THE SELF-PROPELLED VOYAGER
Author: Duncan R. Jamieson
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
Price: Between £45 and £60
REVIEWED BY RICHARD PEPLOE
Here we have a book that is very different to any other on my bookcase - in so many ways. Subtitled “How the cycle revolutionised travel” the book is a detailed review of published work about cycle touring, written by an American professor: I was intrigued to see what an academe would find of interest in the world of cycling, and the answer seems to be ‘a lot’.
Jamieson is “both an academic and a lifelong cyclist who came to realize the academic merit of the subject”, and he uses the book to show how the arrival of the cycle “changed forever the nature of personal transportation”. What we take for granted today was a revelation in the days when your only other options were walking (which was slow) or riding a horse (which was expensive).
The book provides a fascinating history of the role of the cycle in touring and adventure. It can only draw on published work, so of course it may not present the complete picture; it also restricts itself to publications in English, which means that it definitely will not have the full picture; while we are mentioning the limitations, be aware that coverage seems to tail off a bit once you reach this century.
Despite that, Jamieson is still left with more material to cover than you thought possible, and he does a fine job of distilling it down to the relevant points. Furthermore, if your interest is sufficiently piqued to want to know more, there are extensive footnotes and a comprehensive biography. It is at times like this when you realise just how much more good reading material there is out there about our favourite pastime.
We read about journeys that are so varied, eventful, challenging, and simply interesting, that the ‘armchair travellers’ amongst us are spoilt for choice. Each page reminds us that “The single most important criterion for long-distance cycling has nothing to do with equipment or physical strength; it is commitment.".
There are numerous examples of the commitment required, but there is one that particularly impressed me: “At forty-three, Elizabeth Robins Pennell became the first woman to conquer all the major passes in the Alps on a bicycle ... in August 1898”: just imagine the state of the ‘roads’ in those days, the machinery that was available to her, the clothing that she was able to wear – and that is before having to cope with the challenges of nutrition, weather, etc that can still defeat us today.
Reading this book took me back to my university days: it was never going to be a light read, as there is so much fascinating information crammed into each chapter, but whilst it requires concentration, your efforts are amply rewarded.
Here’s another reminder of student days: the price of the book. All titles on my course reading list seemed expensive at the time, probably not helped by the Net Book Agreement that was in force. Although these days you can save a few pounds with an electronic version, you can’t get away from the fact that this book looks dear compared to more mainstream books. In fact, it is now the most expensive book on my bookshelves, and that is certainly not because it has lots of pages or colour pictures.
The publisher tells me that ‘the title is classified as a monograph, which is a piece of work done by an academic on a research topic and aimed principally at the academic market.’ The result will be a small audience and low volumes: it is a pity that the resultant price will inevitably limit the appeal of such a worthy work.
Anyone who is lucky enough to have Carlton Reid’s excellent book ‘Roads were not built for cars’ (http://www.roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com/) will see many parallels with this book, and will find it equally illuminating.
You are unlikely to find this book in your local bookshop (if you still have one): it is available from the publishers in America (http://www.rowman.com/ISBN/9781442253711/The-Self-Propelled-Voyager-How-the-Cycle-Revolutionized-Travel), but this exposes you to exchange rate fluctuations and shipping delays.
You can also find it on Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1442253703/sr=1-1/qid=1476277871/ref=olp_product_details?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=1476277871&sr=1-1). It is worth noting that as a ‘print-on-demand’ title there may not be one in stock as claimed, but your copy will be printed to order within a few days. As far as I know this is my first book using that method, and I don’t see any difference in quality from traditional production methods.
There is no doubt that this is a well-researched and informative book on a fascinating subject - but its value for money will always be a handicap.
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2017