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Strange and Dangerous Dreams: The Fine Line Between Adventure and Madness [Hardcover]

Geoff Powter
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Aug. 1 2006
Adventurers are among the world's most celebrated heroes, but cross a line and potential glory can become derision, madness and death. This title explores the darker psychological drama behind the exploits of eleven adventurers, famous and lesser-known. It is written by a practicing clinical psychologist. The accounts include heretofore unpublished information provided by archival witnesses, friends, and family. Every culture, in every era, has its adventure myths: The golden hero willing to walk through fire elevates us all beyond our fears and limits. But more often than readily seen, there are darker reasons for dangerous pursuits. Where does the fall line between adventure and madness? Geoff Powter, a practicing clinical psychologist, looks into the stories of eleven troubled adventurers, divided into three categories: The Burdened, The Bent, and The Lost. Polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott has been called a "willing martyr" ready to die for the mystical deliverance of adventure. Meriwether Lewis, convinced that he had failed to achieve the objectives set by mentor and father figure, Thomas Jefferson, died by his own hand. Maurice Wilson's plan for climbing Everest included deliberately crashing his plane as high as possible on the mountain. Jean Batten was a remarkably driven early aviator whose clothes and make-up were always more perfect than her flying technique. Polar balloonist, Solomon Andree was certain that his rigorous understanding of scientific principles would overcome any challenge posed by nature or equipment failure. Aleister Crowley, a brilliant mountaineer who founded the Golden Dawn cult, was labeled pathologically, and even fatally, arrogant. In each of these stories, darkness of some kind - ambition, ego, a thirst for redemption, the need to please others - carried these characters in a perilous direction. In the end, understanding these difficult but utterly human stories helps us comprehend the deepest purpose and allure of adventure, and, ultimately, to more honestly measure ourselves.

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Product Description

About the Author

Geoff Powter is a clinical psychologist with a forensic assessment practice in Canmore, Alberta, Canada. A veteran of thirteen climbing expeditions to the Himalaya, Powter has worked for many years with Outward Bound. He is a contributing editor for Explore magazine.

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Format:Hardcover
Being an avid reader of mountaineering literature, both historic and contemporary, I was already familiar with the accomplishments (or lack thereof) of the climbers in this book. However, seen from writer Geoff Powter's perspective, who is both a practicing psychologist and a veteran of many important ascents in North America and the Himalaya, his arguments for inspired madness have breathed new life into what had once seemed all too familiar territory.

The same can be said of the others in the book who he selected from a roster of many hundreds, if not thousands, of possibilities. Whether launching their flimsy craft onto the high seas, or into the air scant meters above the seas, all of the adventurers had one thing in common: they were swimming against the enervating currents of conventionality.

If there's one thing that I've been able to take away from this reading, it's this: don't take the well-worn phrase, "Because it's there!" too lightly.

Pat Morrow, author Beyond Everest, Quest For The Seven Summits
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange and Dangerous Dreams Sept. 8 2006
By K. Freeman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Climber and psychiatrist Geoff Powter tells the stories of explorers and climbers, from Meriwether Lewis to Aleister Crowley, who may have suffered from psychological ailments. In many of the cases, the individuals may have been driven to their desperate adventures by their mental and emotional suffering. Powter gives engaging sketches of their lives and addresses the difference between them and the risk-taking mountaineers and explorers who may be labeled 'crazy' by the public, but in fact are entirely sane. He has a relatively good sense of historical mentalities and the contexts in which his subjects lived. In the cases where he suggests clinical diagnoses, they seem sensible (he doesn't accuse anyone of having a random 'death wish') and based on evidence.

As interesting as I found the book, I wish that Powter had compared the experiences of his subjects with his own extensive mountaineering experience. So many of the emotions felt by the troubled adventurers, and so many of their decisions, seem similar to those of less troubled individuals engaged in the same activities -- only more exaggerated. I suspect there's a gray area between the two groups, not a sharp dividing line, and I think some discussion of that factor would have enhanced the book.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The cover art is strange and dangerous to sales (IGNORE IT!) Aug. 30 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you are one of the intrepid few who soldiered beyond the flipped-out cover flap, congratulations, you have just discovered an entire set of uniquely interesting tales; each of which begs the question: Why do seemingly sane people risk their lives in both fantastic and frivolous pursuits when they could be someplace exceedingly dull, planted on their pants-pockets like the rest of us?

Enter author and clinical psychologist Geoff Powter's eleven gripping tales (...well ten for me, excepting "The Wickedest Man"), all determined to enlighten the uninitiated.

