Book Review of “The New Nomads”

Alwyn Lau
3 min readSep 12, 2023

I picked up this book only because Nassim Taleb blurbed it. And I can (sorta) see why. Felix Marquardt’s writing style is similar to Taleb’s (non-academic in tone but contains healthy scattering of citations and quotes) and is full of personal stories coupled with his “philosophy” of the world.

A few thoughts:

1. (Unsurprisingly) the stories here are of migrants i.e. folks who’ve moved from their home country to live and start businesses in others. For example:

- A French Muslim who moved to China and felt more French there than in Paris
- A Merseyside dude who started travelling and working throughout Europe, sneaking and sleeping his way into trains and stadiums eventually becoming a sought-after playwright
- An American roaming around the Bible Belt, then moving to La Paz (Bolivia) and becoming an evangelist in Sierra Leone
- A girl from Tokyo hitchhiking across Africa, then going back to Japan as a ‘fixer’ before working the Japanese embassy in Senegal

And at least half dozen more similar stories (incl that of a PRC woman who hated the parental obligations put on her before finding herself in, of all places, Singapore!).

2. Basically, Marquadt spends probably 2–3 chapters focusing the “transformative power of leaving one’s home behind” (p. 69). He claims that a, “small journey — going to see a football match, hitchhiking, walking to the family farm — often leads to a bigger one, opening up their geographic, academic, cultural and mental horizons.” (p.47) and his stories all illustrate this.

But don’t be tempted to think this is some moer advanced version of a travel blog because one thing Marquadt emphasizes a LOT are the difficulties, prejudices and dangers almost every migrant had to encounter. Yet, for the most resilient ones, this only made them stronger because they were forced to dig deep into their ppl skills, be bold, connect more, etc.

3. Interestingly enough, as a self-proclaimed liberal who’s anti-Brexit and not a Trump supporter, he’s quite brave in denouncing liberals for their condescending attitude towards conservatives. I completely resonate with him when he promotes dialogue and sharing between people on polar opposite political divides instead of the usual attacks and demonisation. Eg,

“If you want to change the world, invite a Trump supporter into your home for dinner”. (p.146)

This is ironic in a book about immigration, a topic you may feel lends itself naturally to liberal sensitivities. But in this book both Right and Left are gored.

“The most vocal proponents of immigration in our societies, who are in that position not because they are better people but because they are more urban, affluent and mobile, tend to think that it is about moral character.” (p. 147)

4. Long and short, it’s hard to disagree with Marquardt when he asks,

“What is the ultimate goal of politics? To convince those we disagree with or to feel good about ourselves for supposedly being ‘smarter?’” (p.149).

He shares at least two stories where such sharing (not of ideas but also of lives) have seen people from both ends of the political spectrum transformed.

One was a story of how a Mexican immigrant shared her love for Kansas at a church where immigrants were being denounced; another was about a young boy from Mali impressed his pro-Trump supporting cattle-rancher seniors in Northern California.

5. The final chapter looks at digital nomadism where Marquadt both a) speaks well of ppl who travel the world working on their laptops but also b) blasts the uncritical promotion of such a lifestyle (which he cheekily terms “competitive travel”) esp if such travel adds to the burden of climate change without substantially changing the worldview of the ‘nomad’ in question.

I think this book is worth reading, both for ppl who travel a lot but esp for those who don’t (or, critically, are afraid to). It’s also a good contribution to the global debate on immigration (incl the issue of refugees, etc.). Marquadt is himself a (former?) high-flyer, having worked like a million jobs incl being some journalist slash consultant to Davos.

Most of all, I appreciate his humility (in meeting many ppl and sharing their stories, in refusing to condemn ppl who disagree with him politically) and skin in the game when it comes to this topic.

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Alwyn Lau

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.