Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries

(2012)

The short version: This is an excellent collection of articles by the author of The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test that will satisfy fans of those books, as well as those who enjoy off-beat journalism and stories like those that air on This American Life. For more details, read on.

Lost at Sea collects past articles by writer Jon Ronson. I like Ronson, having read and enjoyed both Them: Adventures with Extremists and The Psychopath Test, in addition to enjoying his appearances on This American Life. His reading voice is infused with curiosity and mystique.

On his recent Daily Show visit, Ronson was dubbed by Jon Stewart an "investigative satirist," which is wrong. His articles and essays do carry humor, but he doesn't mock his subjects. It just happens that Ronson is drawn to odd, outside of the mainstream subjects. Like a sports writer follows sports, Ronson follows potentially cult-like groups, conspiracy theories and theorists, celebrities gone awry, and such.

A few examples from Lost at Sea. "The Name's Ronson, Jon Ronson," documents his attempt to live a James Bond film via a road trip in an authentic Aston Martin. "A Message from God," concerns the Church of England's Alpha Course, a controversial Christian conversion course aimed at Agnostics that some call brainwashing. "Stanley Kubrick's Boxes" documents his search through the deceased reclusive auteur's extensive and detailed archive. "Santa's Little Conspirators" takes him to North Pole, Alaska, shortly after a Columbine-like plot was foiled where he finds sixth graders responding to letters sent To: Santa, North Pole. "Is She for Real?" questions the authenticity of Sylvia Brown's psychic predictions, which Ronson attempts to ask Brown about directly while on a cruise with her. The title story, "Lost at Sea" is one of those investigations of potential conspiracy, as Ronson investigates Disney Cruise Lines's seeming lack of effort to uncover what happened to a young woman who disappeared from one of their ships.

Ronson's articles are fantastic. A writer who puts himself in his stories, he knows true objectivity is impossible, yet gives space for the various viewpoints he presents without mocking his subjects. There is an element of British humor on occasion, that display of cringe-worthy discomfort when he presses a question you might be thinking as the reader, but couldn't bring yourself into such a conflict in reality.

This is a very satisfying collection of Ronson's articles that will appeal to fans of his books, and those of Sarah Vowell (to whom this book is dedicated), Jack Hitt, and listeners of This American Life.

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