Jon Ronson is one of my favorite writers. He has a gift for finding outrageous, true stories and telling them in a compelling way. The stories and essays in Lost At Sea work so well because they are outrageous, true, honest, and Ronson handles them all with respect and care. It is a great read, and one that I highly recommend to all.
The stories are loosely tied together as "strange things we are willing to believe", and almost all of the stories fit into this rubric. Of the one's that don't, I am glad they were included anyways. The only one that feels really out of place is "The Name's Ronson, Jon Ronson", his story about reliving the drive from the Goldfinger movie.
Here are my favorite chapters:
* Insane Clown Posse - This chapter starts off the book, and it is fascinating. I have never listened to an ICP song, and don't plan to, but their now-professed Christianity, or at least spiritualism, is worth reading about. As soon as I read this chapter, I knew I would love the book.
* Robot Interviews - Ronson interviews the most advanced Artificial Intelligence robots that we have today - really interviews them - and collects his findings here.
* Indigo Children - How did I miss this? A huge group of parents/families deciding that their (maybe) ADHD children are actually the next evolution and saviors of the world . . .
* Alpha Course - As a Christian who has always been very involved in church, and now serve as an elder, I was interested to hear Ronson's take here. He gives an honest account of what he thinks and I found it moving and insightful, as well as extremely fair. I have not participated in Alpha Course, but know many who have. Also, speaking in tongues like described . . . unbiblical and I would find it just as weird.
* SETI and Paul Davies - Great interview with Paul Davies about aliens and SETI.
* Stanley Kubrick's Boxes - Ronson somehow gets invited to sift through all of Kubrick's personal belonging after he dies, for days and days. Fascinating insight to a great movie director and the real work behind genius.
* Phoning A Friend - The story of a family cheating the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire show. Hilarious and sad at the same time.
* Richard Bandler - The inventor of NLP, some of his background, and an interview. Scary and fascinating at the same time.
I could keep listing them, but I'll leave some to your imagination. Great read, extremely entertaining and insightful. You will learn while you read, and enjoy yourself while you do it. Highly Recommended.
Jon Ronson's books are perfect for anyone who may be concerned about their sanity. Trust me, once you read a few pieces by this best-selling journalist (author of "Men Who Stare at Goats," which was made into a movie starring George Clooney), you'll feel like the most well-adjusted person around. Armed with deadpan humor and a broad tolerance for even the most horrifying of world views, Ronson interviews such subjects as the members of the band Insane Clown Posse, the world's supposedly most advanced robot, a UFO expert, a man who's been attempting to make contacts with extra-terrestrial life for years, and community members of an Alaskan town in which schoolkids answer letters to Santa in the guise of elves. He also looks at the darker side of humanity with interviews with Robbie Williams, the pop impressario indicted for child molestation; Major Charles Ingram and his wife Diana, who cheated on the British show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"; and neighbors of Robert Hall, a Brit living in the French countryside who murdered his wife and entombed her in a block of concrete. Psychics, cult leaders and gurus are also represented in this collection. Occasionally, Ronson himself is the main subject, as in "The Name's Ronson, Jon Ronson," (in which he impersonates James Bond for a day), but even when he's not, his irrelevance often gets him in trouble with those he interviews and their followers. In one, an irate psychic lambasts him, calling him a "little worm." Other subjects are more circumspect in their attempts to obscure the real story, such as the employees of the Disney cruise ship, from which an employee went missing and has never been found.
In several pieces, Ronson employs rather original ways of handling the subject. In "Who Killed Richard Cullen," which looks at a man who committed suicide after running up credit card debt, he adopts multiple personas to see which gets the most credit card junk mail solicitations. In "Amber Waves of Green," he includes himself in examining the lifestyles of people in "six degrees of economic separation." Once content with his own lot, he becomes envious when interviewing a woman several rungs above him. "A very small amount of money," the woman explains when asked how much she pays her business manager. "A hundred thousand dollars a year....The trick is not to be too rich."
