Top critical review
Neil Peart is FAR AND LESS likeable in this book
Reviewed in the United States on June 7, 2018
Of the three books in Neil Peart's "Far and Away/Near/Wide" travelogue series, this was the one that I liked the least. First off, the hardback editions of these books are nice. They are sturdy and the quality is really good. I highly suggest you get the hardback editions. In this book, you get the typical chapters of Neil's travels via motorcycle, mostly between shows on one of Rush's concert tours. The photographs are nice, the scenery depicted serves it's purpose to put you in the location that Neil is writing about, but personally, I do think the pictures are dominated a bit too much by roads and his motorcycle at times. It's his thing to frame his pictures around his bike, I get that and he describes this process very often.
Like the other two books in the series, Neil provides his observations, small bits of local history and the challenges faced on the road. Generally, I enjoy this type of writing, especially from a guy whose music career I have followed for many years. Neil has always been the quiet one, shying away from interviews and other public appearances. That's his choice and I respect that. The hope in reading these books is that a fan might get a bit of a glimpse into what drives and inspires a guy like Neil Peart. The guys in Rush have always been interesting to me, because they don't come across as your typical rock stars. The music, not the lifestyle, seemed to be their focus. That said, they have all capitalized on their fame and they do live the pampered life that results from that, with people fawning over them all the time, with personal security guards and others to satisfy their daily personal needs. Still, the curious fan wonders about who these guys are, what their life stories are, and do they have anything interesting to say outside of their music? Neil's books give us a peek into all that.
My criticism of this book has to do with the fact that his writing in this book, FAR AND MORE than the other two, reveals Neil to be a guy who believes his views to be superior to others. Sure, he's careful to conceal it in pseudo intellectualism, and while an appeal to reason is fine, it's clear that HIS personal value system is the only correct one to apply to life (but sadly, he's just seeing what he wants to see and calling it knowledge). First off, there's his admitted faith bashing. Personally, I don't care what religion Neil believes or if he believes in no religion at all (likely the case). He's free to express his disbelief. The problem I have is that he frequently expresses his disdain and essentially mocks those with religion, basically calling them stupid. He's seems so hurt to encounter Christian billboards in the heartland, so much so that he describes them as "scolding church signs" and "lurid billboards" whose "constant barrage assault his brain!" Neil clearly has issues that bother him on this topic. Yes. He's experienced personal tragedy in this life that would shake any "faith" system or confirm not having one at all, but I'm not making this critique as a defense of religion, simply that he needs to take a look at why he is faith bashing so often. It always bothers me that all the anti-religious can do is faith bash, with the accompanying mocking and disdain of organized religion. Let it go Neil. Find something else to write about. Add to all this, the sense of superiority and empowerment that Neil gets by quoting from Steven Pinker book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined", that allows him to make the claim that that smart people, not religious people have caused a decline in violence. I can easily argue that the premise and the conclusions of Pinker's book are flawed. Fact is, we are living in a world where the "so called" smart people are being proven to be not so smart all the time.
Another observation I will make is that Neil seems to be the kind of person who is easily put out when things don't go his way or if the world around him is not conforming to his expectations. I'm guessing that some of this arises from his pampered lifestyle, and you see his frustration when he encounters less than adequate accommodations, too many people, too much traffic (he criticizes large groups of Sunday motorcyclists in Wisconsin as if HE alone should own the road) or road construction or progress or land development that he doesn't like. Neil comes across as a pretty selfish guy at times.
Criticisms aside, the book still has it's good parts. There are insights and observations for a fan to enjoy. Although I think Neil reveals some of his rougher edges in this particular book, at heart, he is still a good guy and an interesting guy. I'm still a fan because the Rush discography has been a big part of the soundtrack of my life. It's just that I think the guy who wrote 2112, Freewill, Anthem and Tom Sawyer got a bit soft and got an inflated ego over time, not that he had to conform to some image of him I had when I was younger. "Just seeing what I see, and sharing it. You gotta testify", as Neil says.