By Bonnie Latino, this review originally appeared on Sunday, April 10 in the Living Arts Book Page, Mobile Press-Register.
Orange Beach resident and best-selling author Andy Andrews is best known for wrapping self-help narrative around astonishing and often virtually unknown historical facts. The premise of his latest book, “The Final Summit,” is startlingly familiar to anyone who pays attention to today’s world events and politics: After centuries of greed, pride and hate, mankind is racing toward disaster. Andrews sets the stage with courageous figures from the past, challenging them to find a way to stop the descent.
Imagine a theater in heaven filled with some of the greatest figures in the history of the world, people whose brilliant minds, accomplishments and courage transcend time. Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, King David and George Washington Carver are a few of Andrews’ time Travelers. Others, like Eric Erickson, are just as heroic, if less familiar. Erickson was honored by the State Department for his selfless and heroic actions which likely affected the outcome of World War II. However, little has been written of the role he played — until now.
Picture these time Travelers — many of whom have egos that, in today’s world, would earn them reality TV shows — gathered as one for the good of mankind. Eleanor Roosevelt searches for a seat in the theater. Louis Armstrong smiles as Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” settles next to him. A few rows back, Norman Vincent Peale seems fascinated by something Martin Luther King Jr. says. In another part of the theater, a loud discussion breaks out between Anne Frank, Golda Meir and Teddy Roosevelt. A man wearing a New York Yankees cap shakes hands with “Socrates, Aristotle or someone wearing a toga.”
The Archangel Gabriel calls the group to order and presents them with a parchment that asks, “What does humanity need to do, individually and collectively, to restore itself to the pathway toward successful civilization?” Handing them an hourglass, the timepiece of mankind, Gabriel assures them that civilization’s time is running out. The group has but five attempts to find the solution that can avert imminent doom.
Tasked to harness the collective ego and lead the final summit is David Ponder, the main character in Andrews’ first New York Times blockbuster, “The Traveler’s Gift,” which has sold over a million copies and been translated into over 20 languages. Andrews crafted “The Final Summit” in such a way that it doesn’t matter if readers are unfamiliar with his first book.
As sand slides through the hourglass, the Travelers discuss, fuss and request clarification from Gabriel, who sometimes loses patience. Various Travelers suggest the importance of love, humility, compassion, kindness and tolerance to save humanity, only to have those concepts shot down by the group.
Gabriel tells them that the correct answer encompasses all of their suggestions.
Dejected, the Travelers continue their quest. David Ponder catches the eye of a man wearing a houndstooth-check hat. The man gives Ponder a thumbs-up. Recognizing him, Ponder returns the hand signal. When the old football coach holds up four fingers and smiles, Ponder knows the coach is telling him to stay strong — that the fourth quarter is his.
With renewed energy, the Travelers keep at it. Could hope be the answer? Could wisdom? What about self-discipline? Courage? Or could the answer be something else entirely?
Throughout the narrative, Andrews injects brief witticisms. For instance, when a woman enters the theater late, Ponder asks who she is. Winston Churchill replies: “That’s the lady pilot … Earhart. Very nice. I talked to her last week. Amazing story. You wouldn’t believe where she’s been.” Wouldn’t we all love to know where Amelia has been?
The English and the French have always been known for their mutual animosity, which apparently carries over into the afterlife. When one group of Travelers becomes particularly quarrelsome, Churchill restores order. When Ponder thanks him, Winston replies: “No challenge, my boy. It’s just like dealing with the French.”
Soon the travelers notice that when Churchill speaks of the “black dog” of his depression and how he countered it, the sands in humanity’s timepiece slow almost to a dead stop. Could this be the clue the Travelers need to solve the riddle and save humanity?
Perhaps it is also a clue as to what we all must do to help bring sanity back to our world, our communities and our families.
Atmore native Bonnie Bartel Latino is a former columnist for Stars and Stripes newspaper in Europe. Her essay on death won the Military Writers Society of America’s William E. Mayer Award for Literary or Artistic Excellence for February. This review originally appeared on Sunday, April 10 in the Living Arts Book Page, Mobile Press-Register.
Used with permission from Press Register and Bonnie Bartel Latino