Book Review: The Geography of Bliss

Author: Eric Weiner
Title: The Geography of Bliss
Publication Info: New York : Hachette Auio, p2008.
ISBN: 1600242588


This is a travel book with a mission.  Weiner seeks out the happiest places on Earth testing out data from happiness research as well as trying to find his own bliss.

Will he find happiness in:

  • Netherlands, land of permissiveness
  • Switzerland, boring but content
  • Bhutan, where they add up the gross national happiness
  • Qatar, does money by happiness?
  • Iceland, where people enjoy how failure encourages their creativity
  • Moldova, the unhappiest nation on Earth
  • Thailand, permissiveness without Dutch order
  • Great Britain, where a reality tv show works on making Slough happy
  • United States, not so happy as it is wealthy

Weiner visits all these places, makes some interesting observations, and has fascinating conversations with citizens and expatriates alike.  The irksome thing about Weiner is that he tries too hard to be funny and often fails.  The book is redeemed though by when he plays it straight and simply reports what he sees, which is often hilarious.

A interesting twist on the travel memoir and a good resource if you’re wondering where to move – or where not to move – in search of happiness.

Recommended books: Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson and The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
Rating: ***

Book Review: Don Quixote de La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes

Author: Miguel de Cervantes
Title: Don Quixote de La Mancha
Publication Info: Ashland, OR : Blackstone Audiobooks, p1997. [Originally published in 1605 & 1615]
ISBN: 0786187042


I’ve been meaning to read this classic novel for a long time, but I just didn’t see myself sitting down with a 400-year old tome any time soon.  So I listened to it as an audiobook over several weeks in the month of January.

It’s interesting how familiar the story is.  The oft-cited “tilting at windmills” bit happens so early on that I wonder if all the people who refer to it read any further.  Don Quixote is quite mad but also more dangerous than I realized.  While Sanch Panza is something of a sane sidekick who puts his master’s ravings in perspective but he is as blinded by greed for the governorship of an island as Quixote is blinded by his madness.

The satire in this novel is quite sharp, sometimes mean-spirited, and it can get to be too much.  I was also surprised by the stories-within-a-story that are told that give this book a Canterbury Tales feel.  All in all, I’m glad I finally “read” this classic.

Favorite Passages:

For historians ought to be precise, truthful, and quite unprejudiced, and neither interest nor fear, hatred nor affection, should cause them to swerve from the path of truth, whose mother is history, the rival of time, the depository of great actions, the witness of what is past, the example and instruction of the present, the monitor of the future.

I am a distant flame, and a sword far off: those whom I have attracted with my sight, I have undeceived with my words ; and if hope be the food of desire, as I never gave any encouragement to Chrysostome, nor to any other, it may well be said, it was rather his own obstinacy than my cruelty that shortened his life.

“Well, well,” said Sancho, “God is in heaven, and sees all tricks, and will judge who does most harm, I in not speaking right, or your worship in not doing it.”

Shortly after this, several bands of dancers of various sorts began to enter the arcade at different points, and among them one of sword-dancers composed of some four-and-twenty lads of gallant and high-spirited mien, clad in the finest and whitest of linen, and with handkerchiefs embroidered in various colours with fine silk; and one of those on the mares asked an active youth who led them if any of the dancers had been wounded. ‘As yet, thank God, no one has been wounded,’ said he, ‘we are all safe and sound;’ and he at once began to execute complicated figures with the rest of his comrades, with so many turns and so great dexterity, that although Don Quixote was well used to see dances of the same kind, he thought he had never seen any so good as this

Praise be to him who invented sleep, which is the mantle that shrouds all human thoughts, the food that dispels hunger, the drink that quenches thirst, the fire that warms the cold, the cool breeze that moderates heat; in a word, the general coin that purchases every commodity; the weight and balance that makes the shepherd even with his sovereign and the simple with the sage

Recommended books: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Rating: ***1/2