Jolly Pilgrim; jolly good read

The Jolly PilgrimImage courtesy of

I’m just off the back of finishing reading ‘The Jolly Pilgrim’, by Peter Baker, and since I’ve enjoyed reading it, I thought I’d write a short review of it, and share some reflections.

The book is a mixture of travel diary / journal / writings (London, Istanbul, Australia, India, Latin America, and some places in between), and broader reflections / musings on life, “who we are”, and where humanity is heading.

The first half of the book focuses more on the personal reflections and Baker’s travel experiences; the second half continues this theme, but also adds an increasing dose of musings on life, intermingled throughout the story (in ‘one go’, they might be too intense, but provided in such a measured way, with sometimes light-hearted content in-between they are very digestible).

It is a lively/fun read, with the travel writing reminding me of another great travel book that I read recently (“Do travel writers go to hell?” by Thomas Kohnstamm), and the musings on life often closely reflecting my own thoughts (as well as being thought provoking, raising further questions and helping me to contemplate other issues).

The musings in The Jolly Pilgrim tend to cover a few core themes:

  • civilization – in particular, focusing on the profund impact that agriculture had in stepping up humanity’s progress, as well as much of the pain incurred, and dealt out by our predecessors as part of their social and development (eg, by the conquistador’s in south america);
  • observations on religion – Baker’s perspectives on the impact of religion, and its role in society, based on his reading of the Bible, Qur’an and others, as well as his own personal experiences – a mature, intelligent and enlightened perspective in my view;
  • “champagne bubbles” – actually, not really champagne bubbles, but rather a metaphor for how individuals perceive themselves, able to observe the other bubbles, but maybe not easily able to recognize the symphony of bubbles going on around them, or have an awareness of the wider ‘party’ that is underway; and
  • “enlightenment 2.0” (only covered in detail on his website, but clearly behind much of what Baker writes about) – a reference that I’ve heard before (for example, by TED Talk speakers), in which Baker suggests that we are at an inflection point, where we are now reaching a new phase in our understanding of life, and the world.

Baker has a highly optimistic view of the future for humanity and the world, despite the many challenges that we face (environment, population, etc.) – it would be interesting to see an extra chapter reflecting on the more challenging economic times that the world has faced since he completed his trip in June 2007. His optimistic view is one that seems to be largely shared by Peter Diamandis, in his book with Steven Kotler, ‘Abundance‘, in which Diamandis/Kotler postulate that humanity will always eventually find solutions to the scarcity challenges it faces.

On occasion The Jolly Pilgrim could be perceived as ‘high level’ only (how else do you cover the above topic in the space of a single volume, together with travel diary excerpts?!), but the brilliance of the book comes from its readability and the thought-provoking approach, allowing readers to contemplate their own views further, beyond the text. It is not a theoretical or academic text.

Other highlights for me were The Bike Ride, “swimming the Bosporus”, the Eyrie, the interesting places that he visited, and the interesting people that he met. It’s clearly no substitute for having done such a trip, but it gives the reader a “fly on the wall” feeling – very cool.

I very much enjoyed reading the book, and would encourage others to consider it. You can find it on Amazon, as a paper book or Kindle version, as well as on Apple’s iBookstore.

Baker has included many photos from his trip, as well as an interesting updates on the process of finalizing and publishing his book on his website,


2 Responses

  1. Dear Matthew

    Your blog piece has been brought to my attention and I wanted to say thank you for your generous words. I appreciate from experience how time-consuming it is to write detailed, high-quality blog pieces, so I’m grateful you took the time to do so.

    ‘The Jolly Pilgrim’ is pitched at people who’ve already done plenty of their own thinking. As you suggest, summarizing so much material regarding human affairs in one volume was a demanding creative task, and one relies on a certain level of reader background knowledge (joining all the dots regarding today’s environmental/political/religious/economic debates would simply be too cumbersome). It’s therefore heartening when readers fill-in the book’s subtexts

    And I’m glad to know that we basically agree. It makes me feel like I have allies. 🙂

    Finally, I loved your phrase: “not easily able to recognize the symphony of bubbles going on around them”. When a book is published, the author loses control of its interpretation, but for me the idea that humans’ sense of individuality is a cognitive illusion (which exists for very good reasons of evolutionary psychology) is central to the big-picture, see-the-larger-pattern worldview ‘The Jolly Pilgrim’ was written to articulate.

    Very best wishes

    Peter Baker

    PS – extra material regarding regarding post-2007 will be forthcoming!

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