Real heroes emerge, as well, such as the two men who donate a kidney to strangers in "Blood Sacrifice." Ronson's usual skepticism is even overcome a few times, in his travels, too. Some of the subjects will amuse you, others baffle you, while others will likely make your skin crawl. While some ramble on and display a lack of empathy, others are more tuned in and even have a sense of humor. Fans of Ronson's books will definitely enjoy "Lost at Sea."
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 more than one part.
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 is the following one: Ronson joins other agnostics 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 are 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. We also interview the aggressive sexist racist rap duo Insane Clown Posse who turned out to be heartfelt Christians and were cryptic very-Christian palimpsest messages through their 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 with a very simple but sophisticated coughing signalling system. We witness the dirty tricks played by credit-card and loan companies targeting poor people and neighbourhoods, which are leading normal everyday families to mass debt and to commit suicide, and how the use of data-sucking companies like Mosaic and Acorn are mapping who you are to target you (or not) 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-know past.
Then we move to France, where English people are retiring trying to fulfil their French Fantasy dream 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 feel 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/ This 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 in a Disney cruise, and we 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 for 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 the 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.
Barely any! I just noticed in loc. 740: George W Bush. The dot is missing from the W.
on January 7, 2013
I have been a fan of Jon Ronson for a long while. I've read all three of his books which were printed in the USA ("Them," "The Men who Stare at Goats," "The Psychopath Test"). Perhaps that was what killed me about "Lost at Sea," I was expecting something of the same quality as his earlier works.
I don't want a reader to get me wrong, Ronson's writing style is as clean as ever, the difference is in the overall book. "Lost at Sea" is not a coherent work of long-form journalism. It is a collection of diverse feature articles from the last decade or so. There seems little added to them since their original publication in the Guardian, and as a person who has followed Ronson enough to have read many of these when he originally published them, I felt slightly cheated by that. I suppose I just want more out of a book than what I felt I was given here. I want Ronson to go more in depth. There are a plethora of great stories in here and I wish Ronson could have taken one of them and turned it into a book. Maybe even a couple of them. Take his articles about people killing themselves over financial troubles and actually explore that, I would have loved that book.
I feel as though there is something unfair about my review. I'm not reviewing the book itself, but my disappointment that it wasn't a different book. I suppose that is because I was expecting something more like Ronson's previous work, and perhaps that was unfair of me. Still, I wish there had been more here. I would encourage those who have not read Ronson's other books to get those instead of this one. Particularly the under-rates "Them: Adventures with Extremists." Like "Lost at Sea," it is a book about a variety of subjects, but unlike "Lost at Sea" there is a meta-narrative creating a through line that keeps the book building.
There is great writing in this book, it just isn't a great book.
on October 30, 2012
I'm on the fence about the star rating, I liked it about 3.5 but not enough to round up to a 4 so consider this rating a very strong 3.
This is my first experience with anything Jon Ronson has written (although I've seen the movie based on his book The Men Who Stare at Goats). I found him to be very adept at getting into a subject, participating (as a journalist) in the story without overwhelming it.
Lost at Sea is a collection of essays, some written so recently they seem almost presciently timely while others were obviously from some years ago and, as a result, seem quite dated and don't have anywhere near the impact they must have had originally. The book is divided into five parts which consist of a mix of essays that fall (in my opinion) into a handful of categories ranging from compelling and thought provoking to human interest stories that aren't all that interesting (what basically amounts to filler).
Among the more compelling stories were ones that touched on one or more of the following subjects -- artificial intelligence, Indigo children, a game show cheater, good Samaritan organ donors, religious orders/cults, the seamier side of assisted suicide, an encounter with famous psychic Sylvia Browne, the possible homophobic discrepancies in prosecuting pedophiles, income disparity in the U.S., and the way in which cruise lines fail to cooperate when those on board disappear.
