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Finding North - How Navigation Makes Us Human

By George Michelsen Foy

Published by Flatiron Books   291 pages   hardcover   $25.99

Finding NorthNavigation – finding one’s way from one place to another – is one of the most basic human skills. Why then are some of us seemingly blessed with an intuitive ability to navigate accurately on land or sea while others become disoriented looking for their car in a parking lot?

Author George Michelsen Foy’s great-great grandfather was the captain of a Norwegian cargo ship who was lost at sea in 1844 after losing his way in a snowstorm. Fueled by his own obsession with navigation, Foy set out to unravel the mystery surrounding Halvor Michelsen’s death by recreating his journey using only the navigational tools and methods of the mid-nineteenth century.

Prior to embarking on the voyage, Foy interviewed taxi drivers who have memorized the streets of London and sailed on a Haitian cargo ship on which the skipper navigates with only stars and local knowledge. He visited the site of a secret navigational cult in Greece as well as Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, CO, the control point of the Global Positioning System (GPS). He also spoke with scientists and biologists who explained how navigation works in our own brains.

Foy learned that navigation is inextricably linked to memory, and therefore an integral part of who we are – and one that modern technology could actually be damaging. “Smart” phones have ostensibly made everyone a navigators, but forsaking innate ability for electronic devices may exact a high price. Maintaining that such reliance may lead to Alzheimer’s and other diseases of memory, Foy writes, “And what happens to this planet, pincered between burgeoning population, rising temperatures, extremist ideologies, and finite resources, when so many of its most educated citizens forget, bother literally and metaphorically, how to navigate its complexities?”

A Cape Cod native, George Michelsen Foy is the author of Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence and a dozen critically acclaimed novels. His writing has appeared in Harper’s, Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal, The Boston Globe and The New York Times and several other publications. He lives with his family in Southeastern Massachusetts and New York City, where he teaches creative writing at NYU. For more information, visit georgefoy.com. Anyone who’s ever charted a course – or dreamt of traveling to the stars – will enjoy Finding North.


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