Customer Reviews: Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence.
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on June 15, 2008
This was a Library Thing Early Reviewers book, and although it took me a while to get into it, I liked it and recommend it. When I first started it, there was a lot else going on in my life and I could not connect with it. I put it down and picked it up again on vacation and really enjoyed it. John Francis has a minimalist writing style and I found myself looking for more about him and his philosophy, but this is the story of his journey and he is true to that. He is not proselytizing or expecting others to emulate his decisions. He simply tells his story - How he stopped riding in cars, how he stopped talking, and how he managed his journey under those conditions. The glimpses of his travels are sparse, but telling. The style is journalistic, and I expect relies heavily on his journals- all present tense, and briefly descriptive. It is illustrated with his sketches ( I wish they could be larger), and punctuated with quotations from the text. The historical perspective is interesting and a nice juxtaposition to the current trend of paying attention to Carbon Footprints and our personal responsibility to the environment - Francis was 30 years ahead. The story of how his simple decisions (albeit with complex implications for his life) led him to significant accomplishments and allowed him to make a real difference in the world is a good lesson about the impact we each have, or could have. If you are interested in Environmental Studies, travel stories, or personal journeys, give it a try- Don't be surprised if it starts slow- it is worth the effort to stay with it. Francis has a good story and I'm glad I read it.
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on January 2, 2011
I first bought this book after reading an article in Adventure National Geographic Magazine about John Francis. I was 15 when I first cracked open this book and have never placed it down since. It really made me think deep. This book opened up my eyes and gives you the 'anythings possible feeling'. The book is somewhat artistic. I enjoy reading his poems at the beginning of every chapter that sometimes foreshadows what lies ahead in the book. John Francis inspired me to the point that I'd take his book on vacations or hikes so I could write short poems in the back blank pages. I have read this book once a year since buying it in 2007. This book changed who I am today. It teaches you to listen to others opinoins before you speak. If you like nature and the outdoors you would most definately cheerish this book.
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on April 26, 2011
I am on the fence about this memoir. John Francis has lived this really unique life. Meeting people from all over the world, getting a phd, learning to build boats, and more all without speaking. I would have loved to learn more about these experiences but I feel like this memoir often focuses on mundane details like camp sites and water drop strategies. It's almost as if it was pieced together years after the walk with the help of a travel journal. Losing many of the personal details to the tides of time.
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on September 11, 2008
An interesting journey, poetically documented (along with wonderful pen & ink sketches) by a man who was distraught by the damage we humans do to our environment. He sought to make a statement by changing his way of life, embodying his own philosophy. Certainly not a "how-to" guide (how did he afford his walkabout across the country? or all of his education? the apartments?), but he was clearly very resourceful, made friends easily, and even entrepreneurial in nature. A zen-like journey toward self-discovery by interacting with the environment & people around him, even in his self-imposed silence. The tone and pacing of the book shifted toward the end, where it seemed the flowing insightful wording from his journals drops away; the pacing fast-forwarding as he re-immerses himself in the "daily grind" of the "real world" -- the wording more stilted, more intellectual, professorial even. At this point, for me, the journey (inward & outward) seemed to disconnect. Up until then, the reading flowed beautifully.
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on July 26, 2013
Enjoyed this book for its pictures, poems, philosophy, and travel narrative.

Realized as I wended through the chapters that I was reading a kind of Zen Koan due to factual accounts appearing other-worldly.

While I don't doubt the veracity of John Francis' stories, the way they are set down makes them seem dream-like due to unusual time sequencing/gaps and the nature of his personal relationships. People appear and disappear like phantoms. Money is rarely discussed, giving the impression he found a buried treasure on one of his early walks and when in need, simply went to the chest and filled his pockets with gold coins. When he needed a place to chill out from the road a house filled with friends would appear on the golden horizon. He appeared to never go hungry or suffer defeat.

I came to the conclusion that his personal triumphs were due to high intelligence and sensitivity to the people and things around him, and his good looks and charisma - a mixture of Jimi Hendrix and Jesus Christ, someone who attracts people through talent, positive energy, and a good-natured smile. The key to his success was his ability to connect with and attract all types of people, as his friends are so numerous and diverse that he always has someone to turn to when in need.

The book hides in the shadows the more sinister things in life, such as need of money/unemployment, friendships/relationships going sour, health problems, doubts about choices and his life's direction. Here and there a crumb is thrown, such as when he reveals in a short paragraph the need to have surgery on his feet - aha, the darker side of life coming into focus, but he does not explain how he paid for it (treasure chest of gold coins?), how long the recovery period was, how his feet became injured (the long walks I presume), and what his routine for recovery was. The narrative simply states having the surgery, followed by heading back to the road.

When comparing his life and journey to other characters in fiction and non-fiction, John Francis lives a happy life without the struggles of a normal human being due to his extraordinary gifts and talents. George Orwell, in Down and Out in Paris and London, has the task of finding a job so that he can eat and live in a bug infested dump in Paris. Van Gogh, spending the days painting and wandering like John Francis, is an introvert and lacks charisma, so fends for himself in most aspects of life, the only person consistently helping being his brother.

