Book Review – The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley

TheNaturalNavigatorI was given The Natural Navigator a year ago for my birthday and although it always looked like a good book, I had not opened it even once. That is my confession and the reason I am here writing my brainwaves down here!

I have a couple of other books that I would file in the same category as The Natural Navigator:- Never Eat Shredded Wheat by Christopher Somerville (Number 139) and The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney (Number 174) to name the two that come to mind. Incidentally, The Natural Navigator mentions Gavin’s Cloudspotter’s Guide so it will be fun to read that when the time comes. As I think more, I have also read Longitude by David Sobel which again is mentioned in TNN, and I have 1421 by Gavin Menzies (Number 57) which is not mentioned but is sort of related(ish); I have actually read over half of 1421, but as I didn’t finish, it is still on my list! I guess that’s 4 books which come to mind, but hey, who’s counting? Except of course me who introduced the counting thing to start with… [rolls eyes, awkward silence]

Of the (maybe) 4 books I own that talk about natural navigation in some way or other, The Natural Navigator is the one that I saw in a book shop around the time of my friend’s birthday after embarking on this blog. I had started to do a bit of list creation and noticed my copy hanging around; an idea struck me. I bought the book for my friend and gave it to him with a caveat. The gift came with a task; read the book, then do a practical! I have a set of books that are on a separate list called “read then do.” My commitment to books of this kind is captured in Rule Number 9. The Natural Navigator is one of these books that has snuck onto my main reading list. “What’s the Task?” I hear you ask. Well, my friend and I need to get lost, then navigation our way out of trouble. I will write a follow up post when we get the event planned, but to be honest if there is anything that is going to let me down it is my shockingly poor memory and it’s lacklustre ability to retain all of the cool stuff that Tristan Gooley’s book has given me.

The book itself is a wonderful way to gain a deeper understanding of the natural world. In the deep and varied way that Tristan introduces the concepts involved in natural navigation it is obvious that a very strong atunement with nature and it’s cycles is a core principal of the book. This fundamental appreciation of nature struck a chord with me. The need to have a holistic awareness of everything that can be used including not just the local nature, but the planet, the solar system and the rest of the visible galaxy was wonderful. With all that at our disposal you really do wonder why we bothered with anything more?

Tristan’s enthusiasm to find direction and location using the more obvious signs and confirm it via the use of the less obvious, more arcane knowledge is what brings the book to life and what will ultimately keep the skill of natural navigation alive. It also happens to be a very important lesson. Tristan states repeatedly that the navigator who complacently relies on one or two observations risks failure. But there is always more depth and more understanding to gain. Tristan shows that with so many double checks in place you can actually start to deduce new measures. At the end of the book, such is Tristan’s confidence of orientation that he adds a bird-poo compass to his arsenal. N.B. the bird-poo compass does not need to be carried in a pocket and to be honest, that is at least part of the point.

To further elaborate on the Raison d’être of the book, I loved the differentiation made between finding your way and knowing your way. A depth of understanding and a commitment to build the understanding of nature into your every day processes to such an extend that you know where you are and where you’re going at all times. The techniques described in the book will allow you to orientate yourself and find your way from natural cues, but, Tristan is so obviously trying to educating us in so much more. I know that I will forget a lot of what I have learnt, but I will retain enough and I have enough of a care for nature and how it works to re-visit this book in the future, if for no other reason than I am going to try to use it’s teachings in the mini-adventure I mentioned above.

The book is written in a nice succinct prose with enough descriptive content to make it enjoyable to read and there is a healthy undertone of comedic content. The clarity is almost a requirement as some of the concepts are quite hard to comprehend. When you have to take so many factors into consideration it can play havoc with those little grey cells. I continually imagined the navigators of history using these natural techniques, relying upon them when the users didn’t understand the solar system as we now do! I kept thinking of someone stood on the deck of a ship a long time ago trying to divine the correct course, and by some magic of logic and perseverance, succeeding!

It is scary to think that some fundamentals of our existence are no longer understood. We see so far because we are stood on the shoulders of giants… If we were to step (as we now do) off the giants shoulder onto higher ground and the giant walks off, then what? The Natural Navigator is a book that can act as the ladder in my simile, reconnecting us with the not just the ground, but with the natural navigation that is wondrously built into our planet and it’s surroundings.

Rating 8/10

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