and letting them shine without vilifying or mocking them unnecessarily; of course, at times, Ronson clearly states his liking or disliking of some people but he is not callous about anything or anybody. This is his virtue, and what allows him to enter situations and communicate with people who would, otherwise, be never able to present their side of the story or would simple not be willing to talk to a journalist. Ronson shows always respect and even empathy towards people who don't deserve it, perhaps because it is good for the job to keep that sort of emotional detachment from their subjects, perhaps because he is a good bloke, or perhaps just both.
This is the first book I read by Ronson and I've really enjoyed it. I found all the stories engaging and well-narrated, although many of them are about subjects and people who have appeared on TV, in current affairs' research segments and aren't anything new. Others certainly are, at least to me. At the same time, there is not much depth, not many things that would keep you pondering. However, if you like current affairs and research journalism with a twist, you will enjoy this book. If you like weirdos, this is definitely for you.Not a Pulitzer sort of research, more a TV show sort of exploration of human nature a la Flight of the Concords minus the guitar. Humans are Weird. One of those books perfect for long flights. It got me interested and I ended reading two other books by Ronson.
Barely any! I just noticed in loc. 740: George W Bush. The dot is missing from the W.