To be clear, these subjects are not necessarily the main focus of the individual essays, in some cases it's simply a byproduct of a larger issue or story that is being pursued while in others it is the primary story being investigated. In fact, in at least one instance -- the possibility of homophobic discrepancies in prosecuting pedophiles which was only lightly touched on in a bigger story about celebrities in the UK being investigated as child predators -- I found myself wishing the author would drop the main story and follow up on the side issue.
One of the better essays is the one which examines income disparity in the U.S., the author interviews five people in varying income brackets ranging from a dishwasher living below the poverty line to a billionaire who resents that his success has often led him to be portrayed as greedy or a bad guy.
I also found one in which the author immersed himself in a religious self-help style seminar group -- a series of motivational type meetings that claim to convert and convince atheists, agnostics and those in doubt of the existence of God -- to be quite interesting. Particularly the way he describes himself being drawn into the group think mentality.
One essay that I'm sure was particularly eye opening when it was first published in July 2005 deals with the unscrupulous ways of banks/money lenders and how a person's personal information can be collected, sorted and resold by companies that specialize in providing a target demographic to its corporate clients. Unfortunately, with all that's happened in the years since, most of what the essay deals with is old news at this point.
The book does shine a light on some of the more absurd and inane things people will believe in, while also counterbalancing nicely with stories of genuine seriousness and sorrow.
Overall it's a good book. I don't think anyone who enjoys reading about the modern human condition, told with a mix of humor and compassion, sorrow and silliness will be disappointed.
***I received this book as part of a free promotional giveaway contest.
I loved this book. The author is a Brit and I enjoyed a non-American point of view. Jon Ronson tackles subjects with an open mind. His honest reactions are sometimes funny, sometimes educational and always enjoyable.
I enjoyed learning about eccentrics (also referred to as collective craziness) all over the world.
Religion seems to be a big draw for kooks. From Rich Agnostics (only wealthy are invited) in London either finding the Holy Spirit or being brainwashed, (depending on how you look at it) to Jesus Christians giving one of their kidneys - Free - to fit in with their cult.
How Indigo Children are treated in England. I foolishly thought they were an American phenomenon.
An aging rock star - hiding from his fans but embracing aliens - not the ones from Earth.
There's a chapter on SETI - scientists trying to find aliens and what will happen if they do : - )
North Pole, Alaska teenage boys poorly "planning" murder and mayhem to a border town in Wales where well off men actually commit murder and mayhem.
A cruise with Sylvia Brown the queen of grumpy, phony psychics. That one really cracked me up. Jon was much kinder to Colette Baron-Reid who appears more sincere and capable.
A fascinating chapter on Stanley Kubrick!
Another fascinating chapter on the person who invented Sirius Radio. He/she also invented a lifesaving treatment for a lung disorder AND is working on a tryly life like robot.
A unique look at people's income and their lifestyle. 6 degrees of separation takes on a whole new meaning.
Jon also takes a stab at living like James Bond. His difficulty with the Aston Martin is endearing.
There are more interesting chapters. I like the way Jon approaches and develops each subject.
You don't have to read the book in order although it's broken up into 5 parts of similar topics.
I'd recommend LOST AT SEA .
on April 20, 2014
You got to hand it to Mr. Ronson.The guy has a keen eye for the absurd. What is so enjoyable about this collection of articles is his critical observations are presented in a kind and, many times, funny manner. God knows, the reporter could have easily dialed up the sarcasm, but instead remained a complete professional. He apparently has a rare ability to get people to confess some pretty weird thoughts and actions.The author's deadpan delivery makes for some gut-busting laughs.However, being an apparently unworldly Mainer, I did have to google some British slang terms as well as a number of Britain's celebrities who mean nothing to us Americans.
