The Happiest Man in the World: An Account of the Life of Poppa Neutrino
by Alec Wilkinson

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ABOUT THIS BOOK (quoted from the Random House website)
The Happiest Man in the World buoyantly describes seventy-four-year-old David Pearlman, a restless and migratory soul, a mariner, a musician, a member of the Explorers Club and a friend of the San Francisco Beats, a former preacher and sign painter, a polymath, a pauper, and a football strategist for the Red Mesa Redskins of the Navajo Nation. When Pearlman was fifty, he was bitten on the hand by a dog in Mexico and for two years got so sick that he thought he would die. When he recovered, he felt so different that he decided he needed a new name. He began calling himself Poppa Neutrino, after the itinerant particle that is so small it can hardly be detected. To Neutrino, the particle represents the elements of the hidden life that assert themselves discreetly.
Inspired by Thor Heyerdahl and Kon-Tiki, Neutrino is the only man ever to build a raft from garbage he found on the streets of New York and sail it across the North Atlantic. The New York Daily News described the accomplishment as “the sail of the century.” National Geographic broadcast an account of the trip as part of its series on extreme adventures. And now he is on a quest to cross the Pacific on a raft. If he makes it, he plans to continue around the world. No one has ever sailed around the world on a raft. Meanwhile, he has invented the Neutrino Clock Offense, an unstoppable football play, which a former coach of the New York Jets describes as being as innovative as the forward pass.
The philosophical underpinnings of Neutrino’s existence are what he calls Triads, a concept worked out after years of reading and reflection. He believes that each person, to be truly happy, must define his or her three deepest desires and pursue them remorselessly. Freedom, Joy, and Art are Neutrino’s three. The Happiest Man in the World is a lavish, exotic, funny, and deeply serious book about a man who has led a life of profound engagement and ceaseless adventure.
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REVIEWS (Quoted from the website)
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Over the last few years, Wilkinson (Mr. Apology and Other Essays) has been spending quite a bit of time in the company of "Poppa Neutrino," a homeless man who's performed as a street musician in New Orleans and New York and traveled across the Atlantic in a homemade raft. So "lavish and prodigal" is Neutrino's history that his barroom encounters with Kerouac and Ginsberg at the height of the beat era are dispensed with in a few sentences—after all, by that time, he'd already been crisscrossing the country for several years himself. In Wilkinson's company, Neutrino spends time in Arizona trying to persuade football coaches to use a passing play he's developed that could conceivably revolutionize the offensive game, winding up on a Navajo reservation where he volunteers with a high school team. Then it's off to Mexico, where he puts the finishing touches on one more raft, which he hopes to sail down the coast to South America and then across the Pacific. For the most part, Wilkinson simply observes, acting as our conduit to this abrasively compelling personality. But that's like saying Boswell was simply observing Johnson: the portrait of Neutrino that emerges from these encounters and anecdotes is a truly captivating story.
(Mar. 13)
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From Booklist
*Starred Review* Carrying forward the New Yorker tradition of close observation channeled into pristine and nimble prose, Wilkinson specializes in portraiture, whether he's profiling his mentor, William Maxwell, or the assorted eccentrics in Mr. Apology (2003). Here he reports on a man who has lived by his wits and convictions, combining the vow of poverty and the spiritual quest of a wandering mendicant with the devil-may-care venturesomeness of Kerouac's on-the-road seekers, a busker's resiliency, a cardsharp's nerve, a prospector's dreams, an explorer's curiosity, and an athlete's rigor. Now in his seventies, westerner David Pearlman, aka Poppa Neutrino, has for decades roamed the country, gathering followers, forming a band (The Flying Neutrinos), and emulating his hero, Thor Heyerdahl. Yes, this dog-loving, vagabond apostle for freedom has built out of scraps "the largest and most complicated rafts and taken them to more places and on more arduous voyages than anyone else in the world." Neutrino lives a strangely heroic and deeply provocative life of deprivation, daring, and faith, and Wilkinson, taking his cues from the great Joseph Mitchell, tells Neutrino's enthralling story with wonder, respect, and marvelous literary finesse.
Donna Seaman
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Last revised: June 15, 2008