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The Extraordinary Life of Tom Nash

“The deep end is the best place to learn to swim.”

· 18 min read
The Extraordinary Life of Tom Nash
Tom Nash. Photo Credit: Jarrad Seng 

A review of Hook, Line & Sinner: An Unexpected Memoir by Tom Nash, 295 pages, Penguin Random House Australia (August 2023).

At the age of 19, Tom Nash contracted meningococcal disease. This life-threatening condition caused severe septicaemia, necessitating the amputation of both his legs below the knee and both arms through the elbow, and left him with severe tissue damage and scarring over large parts of his body and face. Following a two-year period of painful treatments, Nash rebuilt his life: first, by learning to walk on prosthetic legs and use metal hooks instead of hands; and then, by forging a career as first a DJ and event manager and then an international keynote speaker. His life story is a testament to the human capacity for creative adaptability, and it’s told with irreverent and occasionally savage humour.

But, surprisingly, he prefaces his account by cautioning the reader that his book:

is not intended to be an inspirational story. It is not motivational literature… If you’ve picked this book from the shelf hoping for an uplifting dose of inspiration porn, or to be temporarily inspired by the achievements of a physically disabled person, I implore you to return it to the shelf.

As he quipped in an interview with me, “unless I’m inspiring people to lose their arms and legs and become a DJ … I don't know what I would be inspiring people to do.” Obviously, he’s not inviting readers to copy his daily routine—that would be inadvisable even if he were able-bodied. He is no Andrew Huberman: the life he documents is full of smoking, drinking, drug-taking, and partying. More importantly, we are discouraged from viewing this as a sob story. You could—in theory—pity Nash for his extreme disability; admire his heroic fortitude in remaining cheerful despite such obvious misfortune; dismiss your own problems as trivial by comparison; reproach yourself for complaining about them; and decide to be thankful for what you have, given how much worse things could be. But that would indeed be a perverse misreading of the book.

But despite Nash’s disclaimer, only a reader can judge whether a memoir is inspirational. And this one certainly is.

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