Why this Book is Different


This book’s purpose is to deliver a modern, innovative and profoundly uplifting world view in a way that is intellectually coherent, scientifically literate and fun.

Here are its unique selling points.


The Jolly Pilgrim reinterprets the human world from first principles: namely, that we’re a fallible species of carbon-based life forms living in a mysterious universe without a rule book.


  1. Our current environmental issues are reframed as the beginning of a phase of environmental instability which became inevitable with the development of agriculture, 12,000 years ago.
  2. Contemporary religious systems are reframed as the current form of a spiritual inheritance that has been evolving since humans became behaviourally modern, 50,000 years ago.
  3. The credit crisis is reframed as one in a long line of learning experiences implicit to working out (from scratch) how to manage a planetary economy.

No one in popular culture is setting out this larger historical context to modern life. When someone does (and sooner or later, someone is bound to), people will find their lives ever more meaningful and the travails of the present day less frightening.


I’m an optimist about the human condition and the trajectory of human affairs. I genuinely feel, deep in my heart, that our collective future will ultimately be bright and that there’s something wonderful going on here on planet Earth.

There’s more to it though: I have an intellectual conviction that those things are true. The more I learn about global society, and the narrative which brought us here, the more I believe that we, as a species, are fundamentally on the right track; and that if we keep our heads, and a sense of proportion, humanity will go to the stars.

And yet around the world, there is a widely held belief that civilisation is doomed and the world is in decline: an assessment which simply does not fit with my understanding of what’s happening on this planet.

In The Jolly Pilgrim, I’m going to explain exactly why I think that.


I tried to be matter-of-fact when I wrote the e-diary, but you’d have to go a long way to find a series of travel adventures as multifaceted, rich or bang-per-word intense as those in The Jolly Pilgrim.

In it, I cycle 6,500 kilometres across Europe; spend 12 days in a Croatian infection hospital; swim the Bosporus from Europe to Asia; am assaulted by Cambodian motorcycle thieves; am twice attacked by killer bees; hitchhike across Australia; spend long periods in Sydney, Istanbul, Quito, Zagreb and Buenos Aires; and immerse myself in subcultures including Australia’s Goths, Turkey’s intelligentsia, Quito’s Amerindians, India’s business classes, France’s bohemians and the Peruvian party set.

It’s not 440 pages because it’s wordy. A lot happens.


The standard method of writing a travel book is to plan it, embark on the journey, take notes, return home and write the book.

The Jolly Pilgrim, on the other hand, is a spontaneous literary creation. The first chapter starts with an email I wrote in 2005 after cycling across Kent and the two-year narrative which follows is spontaneous, raw and was recorded in real time – with no ground team and no editorial filter.

If I was a bit going mental, the diary reflects that. If I was melancholic, ditto.

You’ll see a real person, evolving through the journey, who doesn’t know where that journey is going to take him. As it happens, it took him on an around-the-world exploration of human civilisation, featuring a stint working in a drag club, a four-month period of studying the Abrahamic scriptures and a two-month spell as a hermit in South America. And it catalysed a mission: to make a call to arms for the human race to be more honest about itself.

It’s not the sort of thing one could make up.


The difficult-to-replicate asset I had when writing The Jolly Pilgrim was that two-year stream of public correspondence.

This allowed me to hang the second (reflective) narrative off that hard spine of storytelling in imaginative ways, so as to give each chapter a unique narrative flavour. The result is 182 yarns and reflections – each with its own beginning, middle, end and punchline – that lock together into a jigsaw of storytelling.

In addition, the contrast between the public diary and the introspective commentary allowed me to present the journey in an immersive, three-dimensional way – something which is often done in fiction, but rarely in non-fiction.

So: chapter 1 starts as a gentle travel story of a bicycle ride across France, and new threads are woven in one by one (the talking bicycle; the heartbreak; the philosophy; the shattered dreams; the war against bees; the comments on consensus reality) until, by chapter 10, that light travelogue has metamorphosed into a hypothesis regarding the nature of the collective human experience and an attempt to mind-meld the reader with the rest of their species – part, present and future.

Other travel books don’t do that.

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