Meet the Burdened:
1) Meriwether Lewis: Ying to Clark's Yang, Meriwether returns from America's great Corps of Discovery to find only deepening darkness and an unforeseen end.
2) Robert Falcon Scott: Second to the South Pole in a race that honored only first, this doomed explorer whispers from the grave, "Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell."
3) Solomon Andree: With little more preparation than crossed fingers, this balloon bound North Pole hopeful states, "Shall we be thought mad...?" and then promptly threw caution, and his life, to the wind.
4) Donald Crowhurst: Would be global sailor, Crowhurst slipped anchor to ethics and sanity, and when he discovered the world was flat, he promptly slipped off the edge.

The Bent:
1) John Franklin: Beginning with a quest for the Northwest Passage, he ends with, "...a cooking pot, filled with boiled human bones."
2) Jean Batten: After narcissistically fighting her way to world-crossing, record-setting flights, she slips into half-centuries of singular loneliness.
3) Aleister Crowley: "The Wickedest Man in the World," and subject of an utterly repulsive chapter, this fringe miscreant is the cover's inspiration and responsible for my considering four stars instead of five. Why didn't I go there? Despite MY glowing red line between interestingly driven and insanely perverse, I realized that this cracked case study might be the star for Powter's more psychology-slanted readers. Gentle others... beware.

The Lost:
1) Claudio Corti: After this "...befuddled child in the body of a man," was hoisted up the face of the Eigerwand on another man's back, he then inexplicably knighted himself the "first Italian to climb the North Wall." Wow!
2) Maurice Wilson: Mastered a plan to be the first to summit Mount Everest after also becoming the first to crash a plane on it.
3) Earl Denman: This "Romantic Heart" never summated Everest, but his friend Tenzing Norgay did - wearing Earl's red balaclava. "...at least a little part of him has reached his goal," reflected Tenzing.
4) Guy, Johnny, Bill Waterman: A man and his sons; three climbing men fated for separate and sad declines.

Excepting "The Wickedest..." for my sensitive heart, this collection is an excellent look into the minds of our foremost heroes and retreating idiots. Let us not forget them, but for God's sake, let us not emulate them.

Ignore the cover art. Buy this great book.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange And Dangerous Dreams: The Fine Line Between Adventure And Madness Oct. 17 2006
By Pat Morrow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Being an avid reader of mountaineering literature, both historic and contemporary, I was already familiar with the accomplishments (or lack thereof) of the climbers in this book. However, seen from writer Geoff Powter's perspective, who is both a practicing psychologist and a veteran of many important ascents in North America and the Himalaya, his arguments for inspired madness have breathed new life into what had once seemed all too familiar territory.

The same can be said of the others in the book who he selected from a roster of many hundreds, if not thousands, of possibilities. Whether launching their flimsy craft onto the high seas, or into the air scant meters above the seas, all of the adventurers had one thing in common: they were swimming against the enervating currents of conventionality.

If there's one thing that I've been able to take away from this reading, it's this: don't take the well-worn phrase, "Because it's there!" too lightly.

Pat Morrow, author Beyond Everest, Quest For The Seven Summits
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting Read Feb. 3 2007
By Harold McFarland - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Given the cover graphic and book title this is not a book that I would normally have picked up and started to look at. However, after reading through it I find that it would have been my loss. The author points out that there is often a fine line between the quest for adventure and madness. To make his point he examines the lives and dreams of several adventurers and how something in their character caused them to cross that line into madness or at least come very close to it. Some of the adventurers examined include Meriwether Lewis, Robert Scott, Donald Crowhurst, Jean Batten, and Aleister Crowley. This is a really interesting account of each of these people and an insight into their personal lives. Strange and Dangerous Dreams is a recommended read for people with a passion for adventure and history.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Mix of History and Psychology, and Historical Psychology Feb. 17 2007
By Kathryn C. Stevens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
From the perspective of someone who has a terrible mind for history (the kind of person who forgets about most historical figures soon after learning about them), I found this collection of histories to be surprisingly memorable and genuinely interesting. Author Geoff Powter does a great job of choosing some historical figures we have all heard of (like Meriwether Lewis) and throwing in several we haven't (like Solomon Andree). Each adventurer's life is covered relatively thoroughly from birth to death, but at a pace that keeps each segment interestng. With journalistic accuracy (and impartiality), Powter presents several sides to the most crucial or questionable events of each character's strange and/or dangerous path.

Although it's true that many of the author-imposed categories for these troubled adventurers could be switched or overlapped, I don't think that takes away at all from the telling of the stories themselves. They all struck me as fascinating and quite worthy of being included in this volume.

I found Strange and Dangerous Dreams to be an engrossing read when I had the time (sometimes I would read through three segments in a sitting) and at other times, a very easy book to pick up and put down at will. The organization of the book into differently-themed chapters and larger sections made each individual story more of a complete unit, and therefore easier to read in shorter sittings. Either way, if you're a history buff or a psychology enthusiast, this is a fascinating and informative read- no matter how much time you have on your hands. I highly recommend it.
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