When Lieutenant James Holman sailed to Russia in 1822, intent on crossing Siberia on his way to circumnavigate a globe still largely unchartered, the authorities of the Tsar arrested him on suspicion of espionage. Their scepticism was understandable: James Holman was completely blind.
Holman returned to London and wrote a bestselling book about his abortive trip. But the wanderlust remained: as he put it, "In my case, the deprivation of sight has been successful by an increased desire for locomotion." In 1827 he set off again, this time for Africa. He would not return until 1832, having visited India, the Far East and Australia en route, and indulged in seemingly suicidal adventures such as stalking rogue elephants in Ceylon and helping blaze a road through unchartered New South Wales. For Holman it was the raw intensity of such experiences that kept depression at bay: he travelled in order to regain the sensation of feeling fully alive.
Jason Roberts has used Holman's own writings as well as a myriad of other contemporary sources to weave a spellbinding narrative about this fascinating character. Full of suspense and humour, and vivid in its re-creation of a world experienced through the non-visual senses, 'A Sense of the World' is a marvellous blend of travel, biography and history, and a great tribute to a man of rare spirit.