Review: Cold Beer and a Hot Dart by Brandon Wolfe

★★★★½ Cold Beer and a Hot Dart by Brandon Wolfe

Cold Beer and a Hot Dart is the inspirational memoir by Brandon Wolfe as he travels from his comfortable home in Washington to the wilds of Australia, Polynesia and beyond, battling disease, cannibals, prostitutes, drug use, and other nefarious problems, as well as having the time of his life. A restless soul at heart, Brandon Wolfe is also a spirited storyteller, making Cold Beer at once a page turner and a moving meditation on finding your place in life.

Wolfe’s own summary of the novel is a very good indication of what you’ll find in the book:

Over a span of eleven years, Brandon Wolfe backpacked throughout fifteen different countries, having been chased by wild animals, contracted one of the world’s deadliest diseases three different times, witnessed multiple natural wonders of the Earth, found himself in the middle of demonic deliverances, and set foot in villages that had never seen white people before. He was also told in 2005 by medical professionals that he had until around age forty (give or take) to live…

This isn’t just a book about adventuring, it’s a book about finding happiness among adversity. It works very well as a self-help book because Wolfe’s stories are so engaging, as well as being occasionally alarming.  The last sentence in the description above is key: now in his thirties, he might literally only have 10 years to live, but that doesn’t affect his positive outlook. Wolfe really has lived a life like no other.

The book has the spirit of Into The Wild – without the tragic ending or ineffectual parents. In a way, you could see this as a much healthier Into The Wild. Wolfe is a true free spirit, taking off from the confines of his life – with the blessings of his family – and going on a series of adventures, some of which nearly kill him, but never do.

What makes Cold Beer particularly compelling is that it is as much an anthropological study as it is a self-help book – yet from his own unique perspective. As he makes clear in the introduction, he’s not a scientist, so he’s not going to unload a bunch of data points. Still, as someone who’s traveled the world, Wolfe has a lot of wisdom to impart about how happiness is achieved worldwide. His lessons are effective: you don’t necessarily need to travel the world to achieve his level of contentment. Indeed, the aim of this book is to help people who are sitting at home mired in worries that don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things.

Too many self help books revert to vague cheerleading like “I did it and you can too!”  Wolfe doesn’t shy away from describing the pitfalls of having this open attitude as well. The more open you are, the more bad things can come in, but the trip is worth it. Wolfe’s open-eyed earnestness is what makes this book so appealing. If there’s a weakness, Wolfe’s take on his life can be a bit too proud about all he’s been through, but he’s earned some of that  self-assessment. It should also be mentioned that there is a distinctly spiritual component to his theory of happiness, but he doesn’t proselytize, so the book could very well be enjoyed and understood by the non-religious.

As self-help books are fairly common, it can be difficult to stand out. Wolfe’s refreshing honesty and truly unique stories put this book above other books in the genre.


Cold Beer and a Hot Dart

Review Overview