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Hunter S. Thompson's 1966 book Hell's Angels is a rather tedious ode to the repellent bikers and their supposed ethos that is redeemed only at the very end when they beat the stuffing out of the author and make an obvious hash of everything he's written up to that point. Chris Verrill is an altogether different man than Mr. Thompson was--it seems fair to say he's even one of the good men contemplated by his title--and this is an altogether different book than Thompson's. It details the world trip Mr. Verrill took in the wake of 9-11, seeking to start up an educational project in Afghanistan on behalf of the Pacifica Rotary Club. But the Mr. Verrill who sets out on this journey does have something of the innocence and naivety of a Candide and by journey's end has had a hefty dose of reality beaten into him. Good men may be required to do something to combat evil in the world, but that doesn't mean that the world will accommodate them by getting rid of red tape, bureaucracy, and other forms of foolishness.

One of the chief attractions of the book is the pleasant demeanor and sunny outlook on life that Mr. Verrill brings to his quest. Though not blind to America's faults he is confident that we mean well even in the more controversial aspects of the War on Terror. He's not a George Bush supporter, but is also unwilling to disavow him and the Administration's attempts to liberalize the Middle East. He'd prefer that we'd had the U.N. imprimatur for the Iraq war, but no doubt that it's worth deposing Saddam. The many misunderstandings of America by the people he meets genuinely pain him, just as their own cultures fascinate him. He seems certain that if only we could all get together and know each other better we'd all get along.

The first half of the book is somewhat overlong, as we spend too much time preparing for the trip, traveling across America and then in Africa, the Mediterranean and even Central Europe. However, once Mr. Verrill gets to India and begins traveling to Pakistan and working on the project in earnest the book becomes more focused. It's here too that the author gets a dismaying education in just how difficult folks can make it to do even a good deed. The best portions of the book actually come at Mr. Verrill's own expense as his can-do attitude bumps up against bureaucrats and regulations that say no-you-can't or, at least, not-so-fast. The book ends up being a tragicomic variation on The Quiet American and an enjoyable read even if not quite the one the author hoped to give us.


Grade: (B)


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