Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveller” as Want to Read:
A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveller
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveller

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  1,011 Ratings  ·  211 Reviews
When Lieutenant James Holman sailed to Russia in 1822, intent on crossing Siberia on his way to circumnavigate the globe, the authorities of the Tsar arrested him on suspicion of espionage. Their scepticism was understandable: James Holman was blind. This book is a blend of travel, biography and history.
Unknown Binding, 383 pages
Published 2005 by Simon & Schuster
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Sense of the World, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Sense of the World

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Austin Outhavong
this book seems to give a good picture about the following things i have never experienced:

1. being blind

2. living in the 19th century

3. being in the british navy

4. the nature of world travel before there was a world tourism industy

5. the nature of the medical profession in england in the 19th century

Aug 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
An amazing biography on a little-known historical figure, John Holman. I think this blurb describes it best:

"He was known simply as the Blind Traveler, a solitary, sightless adventurer who fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon and helped chart the Australian outback. Once a celebrity, a bestselling author and inspiration to Charles Darwin and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the charismatic, witty Holman outlived his fame, dying in
Dec 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read an amazing book about a blind traveler in the XIXth Century. Jason Roberts has done a priceless job in bringing this role-setting man to life again. The book is truly breathtaking. Holman’s adventures sound like very far-fetched fiction. It’s insane how he could travel the world alone at those times. To top it all, it turns out his only pal was deaf. Here are some of the many increadible things he managed to achieve alone with very limited funds and no sight at all:

explore the Brazil
Jul 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Travelers & Adventurers
Recommended to Carrie by: Bookstore
This book is a biography and travel account of Englishman: James Holman (1786- 1857. During his life, he became "the most accomplished traveler of all time", covering no less than a quarter of a million miles in his circumnavigation of the world.

It is exceptional that a person ventured of his own initiative (with an impulse towards the exotic)- but perhaps even more epic, because this solo traveler was blind.

The Blind Traveler wrote more than 5 books, regarded himself of equal to any seeing task
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating, very well-written book about someone you've probably never heard of - James Holman, the "Blind Traveler," who lived from 1786 to 1857.

In this age of Google (Glass, Earth, Maps) it's very hard to remember that there was a time when travelers could still journey to places that were absolutely unmapped and unexplored. Holman did make these journeys, and he did it as a blind man who had very limited means, only the most basic transportation(he mainly walked), and, usually, no compani
Sep 05, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in historical travel.
A chance encounter in a library led the author to discover James Holman (1786–1857). Son of a shopkeeper, James rises to lieutenant in the British Navy right around the War of 1812. He is forced out of the Navy due to medical issues (blindness as well as rheumatic arthritis) and although nearly penniless, finds he is in the best of health when travelling in exotic countries and climes. ... alone.

Holman's charm and cunning nets him excursions to the Americas, Africa and the Orient - hunting slave
Aug 19, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is one of the more interesting biographies I've read. It's in a similar vein to The Professor and the Madman in that it explores a period in time as well as an idea as much as it does the life of a single individual. In this one, James Holman, the Blind Traveler, certainly is the central focus of the story, but it is wrapped in the early 19th century world in regards to its ideas about travel and Roberts exploration of blindness. Overall he has written a gripping, fascinating tale.
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jun 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
So inspiring! Holman really blew me away! What industry and what a sense of adventure, and a strong sense of self you must posses to confidently travel in this way. I am so upset at the author though! Bah on you for writing such an important and legendary hero in such a transparently boring fashion! A hundred stars for the main character and negative a hundred for the writer. Fie! What an opportunity to explore allusion and description in a novel focusing on someone who must use all there other ...more
Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James Holman joined the Royal Navy in the mid-1700s to see the world. When he gradually became blind, he decided that travel was the only way to stay healthy and sane.He ended up traveling thousands of miles around the world.
Holman's accomplishments are astonishing not just for their time, but for the fact he often traveled to foreign countries alone, not knowing the language or anyone there. The book also contains the best description I have ever read about how a blind person uses the textures
Delcie Bushman
Apr 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! What am I so afraid of, that I don't follow my dreams? The whole idea of a blind man, with little monetary means, traveling such distances and with such enthusiasm and awe, is the best example of what people can do when they have the right attitude. (A little determination doesn't hurt, either!) I'm so thankful to Jason Roberts for not letting this story get lost! It's inspiring!
This was a timely read. I've been thinking a lot lately about eyesight and world travel and this is an interesting book about the life and travels of James Holman - a man born in England in the late 1700s. After several years in the navy and other illnesses he suddenly finds himself blind. Even though this leaves him with little support and opportunities, it doesn't stop him from living his life fully. He finds a way to take care of himself and even to travel the world and write about his advent ...more
I struggled through 75-100 pages before I figured out what was troubling me about this book.

It's the kind of book I fear I might write, given my penchant for pursuing scraps of tantalizing historical information, and falling down the rabbit hole in pursuit of the next detail, the next little piece of the picture.

John Holman should be a fascinating subject for a book. Born in 18th-century England, blinded at the age of 25, he rose above society's low expectations and considerable obstacles to bec
Oct 27, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs, adventure lovers
Shelves: biography
This biography takes the reader into the life and times of James Holman (b. 1786), a British Naval officer who becomes blind after a mysterious illness at the age of 25. Well-written, engaging, and informative, this book not only chronicles the incredible adventures and accomplishments of Holman, but deftly escorts the reader into the world of sightlessness, describing such skills as "human echolocation," and such sensations as synesthesia (seeing sound, in Holman's case). Holman circumnavigated ...more
Jan 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everyone should learn who James Holman is. This guy was extraordinary and totally forgotten by history. He traveled more extensively throughout the world than anyone else had before him (1820s-1850s) and chose to get off the beaten path (if there even was one at that time) by hanging out in the bush and with natives any chance he got. A totally open-minded and sincere person who documented and experienced cultures we have all-but lost. Oh, did I mention he did this all as a blind man before Brai ...more
Oct 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is great. A true story of James Holman's life and travel in the late 1700's and early 1800's. He was blind and he circumnavigated the world in 1832. Impoverished and in bad health he traveled to the boundaries of the known world and further. An interesting section about Holman's participation in Britain's attempt to stop slave trade to the US. Britian sent British naval ships to intercept the slave ships off the coast of Africa and return the people to their homes. Their attempt was no ...more
Jan 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is very well written book about an amazing man. I am about 1/3 of the way through and find it incredibly interesting. The author of the book stumbled upon the blind traveler by happenstance and researched the traveler in such detail that you would think that either the traveler had written the book or was there to consult the author, who by the way was born over one hundred years after the traveler's time. So far this is a fabulous read - very compelling and quite amazing for this man to ha ...more
Sep 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, nonfiction
Audio. I've already recommended this to two people - a good popular history choice. It was a little long as an audio, but consistently interesting (and good reader). I enjoyed the range of historical details that were added to the strict biography - I felt I got a good feel for the settings to which Holman traveled and the times in which he lived. I was left not only with a good bit of wonder for his accomplishments (and tenacity) but also with some nice historical tidbits to look into further ( ...more
May 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic!!! Jason Roberts is a extraordinarily gifted writer. I can't believe how much I learned about subjects beyond James Holman, including appalling maritime conditions and the archaic treatments of rheumatic diseases. It's like I took a college seminar on all the components of this man's unbelievable and gifted life.
Joshua Polk
Jul 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
A very enjoyable biography. The story is both sad and inspiring; touching and exciting. This book is about the GREATEST traveler in all of history who somehow faded into obscurity. Roberts resurrects James Holman with this excellent book and presents the nearly unbelievable story of a blind man who overcame his affliction and experienced a life full of travel and excitement.
Jan 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book is a candle in the dark rooms of self-doubt and loneliness. It shines brightest when you find yourself in need of inspiration. Inspiration to travel, live, love and explore life with NO limitations... not even if you were a blind man circumnavigating the globe alone in the late 1800's. Phenomenal!
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A biography after living for a longtime with fiction, I don't know what the exact difference is but it's different I can say that. A work filled with the beauty of wanderlust, hope and nature, A long forgotten history - loved it soo much.
Apr 27, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The greatest traveler of the world of the 19th century was a blind man. The story sounds a lot more interesting than it really is. The book is meticulously researched and well written. Doesn't matter - still boring.
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unlike most biographies, this book reads like a novel. I was captivated that a blind man could accomplish the scope and depth of world travel in the 18th-19th centuries. Totally inspiring without being the least maudlin.
Nov 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: travel
I learned that sometimes the truly inspirational people out there, are amazing just by being who they are and doing their best to find joy in life. I also learned an amazing amount of history from this book.
Jul 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Inspiring story of a man who overcame his disability to experience the world.
Feb 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book about life and travels of James Holman 1786-1857. Makes me want to walk the Appalachia trail. Haha. I am so stuck inside the box - I can't even get off the continent. Recommend.
Interesting, but didn't get into the real travelogue until the second half. Could have probably skipped the British naval history....
Apr 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Best book I've read in ages. Story of a blind 19th century traveller covered vast stretches of the world. Inspiring. Humbling. Etc.
Lynn Ellis
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at 19th c. travel & how to "sense" the world w/o that most immediate sense, sight.
Erin Britton
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Holman grew up in the late 1700s, a time of adventuring and exploration when the world was still being discovered. Caught up in this fever for travel and adventure, Holman enlisted in the Navy only to have his ambition temporarily thwarted when he is struck down with an illness that leaves him blind. Despite his blindness, Holman decided to continue on independently with his dreams of travel, venturing to places that are still fairly inaccessible today and having adventures as varied as fi ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton
  • The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt
  • Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles To Timbuktu
  • The Sea Captain's Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century
  • River-Horse
  • A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier
  • Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer
  • The City Of Light: The Hidden Journal of the Man Who Entered China Four Years Before Marco Polo
  • The Journals Of Louisa May Alcott
  • The Gates of Africa: Death, Discovery, and the Search for Timbuktu
  • Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness
  • Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard
  • Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence
  • My Path Leads to Tibet: The Inspiring Story of How One Young Blind Woman Brought Hope to the Blind Children of Tibet
  • Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings
  • Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted Places
  • The Black Nile: One Man's Amazing Journey Through Peace and War on the World's Longest River
  • Lost Voices
Jason's debut nonfiction work, A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler (HarperCollins), was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics' Circle Award, longlisted for the international Guardian First Book Award, and named a Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus Reviews and other publications. He is also the inaugural winner ...more
More about Jason Roberts...

Share This Book