Thursday 27 March 2008

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Sir Ranulph Fiennes

In October 1999, I saw Sir Ranulph Fiennes speak at a Project Management conference I attended in Paris, France. He was interesting although I did question his suitability as a speak at a Project Manger conference. I mean this man hadn't completed more than just 1 of his expeditions and he notoriously took more than 6 years planning his first expedition when he originally had thought it would only take 6 months. Maybe he was an example of what not to do.

He was inspiring nonetheless for his sheer stubbornness. And he had an uncanny dry wit about his presentation style. I laughed although i was never quite sure I was laughing at the appropriate time since the presenter never cracked a smile.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes was born in 1943 making him 65 (or so) years old. Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know is his autobiography originally published in 1987 and was chosen as the book group selection for March.

One of our original aims for the book group was to get us to read books which were outside of our comfort zone and we wouldn't normally pick out for ourselves to read. This book certainly falls into that category.

About a year ago I read a whole series of books written about the 1996 Mt Everest climbing season when a whole bunch of people died including 2 very accomplished and world famous climbing guides. There were differing stories about what happened up on the mountain and the alleged selfish and irresponsible behaviour of the climbing community during that fateful ascent. I found the books fascinating but by the 3rd perspective I was bored out of my skull.

I'm not a big fan of expedition for expedition sake. I understand why Sir Edmund Hillary did it. No one else had. I understand why Lewis and Clark did it. No one else had. But I think the explorer community these days are just in it for the fun of it. There doesn't seem to be much point to it anymore. OH sure, now they pretend to do it for charity but I reckon that is just a ploy to get someone else to pay for it all.

So I was more than a little nervous about reading this book but buoyed by my previous encounter with Sir Ranulph I hoped that the wit I saw at the conference would be woven into the book making it an entertaining yarn.

The books starts out with his extraordinary upbringing which is truly extraordinary. The family tree in the appendix is hilarious and fascinating going back to King Charles the Great. Seriously, I am not making this up. I wish the book had been about the family tree.

Because most of the book is a tedious play by play of each and every expedition. I must admit to skimming some chapters for fear of falling into a catatonic trance.

Which might by ok if he was a successful explorer. But it doesn't appear he was. The Transglobe appears to be his first and only successful expedition. I put that down to some amazing luck. Every subsequent attempt is thwarted by weather, health, weather, injury, weather or loss of supplies or weather.

Besides the Transglobe was truly a first time achievement. Prince Charles called it "monumental". And Fiennes succeeded. the first couple chapters dedicated to the story of how is astonishing and mesmerising.

But, like the remainder of Fiennes exploration career, it all goes a bit pear shaped after that.

Sir Ranulph reveals very little of his inner and private self which if you are going to write an autobiography I thought was the whole point. He insists, perhaps a bit too forcefully, how much his late wife, Ginny, meant to him. Near as I can figure he was forced into marrying her and once they were married they certainly didn't spend much time together. The only motivation for doing the expeditions is his woeful lack of any other skills. I reckon he was a wee bit lazy and never wanted a proper job. He only found something new to conquer when he needed to freshen up his lecture circuit demand or increase his book sales. Even this book is a repackage and republication of a previously published book.

I'm glad I read it. I won't read it again. And I won't be recommending it to my friends unless they are big fans of Arctic adventures.

pages 384 (excluding index but including appendices)

Book Group Thoughts: Pretty much agree with everything I said. For Once!

Next Month's Selection: The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner

1 comment:

Janell said...

I'm with you on not quite getting the idea of an expedition for expedition's sake. Doesn't really accomplish much nowadays, does it? Except for what you pointed out about boosting the book sales and lecture circuit demand.