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John Graham
John Graham, author
Quest—Risk, Adventure and the Search for Meaning John Graham shipped out on a freighter when he was 16, hitchhiked through the Algerian Revolution at 19, and was on the team that made the first ascent of Denali’s North Wall at 20—a climb so dangerous it’s never been repeated. He hitchhiked around the world at 22, reporting in the Boston Globe on a every war he came across. A US Foreign Service Officer for 15 years, he was in the middle of the 1969 revolution in Libya and the war in Vietnam, where his back-channel reports to Washington told the truth about America’s failures when few others dared. At the United Nations, he again risked his career, crossing his own government to support peace initiatives in South Africa and Cuba. Behind the risky stuff, there was the weird. At one point, Graham was planning nuclear war for NATO by day and leading séances in Holiday Inns by night. All this led to Graham’s greatest adventure—finding the meaning of his life. His turning point came when he nearly died of hypothermia in a typhoon in a lifeboat in the North Pacific and a near-death revelation set him on a path of service that he’s followed ever since. His brutally honest account of his life’s journey, in Quest, offers a guide for readers who wonder what it is they are to do with their one wild and precious life.
Plot/Idea: 7 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 8.00 out of 10


Plot/Idea: The memoir details the lifelong adventures of a man working in international politics during a tumultuous period of nuclear threat and international conflict. Globetrotting adventures, near-death experiences, and interplay with international politics will keep readers interested and engaged.

Prose: The book is paced well and reads quickly, with a narrative voice that comes clearly through the pages. The writing is clear and the balance between exposition and introspection is effective.

Originality: The author's life in the foreign service, amongst other ventures, lends to a variety of settings and events that are unique and will draw the interest of a broad range of readers. The book contains many pictures to further depict the details of the story.

Character/Execution: The writing is enjoyable and the settings and subject matter make for a relevant and unique story. The author’s reflection on larger, philosophical ideas and ponderings set the book apart from many similarly constructed memoirs.

Date Submitted: November 28, 2022

This rousing memoir blends thrilling adventure, the terror of war, and a search for meaning, especially as it zeroes into that thorny question of what makes a man a man. Graham’s personal odyssey gets exciting young, with hitchhiking the globe in the early 1960s, as, between semesters at Harvard, he climbs Mt. McKinley, meets Algerian revolutionaries, and flees angry villagers near the Indian border after accidentally running down a chicken. This being the 1960s, everything changes for the restless young man with the Vietnam War, whose initial stages Graham covered as a journalist, and whose calamitous ending he would observe as an official in the U.S. Foreign Service.

For all Graham’s knockout travel tales, it’s here that his story becomes truly compelling. Quest recounts with clarity and power the experience of being stationed in South Vietnam and telling U.S. officials the truth about the war, even as they denied that truth in public. “In order to support the lies, the liars needed to know the truth,” he writes. Graham movingly details his transformation from thrill-seeker to just-plain seeker, detailing the horrors of war, the politics of quagmire, and, after a firefight, a Navy doctor’s shattering observation: “You looked like you enjoy what’s going on here.” The reportage is always clear-eyed even as it makes clear why, after the war, he was “a stranger to myself, uncertain and afraid for the future.”

Graham’s story remains compelling after the war, as he digs into personal and relationship issues, his fascinating work in the State Department's Nuclear Planning Group, and—most urgently—the quest of the title, his search for peace and a route “to the place of light.” His enlightenment is not self-serving; he finds in it a moral anchor and the strength not to see his “ideals swept away by excitement and ambition.” His page-turning story bursts with surprise, insight, and striking prose.

Takeaway: A seeker’s gripping memoir reveals the Vietnam War, nuclear wargames, and the soul.

Great for fans of: John Maberry’s Waiting for Westmoreland, Jeff Danziger’s Lieutenant Dangerous.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Independent Book Review


“A poignant memoir of danger and missteps on the path to openness, purpose, and love,  Quest is an eloquently told memoir that centers the desire to live a life of both meaning and compassion… The writing is evocative and gripping…We are meant to ask our own questions of how we will live and how we will tell our own stories.”

—from the Memoir Revolution

Quest by John Graham - is a memoir about a life so large it doesn’t seem it can all fit into one man’s experience, from Harvard to Vietnam, from the halls of power in the US and around the world. Somewhere along the line, it became too much even for him. Graham's bravado and self-assurance cracked and his insecurities sent him on a quest not for outer power but for the power to change himself. And in the process to make the world a better place.

from LoveReading (UK)

 Quest—an intriguing story about the journey to self-acceptance… about stopping the fight to fit an “action man” mould in favour of doing something valuable. I found this book to be a parable, on the surface a tale of daring, adrenaline and adventure but lying underneath, a journey to find true meaning and happiness. I found the hair-raising tales of daring climbs and trips through war zones entertaining. However as the narrative shifted the book stopped being a tale of bravado…It felt as though the narrative became more at ease with itself.