The author travels mostly around Europe and the U.S. driven by a desire to know why people did certain odd things. Mr. Ronson investigates the keepsakes found in the home of the deceased and very eccentric, movie director Stanley Kubrick; interviews a handful of British record producers who were/are also predatory pedophiles; exposes the (now late) psychic-fraud Sylvia Browne; follows along with people in the euthanasia underground; explains how credit card companies target the poor and uneducated with devastating results; noses around into the mysterious death of an employee on a Disney cruise ship; shows real-life examples of the economic disparity between the major haves, the some-haves, and the have-nots; and follows a teeny-weenie cult called the Jesus Christians who have members that decide to donate one of their kidneys to strangers in need. Whatever, the subject matter, Mr. Ronson always dishes out an educational and highly entertaining piece.
"Lost at Sea" is an absolutely priceless collection. I didn't want the Brit's book to end and certainly hope he eventually releases another collection of his articles. You'll laugh as well as be shocked, angry, sad, and come away from the book thinking we live in a friggin' strange, strange, straaaange world.
on April 27, 2016
This was my introduction to Jon Ronson. I bought the audiobook on a whim because it was on sale for $5 and it ended up being one of the most fascinating compilations of stories I've ever heard. I've since recommended it to several people and bought it for two friends. Ronson is a terrific writer and journalist. I've since also really enjoyed The Psychopath Test.
on July 18, 2013
I'm a big fan of Jon Ronson's work; I loved Them and The Men Who Stare at Goats. Those books were funny looks at some truly strange things that go on in the world of the military and conspiracy theorists.
This book is more of the same-inquiring looks into some truly puzzling people, places, and ideas-but there's a sadness that sort of settles over the book by the end. One of the stories involves a man who killed himself because he got in way over his head with credit card debt; another story involves an inventor who murdered his whole family after his fortune evaporated. A third talks about "Indigo Children", AKA kids affected with ADD whose parents are convinced that they are advanced spiritual beings.
These stories add up to a picture of people who live under a deliberately constructed veil of self-delusion because they are unwilling to face the realities of their lives. You can argue that's what all of Ronson's books are about, but in this case, it stops being funny and starts being depressing.
It's still a great read, and a great job by Ronson to find these people and situations and write about them. I just wish there were fewer examples of insanity and willful self-deception out there for him to write about.
Jon Ronson is a frequent contributor to the radio show "This American Life," and I have grown used to his voice from hearing it on that program. It was almost impossible to read these stories without hearing them in his particular, high-pitched English accent. I think this helped the essays, as the humor landed with less ambiguity than it might for a reader who was unfamiliar with Ronson's cadence.
That said, the collection is excellent. Most of the pieces originally appeared in the Guardian newspaper, and I had seen only a couple of them previously. Basically all of them share in common Ronson's fascination with people living in extremis. He doesn't just visit an odd place, he visits in order to talk with the odd people living there. He doesn't experiment with living like a poor person (as Barbara Ehrenreich might), he talks with poor people. Though these essays are all written in first person, and Ronson is a character in every one, he is never the main character and he seems legitimately fascinated with the people whom he discusses, torn at times by his sympathies for them individually but ultimately willing to judge them, if they have been foolish or evil.
The book is split into five sections, representing different sorts of subjects. Section Three, "Everyday Difficulties," is about people who had run out of money, or committed terrible crimes, or at least considered doing so, or had a loved one do so. Basically, seemingly(?) normal people for whom things have gone terribly wrong. This section was hard to read. Life isn't easy enough to take any sort of pleasure in reading about the misfortune of others, however sympathetically portrayed.
That said, the strengths of the other parts of the book outshined that section. The parents who think their kids have magic powers, the pop stars obsessed with UFOs, the billionaires convinced that society is out to get them. These pieces were all worth reading, and I think will remain so for many years. Even after the particular psychics, pederasts, religious cult leaders, and dotcom millionaires of whom Ronson writes fade from our memory, similar characters will surely arise. Ronson writes about particular people but his theme is always the human condition.