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The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World Hardcover – February 19, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


In The Wisdom of Donkeys (Walker, 256 pp., hardcover, $19.95), Merrifield describes his serendipitous encounter with a herd of donkeys and their owner's encouragement of Merrifield's choosing one as a hiking companion...The author would suggest that the next time you find yourself in the willing company of one of the relatively privileged North American donkeys, you put nothing on it but your hand, and nothing heavier than your traveling companion - if that companion is a small child - and see what the donkey reveals of its soul. (Julie Dalton, Boston Globe)

Merrifield makes us feel the heat and dust of the road as well as the gentle breath of Gribouille on his shoulder as they walk. The pace is slow and Gribouille is furry, silent, and endlessly comforting. Whatever the ills of this world, it somehow begins to seem credible that a donkey can wash them away. (Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor)

Pleasantly eccentric and elegantly written, suffused with the patient calm of the admired beast. (Adam Begley, New York Observer)

This is a road-trip story with a twist. The former New Yorker takes a meditative journey through the French countryside with a borrowed donkey named Gribouille. You might wonder how serene this trip can be, considering the volume of a donkey's bray. But Merrifield convincingly waxes poetic: 'If you stand behind a donkey, their ears look like angel wings, flapping in the breeze, two flexible handlebars you can grip for taking off, for floating upward toward the heavens, up there, beyond the mountains.' Later, he writes, 'With Gribouille, my whole life has passed before me . . . I'm no longer the same person I was before embarking on this book, this trip.' (Carol McGraw, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO))

In The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World, author Andy Merrifield takes a page from the Slow Food movement and goes on a Slow Journey--walking with a donkey along the picturesque roads and trails of southern France. This delightful travelogue recounts his physical wanderings and his mental meanderings as he learns to slow down enough to experience bliss. (Body + Soul Magazine)

I felt long ago that the grown-up world isn't all it's cracked up to be, that I had to invent my own truths to get by." So Andy Merrifield, professor of geography, biographer of French philosophers, child of Liverpool, went looking for peace of mind. Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's 1879 book "Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes," he decided to go walking. Key to this journey was a donkey, Gribouille (a variant of "doodle" or "scribble" in French). "Time slows down amid donkeys," the author writes. "In their company things happen quietly and methodically. It's hard to forget their innocent gaze. It's a calm that instills calm. Your mind wanders, you dream, you go elsewhere, yet somehow you remain very present." Heidegger, Schubert, Chesterton and others are companions on this journey. But Merrifield is looking for his own lost self as well: "Hitherto, I'd lived my life sort of vicariously, modeled myself on somebody else, a character in a book, a famous writer, a famous professor." Searching for silence after a life of noise, he hears rain, birds, insects, church bells, wind and owls -- some of these for the first time. "I can't help thinking," he notes at the end of his trip, "that daydreams make us, that our little life is rounded with reverie rather than sleep. (Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times)

It is too seldom that the Spiritual Living section of LJ has an opportunity to read and review a real love story, but this is such a book, the affecting and eloquent account of a man and a chocolate-colored donkey named Gribouille. Merrifield, author of important biocritical studies of Henri Lefebvre and Guy Debord, as well as Metromarxism: A Marxist Tale of the City, tells the tale of his wander through the Haute-Avergne in southern France, learning the ways of his patient, strong, and stubborn donkey companion, who gradually shows him that 'real happiness comes in unforeseen places, through surprising twists and turns, through honesty.' Highly recommended. (Library Journal)

Donkeys are misunderstood. At least, that's the impression left by Merrifield's gentle meditation on life, art, and the meaning of beauty, which crucially involves journeying through the hills of southern France and "daydreaming in the open air" with floppy-eared Gribouille's faithful companionship. Merrifield's donkey recalls another, more famous member of the breed, Robert Louis Stevenson's Modestine in his Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. Merrifield references Stevenson's travel classic often, also mentioning the work of other artists, including Cervantes, filmmaker Robert Bresson, G. K. Chesterton, George Orwell, and Anne Sexton, in which donkeys were important characters or the image of a donkey was an effective device. Even the Old and New Testaments and the Qur'an are cited. Watching donkeys graze in the middle of nowhere is, Merrifield concludes, a type of therapy. He discusses donkeys' habits and idiosyncracies, especially their distinctive braying, and insists that when you're with a donkey, time slows down. Can a donkey be a philosopher? Merrifield believes so and, with this modest, lovely little book, makes us believe so, too. (Booklist)

