- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (March 13, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400065437
- ISBN-13: 978-1400065431
- Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Happiest Man in the World: An Account of the Life of Poppa Neutrino Hardcover – March 13, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Over the last few years, Wilkinson (Mr. Apology and Other Essays) has been spending quite a bit of time in the company of "Poppa Neutrino," a homeless man who's performed as a street musician in New Orleans and New York and traveled across the Atlantic in a homemade raft. So "lavish and prodigal" is Neutrino's history that his barroom encounters with Kerouac and Ginsberg at the height of the beat era are dispensed with in a few sentences—after all, by that time, he'd already been crisscrossing the country for several years himself. In Wilkinson's company, Neutrino spends time in Arizona trying to persuade football coaches to use a passing play he's developed that could conceivably revolutionize the offensive game, winding up on a Navajo reservation where he volunteers with a high school team. Then it's off to Mexico, where he puts the finishing touches on one more raft, which he hopes to sail down the coast to South America and then across the Pacific. For the most part, Wilkinson simply observes, acting as our conduit to this abrasively compelling personality. But that's like saying Boswell was simply observing Johnson: the portrait of Neutrino that emerges from these encounters and anecdotes is a truly captivating story. (Mar. 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Carrying forward the New Yorker tradition of close observation channeled into pristine and nimble prose, Wilkinson specializes in portraiture, whether he's profiling his mentor, William Maxwell, or the assorted eccentrics in Mr. Apology (2003). Here he reports on a man who has lived by his wits and convictions, combining the vow of poverty and the spiritual quest of a wandering mendicant with the devil-may-care venturesomeness of Kerouac's on-the-road seekers, a busker's resiliency, a cardsharp's nerve, a prospector's dreams, an explorer's curiosity, and an athlete's rigor. Now in his seventies, westerner David Pearlman, aka Poppa Neutrino, has for decades roamed the country, gathering followers, forming a band (The Flying Neutrinos), and emulating his hero, Thor Heyerdahl. Yes, this dog-loving, vagabond apostle for freedom has built out of scraps "the largest and most complicated rafts and taken them to more places and on more arduous voyages than anyone else in the world." Neutrino lives a strangely heroic and deeply provocative life of deprivation, daring, and faith, and Wilkinson, taking his cues from the great Joseph Mitchell, tells Neutrino's enthralling story with wonder, respect, and marvelous literary finesse. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
Neutrino's mother was an incorrigible gambler, and his father was a sailor who wasn't around. He flunked school and was thrown out of the Army because he enlisted at fifteen. He attended seminary and was thrown out, and then headed a group called the Salvation Navy, which traveled on waterways and made money by painting signs. He formed a ragtag musical group and got some money by it, but money wasn't important, just getting by was: "His poverty had exposed him again and again to the harshest torments, and yet he behaved as if no one could be as fortunate as he was to wake up with the whole day long to invent." He invented a football tactic by which a quarterback can send signals to a receiver after a play is underway, and part of the book is devoted to Neutrino's traveling to different schools to interest them in his revolutionary tactic, which seems to work but is just too different for the teams to incorporate (so far). The main arena for his invention, however, is that of rafting. "Neutrino was not the first man to build a raft and sail it across the Atlantic," writes Wilkinson. "He was the first to cross the Atlantic on a raft built from garbage." Neutrino may have spent his life as a drifter, but he did so literally, and made an adventure and an art form of it.
He also made it a spiritual quest. He created the Church of the Seven Levels, which incorporates his metaphysics based on triads. "There's only one thing in my soul," Neutrino says. "It's attack. Whether it's musical, spiritual, emotional, it's a multileveled attack. If you don't attack, you're just receiving all the blows of life." And yet paradoxically, he is on a non-offensive and introspective quest: "I am always asking myself, How can I become more involved, more passionate, and less vulnerable?" If Neutrino had taken his philosophy and energy and expended it in business, he would have been a millionaire many times over, but then he would just be one of millions of millionaires, and he would not have been the fascinating character profiled here. At the end of the book, Neutrino, elderly but hanging on after heart attacks, is still making rafts, perhaps one to go across the Pacific. Few who read this intimate and absorbing book will want to imitate his particular style of life, but there is much to admire about Neutrino's eccentricity. "I'm going out of this life as what I have worked and striven my whole life to be, a free man - free of possessions, free of greed, free of worry and strife. Free of anything superfluous."
Poppa Neutrino is an eccentric and a man of solid will, someone who is not shaken in the slightest by what other think. He does the impossible and has no interest in materialism or pop culture. He is very much an American-- an individual and pure at the core.
I found this book to be filled with great writing and fantastic stories. I found Poppa Neutrino to be an amazing and inspiring man that somehow and unsurprisingly got thrown out of the mainstream radar.
There are those individuals in our society that are simply different, live by a different code and have a completely different view of life and of values. Poppa Neutrino is certainly one of those individuals. Starting with a rather unique and unsettling childhood, Poppa has lived his life just the way he wanted to. During his 70 plus years of life (so far), he has been the leader of a band of roving musicians and street performers, join the military while under aged, has been a preacher and religious guide, street person, panhandled, seldom has spent over six months living in one place, has had a couple of wives and several children, sailed across the Atlantic to Ireland in a home made raft made up of scraps he picked up here and there, written songs, written a couple of books, been a professional gambler and is beyond a doubt, one of the best throwers of bull manure you will ever run across. Neutrino has rejected just about ever thing our society has to offer. He has lived at the point of complete poverty most of his life, has been homeless most of his life, yet, when all is said and done, obviously would have it no other way.
I have noted that a lot of folks have more or less associated him with Kerouak. who, by the way, Poppa knew. I cannot really agree with this. Poppa has certainly not pickled his brain on drugs and alcohol (although I suspect there may have been a bit of this in his life from time to time) and there does not seem to the distain and complete obsession with self destruction in his attitude that Kerouak so well documented in his On the Road. Poppa has a more or less live and let live attitude. Some of the things Poppa does are down right stupid, dangerous and certainly not some thing any sane person would recommend, or even attempt to do, but they work for him and they make him happy and I suppose that is what really counts.
Wilkinson has done a nice job of writing in this book. I personally felt he lingered a bit too long on the football play that Poppa has invented, which supposedly will change the game as much as the forward pass did, but then I am not much of a football fan and found this a bit boring. I would also have enjoyed the book more if the author had spent more time telling of Poppa's adventures traveling this country and Mexico, rather than dwell so much of the present. But then it is Wilkinson's book and I am sure he felt he should have written it the way he did.
There are a number of extremely interesting web sites devoted to the exploits of Poppa that I would hardly recommend. The shots of his home made raft are something to behold.
All in all, I found this to be a very enjoyable read. As I understand it, Poppa, who is now about 74 years old, homeless and broke, is attempting to build another raft somewhere in Mexico and sail across the Pacific. I wish him well.