I came away being inspired by what is possible when a person decides to do something out of the ordinary (not ride in cars, not speaking). My guess is an average person who does not speak or ride in cars will soon be unemployed and homeless. Someone like John Francis, who is exceptionally gifted and can attract people while creating numerous and fast friendships, has a chance at positive results. I read his life like I would a famed genius - someone to look up to and learn from, but knowing what he accomplished is beyond the means of most people.
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on January 5, 2012
This book was given to me for Christmas because I am interested in environmental issues, and have lived for more than a year without a car, walking, riding my bike, and using public transportation instead. I admired Francis' radical commitment to his non-motorized living style and don't feel so smug about my choice as a result. I also found his experience in silence fascinating - and wondered if the voices and arguments in his head came back - he never answered that. Maybe he will in his second book, which has the added appeal of larger prints of his drawings and paintings.

In short, I loved the first three chapters, and the ending of this book - found myself skimming some of the travelog in the middle. At times it reminded me of the first memoir written in English ("The Book of Margery Kempe" by a Medieval woman who after twelve children got her husband to take a vow of celibacy and embarked on the life of a pilgrim). Like Margery's book, a lot of the writing seemed centered on people's responses to and validation of such an extreme lifestyle.
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on July 15, 2013
The title alone attracted me to this book. I had purchased the Nook version last year, and read it while on vacation. This is one man's amazing journey through the environmental movement, how far he went to get his point across, and what he learned along the way, not only about the world, but more importantly, himself. Would you be willing to go as far as he did?
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on October 10, 2012
I was very excited about reading this book, and I bought a used copy. I had seen Dr. John Francis' TED talk, which I recommend, and I wanted to learn more about his incredible journey. I am an environmentalist and a meditator, and I thought that I could learn a lot from Francis. However, I was incredibly disappointed. I had to force myself to finish the book because it was so pedestrian and uninspiring. I kept hoping that the book would somehow (miraculously) get better. It didn't get better but I was able to finish it. I read every single word in it and I liked the pen and ink drawings in it, but there is little to be recommended. Francis concentrates on the most uninteresting aspects of what he did and gives us minute details that the reader can do nothing with. I wish he had done more reflection and written about the insights that he gained. This is a typical passage from the book (p. 218):

"A big red Lab with playful yellow eyes appears to walk along with me, and for the next three miles, I am worried about his being lost or hit. When I cross the Big Sioux River he stays behind. I am relieved. On the other side, I take the railroad tracks that slice at the wind to the southeast. The walking is pleasant, and reflecting on the pilgrimage as a while makes it not so urgent. When I stop for the night I have gone a little more than 15 miles. I tell myself that I will build up to 20 or 25. Already I am settling into my old mental dance of thinking how to lighten the load of my pack. Maybe I could get rid of the television, I muse."

See... he could have added some reflections right where he said that reflecting on the pilgrimage has made it seem less urgent. I wanted to read the book to see his realizations and not to find out whether on his journey he ever had a red Lab follow him. Another example is (p. 121):

"Downstairs in the men's section I have a hot shower and visit with several fellows travelers, sharing experiences, thoughts, and ideas on a variety of subjects. When it is time for sleep I opt for the floor. The bed, I think, is too soft. I sleep soundly and rise as morning spills through a large picture window. In the bunks next to me are the sounds of a few wearing souls snoring softly."

Hmmm.. Francis, telling us what ideas you shared or what you learned from your encounter with these people would be more valuable than letting me know that you slept on the floor and that the men were snoring the next day. How mundane! I didn't think the book was inspiring, endearing, funny, interesting, or thoughtful. It was more like "This is what I did. This is how I did it. I saw this while I was on the road. I slept here. I met this person who I won't mention again. Then I kept walking."

I cannot believe that one reviewer said that he/she will return to this book over time and I think another said he/she reads this book once a year. This is the most boring and disappointing book I've read in a while.

I was going to buy this book for a friend but I am glad I read it first, because now I won't do that. Maybe Francis' other book is better, but I would not recommend this book. Oh! One minor thing that did bother me is that besides mentioning his parents and a family friend he considers an aunt, he doesn't mention his personal life. I know that he got married and had kids in the time period of the book, but he doesn't mention that. Life and the environment are about our relationships and for Francis to glosses over his (he barely mentions that he got married and he never mentioned anything about the woman he married) and how his walking and silence helped or hindered his interactions with them is crazy. How did he grow as a person? I thought that the lessons from his long and silent journey could be applied to everyone's life, but the way he describes things and what he chooses to concentrate on, missed the mark.
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on July 9, 2009
A H.D.Thoreau on foot. An emotionally uplifting book. Not for everyone. This book was well written and takes you on an introspective journey targetting our failing environment, racism, life, self-acualization and human interaction.

I enjoyed it to it's fullest. I will keep it next to ,"Walden." I will return to it.

Dan Williams, author of ,"Above His Shoulders."
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on March 19, 2015
John Francis' Planetwalker, along with his The Ragged Edge of Silence are quietly thoughtful, inspiring and important little known books about individual responses to environmental concerns. When I heard an in depth Sunday morning radio interview by Bob Edwards I sent for both books right away. Planetwalker includes the authors' pen and ink sketches made as he walked across northern USA, sailed to the Carribbean, and then walked the length of South America in silence. It was seeing a California oil spill that prompted him to walk, without speaking and to give up riding in vehicles. A beautiful pilgrimage journal for environmentalists, geography-lovers, world travellers, cultural students, and caring, mindful citizens. I was thrilled that Amazon made both books easily available.
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