MONTGOMERY, Charles




Author Tags: Religion, Travel

Like Douglas Coupland, Charles Montgomery is a gifted zeitgeist interpreter who has an instinct for a distinctive turn-of-phrase; a social scientist who can mix a broth of serious ideas with an entertaining style; a card-carrying internationalist who is nonetheless distinctly a product of Vancouver. Montgomery's rise behind Coupland’s jet stream (behind McLuhan’s jet stream?) borders on meteoric.

Tracing the paths and voyages taken by his great-grandfather who was the Bishop of Tasmania in 1892, Charles Montgomery of Vancouver has explored the South Pacific and published an account of his journey and his exploration of how Christian missionaries affected the region in The Last Heathen: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in Melanesia. (D&M, $24.95, 2004).

The Last Heathen received the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction at a luncheon at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto as well as the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize at the BC Book Prizes gala in Vancouver. At the latter event, Montgomery thanked his publisher Scott McIntyre, his editor Saeko Usukawa and his friend and fellow writer Michael Scott who advised him he ought to write the book. Previously Montgomery had concentrated on magazine articles, winning numerous awards.

When The Last Heathen was published from England by Fourth Estate, its title was changed to The Shark God: Encounters with Myth and Magic in the South Pacific. It was favourably reviewed in the Guardian in 2006 by Kevin Rushby.

Charles Montgomery next gained international exposure, such as coverage in The New York Times and The Guardian, with his marvelous, globetrotting investigation, Happy City: Transforming our lives through urban design (Random House 2014), aptly described by one reviewer as, “an eye-opening, pleasurable, utterly necessary tour through the best and worst neighborhoods of our urbanized world.”

According to Montgomery, by 2030, there will be five billion urbanites on the planet. So how can they expect to find happiness? Montgomery has provided an intelligently rendered potpourri of personal observations, research and digested data that germinate a vision worthy of David Suzuki, who has recommended it. The upbeat promo states, “The happy city, the green city, and the low-carbon city are the same place, and we can all help build it.”

If Vancouverites think their mayor Gregor Robinson is a bicycle zealout, they ought to read Montgomery’s chapter about Bogotá's mountain bike-riding mayor Enrique Peñalosa. He didn’t declare war on drugs, we are told, Peñalosa declared war on cars. And people love him for it. Evidently Gregor could use some Spanish lessons.

Along the way we get to learn stuff.

“If one was to judge by sheer wealth,” he writes, “the last half-century should have been an ecstatically happy time for people in the US and other rich nations such as Canada, Japan and Great Britain. And yet the boom decades of the late 20th century were not accompanied by a boom in well-being. The British got richer by more than 40% between 1993 and 2012, but the rate of psychiatric disorders and neuroses grew…

“…A couple of University of Zurich economists, Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, compared German commuters' estimation of the time it took them to get to work with their answers to the standard wellbeing question, "How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?"

“Their finding was seemingly straightforward: the longer the drive, the less happy people were. Before you dismiss this as numbingly obvious, keep in mind that they were testing not for drive satisfaction, but for life satisfaction. People were choosing commutes that made their entire lives worse. Stutzer and Frey found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office. On the other hand, for a single person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love.”

Dubbed an urban experimentalist, Montgomery has examined how cities have positive or negative impacts on human happiness with a particular focus on Vancouver.

"Here is the remarkable paradox:," he writes, "the more crowded Vancouver gets, the more people want to live there and the higher the city has risen on international surveys ranking the world's best place to live...Unlike their counterparts in many other cities, Vancouver's municipal planners enjoy broad discretionary power when considering new development."

Well, some could say the paradox could be explained mainly because Vancouver is filling up with more and more rich people, squeezing average Joes and Jills into the suburbs as the lowly commuters, while rich people demand their tasteful coffee shops and high class amenities. Meanwhile Montgomery is getting attention from the New York Times for some fairly commonsensical views. “Green space in cities shouldn’t be considered an optional luxury,” Montgomery concludes. “It is a crucial part of a healthy human habitat.”

Born in 1968, Montgomery spent much of his formative years on a Vancouver Island farm. Influenced by the writing of Malcolm Lowry, Bruce Chatwin, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and Paul William Roberts, he has been a member of a loose affiliation of Vancouver-based collective of literary journalists who explore contemporary issues around the world.

Interviewed by Vancouver magazine at age 36, he said, "I feel like I have an affinity for queer culture, which is edgy, bent, broken, different--rather than gay culture, which has become a new ghettoized normal."

Among his numerous awards is a Citation of Merit from the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society for outstanding contribution towards public understanding of climate change science.

He lives in East Vancouver and Mexico City.

BOOKS:

The Last Heathen: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in Melanesia. (D&M 2004)

Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design (Doubleday 2013) $29.95 978-0-385-66912-2

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2013] "Travel" "Religion"


Charles Montgomery wins 2005 Charles Taylor Prize
Press Release



TORONTO, Feb. 28 /CNW/ - The Winner of The 2005 Charles Taylor Prize for
Literary Non-Fiction is Charles Montgomery (Vancouver) for his book, "The Last
Heathen: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in Melanesia", published by
Douglas & McIntyre. The prize of $25,000.00 was awarded at a luncheon at the
Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto. For the third consecutive year, the event was
broadcast live on CBC Radio One's "Ontario Today" with host Alan Neal.

The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction was founded to
commemorate the life and work of the late Charles Taylor, one of Canada's
foremost essayists and a prominent member of the Canadian literary community.

