Harold Neel is a virtuoso storyteller; the narratives of his life, relayed with unique wit and insight, are riveting to all listeners who have been fortunate enough to pass a fireside evening in his company. But From The Bottom Up is much more than a compendium of Neel’s high sea adventures: on one level the book is a chronicle of the most intimate, enduring love affair of a loyal Captain with his 63-food wooden mistress, the good ship Cassiopeia; and yet woven into the interstices of this tale is something deeper, more timeless – a parable of humanity’s connection to the Earth itself.
The fruits of many years’ experience as a sailor, lover, father, handyman, and adventurer fathoming the tides of the human spirit are ripe on the narratorial branches of From The Bottom Up. As a reader, you get the sense that all the topics that Neel shares about throughout his tales — ranging from development disasters in Third World Countries to the United States’ War on Drugs in the Caribbean — are things that he has lived through and understands deeply as his heart’s own wisdom. That is what makes it such an important story to be telling in today’s literary climate: he is walking his talk, and this itself imbues his narratives, and the insights that arise from them, with unmistakable authenticity and gripping honesty.
The profundity of this book lies in its very simplicity, the return-to-roots attitude that Neel champions as a personal ethic. At its core is a heartfelt invocation to the reader that they may find the courage within to live their own truth, to take action on their dreams and hopes, and to make the world a better place by being unconditionally good to everyone. This unravels, throughout the book, as an ecological treatise and an unflinching study of human character, through impartial observation of the rich and the poor living side-by-side on the coasts of paradise islands. Neither ennobling nor denigrating either party, Neel depicts the changes in the way of life and livelihood of island dwellers through the influence of Western cruise-ships and yachters from a first-hand perspective. And coming through all this — sublime moments of pure wonder and enchantment with spaces of natural beauty, with the all-embracing ocean herself, and the infinite glittering ocean of stars in the sky.
Overall, the book is masterful in its balancing of multiple contexts to frame the human experience. We can relate to these stories of the man with the boat, because the man represents us and the boat is like the planet that we have somehow inherited and are continuously struggling, against all odds, to repair and maintain. Neel reminds us that this stewardship is a mammoth task, but no more or less than what we, as a species, are capable of. What is most important is to live by example, as the Captain has done; to stay humble, to stay aware of everything going on around us, to be good to whoever has joined us onboard, to always be learning how to do things better and — most importantly — to always be having fun, whatever life brings up.
From The Bottom Up is a king hit, a labour of love, and clearly a lifetime’s achievement. I want everybody I love to get their hands on this book, and for them share it with everybody they love, and for the spirit of inspiration to increase and grow with every reading so that we can share this worthy Captain’s message with as many as possible. This book has the potential to inspire the hearts of people everywhere to awaken to a greater purpose.To read this book is to get intimately involved with a shared dream for the future. To me, this is a beautiful dream, and one worthy of recommendation in the highest possible terms.