A profound rumination on the concept of freedom from the New York Times–bestselling author of Tribe
Throughout history, humans have been driven by the quest for two cherished ideals: community and freedom. The two don’t coexist easily; we value individuality and self-reliance yet are utterly dependent on community for our most basic needs. In this intricately crafted and thought-provoking book, Sebastian Junger examines the tension that lies at the heart of what it means to be human.
For much of a year, Junger and three friends—a conflict photographer and two Afghan war vets—walk the railroad lines of the east coast of the United States. It is an experiment in personal autonomy, but also in interdependence. Dodging railroad cops, sleeping under bridges, cooking over fires and drinking from creeks and rivers, the four men forge a unique reliance on one another.
In Freedom, Junger weaves his account of this journey with other topics: primatology and boxing strategy, the history of labour strikes and Apache renegades, the role of women in resistance movements, and the brutal reality of life on the Pennsylvania frontier. Written in exquisite, razor-sharp prose, the result is a powerful examination of the primary desire that defines us.
Junger follows Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging with a rambling reflection on the nature of freedom, grounded in a 400-mile hike he made "in segments over the course of a year" from Washington, D.C., to western Pennsylvania. To Junger and his unidentified companions (all told, eight people joined him at different parts of the hike), walking alongside railroad tracks, sleeping under bridges and in abandoned buildings, and dodging cops and security guards felt like something "ancient and hard." His account of their travails (blisters, exhaustion, freezing cold weather) is interspersed with philosophical musings ("the inside joke about freedom... is that you're always trading obedience to one thing with obedience to another"), lyrical nature writing (the water in one Pennsylvania creek "tasted as though civilization was something in the future"), and observations about war, human endurance, and the settling of the American frontier. It's a mixed bag insights into how the Apaches and the Taliban overcame numerically superior forces brush up against random facts and statistics (people can predict, with 70% accuracy, the outcome of a U.S. senate race "based on a one-second glimpse of the candidates' faces as they campaign"). Ultimately, the journey's lack of purpose (only near the end of the book does Junger acknowledge that he was going through a divorce at the time) mirrors the book's lack of focus. The result feels more self-indulgent than illuminating. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky, Stuart Krichevsky Literary.