Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Man Who Swam the Amazon by Martin Strel and Matthew Mohlke

Why I read it: I was interested to see who would do such a thing and why.

Summary: The title is self-explanatory. Martin Strel swam from the river's source to its mouth, at an amazing pace of fifty to sixty miles per day. The true author of the book, Matthew Mohlke, served as one of his navigators. The book is written in journal form, covering the sights and sounds of the Amazon rainforests, the villages and cities and the people that inhabit them. Mohlke also details the physical and mental toll the swim takes on Strel, not to mention the rest of the 22-person crew along in support of is Guinness Book of World Records record setting event.

My Thoughts: There are times I am simply embarrassed to be an American. Why did I never hear of this story? One would think that someone swimming the Amazon from end to end might have made headline news as it was happening. Perhaps it did. I missed it.

But that's not a surprise, really. Americans do not care about world events if a) they happen outside of the Unuted States, and b) they do not involve Americans. Watch our nightly news. We'd rather - apparently - watch a ten-minute story about how a local news team exposed a political appointee who rigged a copier at the State House to register only one of two copies so that he could pocket the profit than learn about floods in China or unrest in an African country. Blissful ignorace of international concerns has pushed us into problems before, and wil do so again (see Pearl Harbor, 9/11...).

Had Martin Strel been American, not Slovenian, I would have known he had pulled off his feat as it happened. It would have been all over the news, and he'd be on the front of a Wheaties box. In some ways, I envy the people of Slovenia who had the chance to follow his exploits as they happened. What a source of national pride it must have been.

But the greater theme of the book, for me, was posterity. What will we leave behind? Strel and Mohlke ask the question. If a slightly fat, slightly old man can swim the Amazon, what can you do? It's made me look deeply at what I've done and what I plan to do. I've worked for nonprofits all my life, fundraising, awareness raising for causes. I've written 34 books, most of which have done all of the above. And I have plenty of projects in the works. But, in the end, will I have truly done my part to improve the world? Will my effort have been a big enough deal?

Not Martin Strel big. What an inspiration. I have some thinking to do.

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