In 1892, the Bishop of Tasmania set sail for Melanesia with the intent of
rescuing islanders from lives of fear, black magic, and cannibalism. Over 100
years later, Charles Montgomery, the bishop's great grandson, follows his
route through the South Pacific, seeking out the spirits and myths his
missionary forebear had sought to destroy.

Of the book, the jury said: "Charles Montgomery's The Last Heathen --
part travel book, part family history -- engages with the religious fervour of
missionaries, mystics, gods, and believers in Melanesia. What begins as a
retracing of his great grandfather's footsteps becomes an irresistible
adventure in discovery, a journey into rough terrain."

Charles Montgomery is a freelance journalist whose themes include travel,
the environment, globalization, and myth. His essays and feature stories have
appeared in Outside, Explore, Canadian Geographic, Western Living, enRoute,
The National Post, Seattle Magazine, The South China Morning Post, and other
magazines and newspapers in Canada, the United States, and Hong Kong. He has
won four Western Magazine Awards, a silver National Magazine Award (2003) and
the American Society of Travel Writer's Lowell Thomas Silver Award.

The jurors for The 2005 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction are
Robert Kroetsch (Winnipeg), Bill New (Vancouver), and Jan Walter (Kingston).
They selected "The Last Heathen: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in
Melanesia" from among 96 books, submitted by 28 publishers, from all across
Canada. Books in the genre of literary non-fiction, published between
December 1, 2003 and November 30, 2004, were eligible if authored by a
Canadian citizen or landed immigrant, and widely available in Canada.

The trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation are Michael Bradley
(Toronto), Robert Bringhurst (Vancouver), Judith Mappin (Montreal), David
Staines (Ottawa), and Noreen Taylor (Toronto).

Happy City: Transforming our lives through urban design (Doubleday $29.95)
Profile (2014)


from BCBW 2014
Charles Montgomery is a zeitgeist interpreter who has an instinct for a distinctive turn-of-phrase; a social scientist who can mix a broth of serious ideas with an entertaining style. Like Douglas Coupland, he’s a card-carrying internationalist who is nonetheless distinctly a product of Vancouver.

Dubbed an urban experimentalist, Montgomery, in his latest book, Happy City: Transforming our lives through urban design (Doubleday $29.95), has examined how cities have positive or negative impacts on human happiness with a particular focus on Vancouver.
Here is the remarkable paradox: he writes, “the more crowded Vancouver gets, the more people want to live there and the higher the city has risen on international surveys ranking the world’s best place to live...”
“...Unlike their counterparts in many other cities, Vancouver’s municipal planners enjoy broad discretionary power when considering new development.”

Montgomery’s rise behind Douglas Coupland’s jet stream (who rose behind Marshall McLuhan’s jet stream?) borders on meteoric.

Tracing the paths and voyages taken by his great-grandfather who was the Bishop of Tasmania in 1892, Montgomery first explored the South Pacific and published an account of his journey and his exploration of how Christian missionaries affected the region in The Last Heathen: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in Melanesia. (D&M 2004).
The Last Heathen received the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction and was published in England by Fourth Estate as The Shark God: Encounters with Myth and Magic in the South Pacific.

Now Montgomery has again won exposure on the world stage, such as coverage in The New York Times and The Guardian, with Happy City, aptly described by one reviewer as, “an eye-opening, pleasurable, utterly necessary tour through the best and worst neighborhoods of our urbanized world.”

Montgomery has provided an intelligently rendered potpourri of personal observations, research and digested data that germinate a vision worthy of David Suzuki, who has recommended it. The upbeat promo states, “The happy city, the green city, and the low-carbon city are the same place, and we can all help build it.”

If Vancouverites think their Happy Planet mayor Gregor Robertson is a bicycle zealot, they ought to read Montgomery’s comments about Bogotá’s mountain bike-riding mayor Enrique Peñalosa. He didn’t declare war on drugs, we are told—no, Peñalosa declared war on cars. And people, we’re told, love him for it. Evidently Gregor could use some Spanish lessons.

Along the way we get to learn stuff.
“If one was to judge by sheer wealth,” Montgomery writes, “the last half-century should have been an ecstatically happy time for people in the U.S. and other rich nations such as Canada, Japan and Great Britain. And yet the boom decades of the late 20th century were not accompanied by a boom in well-being. The British got richer by more than 40% between 1993 and 2012, but the rate of psychiatric disorders and neuroses grew…

“…A couple of University of Zurich economists, Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, compared German commuters’ estimation of the time it took them to get to work with their answers to the standard wellbeing question, ‘How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?’

“Their finding was seemingly straightforward: the longer the drive, the less happy people were. Before you dismiss this as numbingly obvious, keep in mind that they were testing not for drive satisfaction, but for life satisfaction. People were choosing commutes that made their entire lives worse.

“Stutzer and Frey found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office. On the other hand, for a single person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love.” Happy City: 95 978-0-385-66912-2

***

Born in 1968, Charles Montgomery spent much of his formative years on a Vancouver Island farm. Among his numerous awards is a Citation of Merit from the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society for outstanding contribution towards public understanding of climate change science.

Influenced by the writing of Malcolm Lowry, Bruce Chatwin, Miguel de Cervantes and Paul William Roberts, Charles Montgomery has been a member of a loose affiliation of Vancouver-based literary journalists who explore contemporary issues around the world, including J.B. MacKinnon, shortlisted for British Columbia’s National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction with The Once and Future World (Random House 2013). It’s MacKinnon’s follow-up to his co-written The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating (Random House 2007) that received the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize.