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Freedom by Sebastian Junger ** (of 4)

Junger takes a walk along the railroad tracks from somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania to somewhere in the western part of the state, near Ohio. It is illegal to hike, camp, or otherwise mess with American railroads so Junger treats the adventure a lot like a war story, for which he is already famous from previous writings. Townies in rural PA are mostly threatening, gun toting, and unpredictable. Railroad cops could be looking out from anywhere.

So long as he remains unseen, however, his friends, his loyal dog, and he are free in a very Thoreau-vian sense . Four men with nothing more than what they can carry evade a lot of people, cook over secretive open fires, drink from passing streams, hide at night in the brush, and cope with offensive rains. Between wonderfully evocative pastoral descriptions of forests and looming rock formations, Junger dabbles in political philosophy. He ruminates on the meaning of freedom, the cost of maintaining freedom (he’s back to his military perspective), the history of free and not-so-free societies, and the distinction between nomadic societies (of which he considers himself a member now that he is walking with his friends and his dog on the tracks while avoiding government scrutiny) and the miserable un-free life of the rest of us settled folk.

But the real freedom expressed in this book is the privilege of a wealthy, successful, white male writer to take off from work whenever he chooses, write a few essays about political philosophy, and get it published. Though the narrative makes it appear to be a continuous journey of more than 400 miles, the acknowledgements clarify that the walk was not done in one fell swoop, nor were his companions consistent. More likely he walked a stretch of track when he felt like it and a couple of friends were free to join him. The text finishes with an admission that he was going through a divorce and walking as a means of coping. The book jacket says he lives at home with his family.

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