“The Last Wild Men of Borneo: A True Story of Death and Treasure”

By Carl Hoffman

c. 2018, Wm. Morrow

$27.99, $34.99 Canada; 347 pages

Sometimes, you need to stir the pot. Agitate things, take chances, try something different because change is good. The status quo can be boring and a new view gives you fresh perspective. Stir a little, as you’ll see in the new book “The Last Wild Men of Borneo” by Carl Hoffman, and you alter things significantly.

Why are we so fascinated by people who live primitively? Carl Hoffman wanted to understand that question, and that of his own “persistent Western obsession,” so he headed to Bali with Bruno Manser on his mind.

Born in Switzerland, Manser was a man who’d try anything. He craved adventure, and was fearless, calm, and self-sufficient. Those were skills that served him well when, in 1984, he traveled to Borneo to live with the Penan nomads of the rainforest.

Many before him had gone into the jungle; Manser went deeper. The Penan were elusive but he found them – or rather, they found him when his supplies were depleted and they allowed him into their homesite. Over time, the Penan slowly folded him into their tribe and taught him their ways; Manser cut his hair like a Penan, wore a loincloth, hunted and ate like a Penan. And when he realized that his beloved rainforest was being destroyed by the logging industry, he fought like a Penan and organized them into a rebellion, which brought the desecration to a halt.

Hoffman was fascinated by Manser’s story, that Manser had escaped death and capture several times, and had done the impossible with a group of illiterate hunters before totally disappearing without a word in 2000. He thought of Manser on his way to Borneo, where he accidentally met Michael Palmieri, a “buccaneer” who left the modern world decades ago, who now makes a living by discovering and selling primitive art to the worlds’ top museums, and who had a likewise thrilling story.

To Hoffman, these men were two sides of a coin, like yin and yang of adventure, and that fascinated him. Manser and Palmieri seemed to want different things from the people of Borneo – but were they so different, after all?

It’s hard not to get swept up in the adventure of “The Last Wild Men of Borneo.”  It’s equally hard not to think it’s a novel, because it feels like it is – but nope, this is a true, jaw-dropping story that pulls you in with a shiver.

In a way that makes readers eager to find out more and learn why, author Carl Hoffman tells a mouth-drying tale of beauty, risk, and opportunity, so bring something to drink when you start this book. Then sip slowly: using great details in these parallel narratives and a perfectly-worked ending, Hoffman carefully preserves two mysteries: one with a contented life, and one in death. Who could resist?

Armchair adventurers or those who want to live vicariously through this tale shouldn’t even try. Just go, now, get “The Last Wild Men of Borneo,” and jump in. You’ll find the account to be quite stirring.

“Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot”

By Winifred Conkling

c. 2018, Algonquin Young Readers

$19.95, $29.95 Canada; 312 pages

You can do that. Ask around and you’ll find a boy who can program a computer, change a tire, throw a ball, do algebra, invent things, build and create, lead a committee – all things girls are fully capable of doing. If he can do something, so can she – but in the new book “Votes for Women!” by Winifred Conkling, it wasn’t always so …

Tennessee Representative Harry Burn was still on the fence. It was August, 1920. He was up for re-election, and a “yes” on the issue of voting rights for women would ratify the 19th Amendment and make it law. It’d be the right thing to do, but voting “yes” might cost Burn his job.

It was a dilemma that started in 1826, when Elizabeth Cady’s brother died: her father had buried four other sons, but this last boy was his favorite. Eleven-year-old Cady knew it, and she hoped to comfort her father by vowing to be as good as any boy he knew.  

Try as she might, though, she was still a girl and that wasn’t great: females in the mid-1800s didn’t have many rights. They couldn’t own property, sign contracts, or keep their own paychecks. Cady was smart enough to understand these facts; she had a cousin who further schooled her on issues of slavery so when Cady married Henry Brewster Stanton, she made sure he understood her stance on equality.

But that stance was not hers alone. She met others who wanted rights, specifically the right to vote, and on July 13, 1848, five women sat down to discuss having a suffrage convention. They spread the word and, six days later, more than three hundred people showed up to learn about women and voting. At a subsequent meeting, Harriet Tubman came and became a supporter but, alas, suffrage efforts were temporarily shelved during the Civil War. When Black men got the right to vote after the War, outraged women doubled-down on efforts to gain voting equality.

Nearly 50 years later, those who’d inherited the fight had almost reached their goal but an amendment to the Constitution had a contingency: before it could become law, a majority of the states had to ratify it …

It’s as simple as flipping a switch or drawing a line. The audience for this book will be doing it in the not-too-distant future. And that’s why “Votes for Women!” is so important for your 15-to-18-year-old: she needs to know who did battle for her.

Far from a commonly-boring, lecture-lecture-lecture history book, author Winifred Conkling takes the story of suffrage and makes it into a proper page-turner. Young readers will find feistiness, adventure, scandal, rousing speeches, goosebumps, horror, and romance here. There’s irritation and motivation inside this book, as well as a very satisfying ending that rivals any kind of novel.

What else could your teen want in a book?  What else could you want, because “Votes for Women!” is also a good read for grown-up voters of any stripe.

Have it around. You can do that.

More: The Bookworm: Tales of heartache, woe and survival

More: The Bookworm: Tales of heartache, woe and survival

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.


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