About the Author

Born in Liverpool in 1960, Andy Merrifield taught geography for over a decade in assorted British and American universities. He is the author of four previous books, including biographies of two twentieth-century French philosophers. He now lives and writes in a small rural community in France's Auvergne region.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; First Edition edition (February 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802715931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802715937
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #720,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Orietta Wheatley on May 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of those rare books you hope will never end, so full is it of warmth and humanity.
Paradoxically, these virtues make it difficult to write about, because they are subjective and fuzzy round the edges. But I want to try, since I was wonderfully moved more than once in my bedtime reading.
A simpler plot would be hard to imagine. The author takes a rented donkey on a walking journey through the byways of the Haute Auvergne region of southern France. As the two meander along tracks and paths, Andy Merrifield, a former Geography teacher in British and American universities and author of the biographies of two 20th century French philosophers, and Gribouille, his donkey, form a kind of symbiotic relationship (though it may be that Andy needs Gribouille more than Gribouille needs Andy).
Throughout the story, the author makes reference to donkeys in literature, philosophy and religion, citing Cervantes, Spinoza, Anne Sexton, Schubert, Dostoyevsky, the Old Testament, the Koran and Aesop (among others), which provides a counterpoint to the journey that man and beast make together.
But it's Andy's feelings for Gribouille that make the story, for me, so touching and rewarding. He finds in his donkey the values to which he aspires--of patience, of calm, of acceptance of suffering, of forbearance, and for therapy (making the point that animals such as donkeys can be used fruitfully in homes for the aged, or sick).
There is great strength in the writing, unsentimental, romantic, perhaps, but, shining through, a calm smile of resignation at the folly of the world.
This is a book I shall treasure, and return to.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Alvaro Lewis on March 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This little volume offers forty meditations on a donkey, many often offered to a donkey, as the author on his walk through southern France has only the long ears of his donkey, Gribouille, to enchant. Merrifield sees the donkey as our double as well as the "nemesis of our frantic age." The author also notes the therapeutic properties of donkeys and the reverie they inspire as one waits for them to decide what's next. Guiding lights are Dostoevsky's Myshkin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sancho Panza, Gaston Bachelard and Anne Sexton. Little stories about the author are woven together with stories of his donkey friend and of his readings, reflections and meetings with people who feel for donkeys. Some sweet pages tell of a donkey healer in Egypt who helps the rural farmers keep their helpmates as healthy as they can afford in the difficult circumstances they survive. Either donkeys are incredibly soulful, longsuffering companions on this earth or we humans are fabulously adept at overlooking our anthropomorphic idealizations in search of exemplary conduct. No matter the case, the result is a pretty one and very peaceful. The author now happily revels in the French countryside and reviles the former realities of his rat race life in New York City. This book is one of those whose itinerary and distances have only little relevance to the journey of a generous mind and meditative days spent with donkeys.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jenny Lee Bates on October 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is as good as it gets. It can only make one want to be more noble, light, frolicsome and improbably beautiful...If you have ever thought you were watched over by something you have never seen, something holy and yet humble you will wish it is a Donkey.This book will strike you to the heart and saturate you with simple joy. I am reminded of a quote by Mary Oliver from one of her poems entitled, "Swan": "Of course! the path to heaven doesn't lie down in flat miles. It's in the imagination with which you perceive this world, and the gestures with which you honor it". Everything you think you know about Donkeys and Mules is wrong, and everything you don't know is greater than you can imagine. If you think you know, think again, read this book, and be afraid of nothing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Helen Bunker on December 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love this book, and Merrifield really does 'get it' with the donkey. He sees them in a wonderful way, a sense of who or what they are ,the basic essence of these marvelous creatures of God. These critters , `who have been ill treated for centuries, and still are in this day and age. I want to say that anyone interested, please help and support the donkeys in need, in the USA and worldwide. We have a huge problem here in the USA, between Bureau of land Management and the Donkeys/burros, yes I know with horses as well, in need of homes,and support. Especially in the mid west + southwest. Help if you can. BUY THIS BOOK, I am certain you will love it, and forever remember the donkey as the Prince/Princess' of all creatures great and small. Merriefield is the best, he cares and is at one with a donkey, well as close as they will let us (the donkey) get, his loyal companion , Gribouille. You must read the story .
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By N. Rimsek on July 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book. I feel the author is a soul mate, he gave up the rat race in New York and took a journey in France, on foot, with a wonderful donkey companion. It's a great book for an armchair traveler, anyone who loves aninals, and anyone who wants to share some thoughts with a like minded soul who is seeking peace and beauty in their life. And you get the added bonus of learning about donkeys. Highly recommended.
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