Lately, I've been in a non-fiction-ish mood. Here's what I've read so far:
Musicophilia by Oliver Sachs is a collection of essays of varying length about music and the brain. He spends most of the book talking about music and various brain disorders, from Alzheimer's disease to obscure ones like Williams syndrome. Some of the essays illustrate more general points about how the brain processes music, but after the first few of them it became repetitive, with lots of specifics and no additional big-picture ideas. I also found it depressing to read about Sachs' various patients, many of whom have incurable diseases or horrific brain damage. Overall, this was an interesting read, but I wish I'd gotten it from the library instead of buying it.
Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas Cahill was more interesting. He writes about the synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christianity during the middle ages, which produced the seeds of the modern world. His tactic is to look at one aspect of medieval culture and illustrate its development through a single person's achievements. For example, the chapter on courtly love examine the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, as an illustration of how women's status rose in the late middle ages. I'm not sure I agree with all of Cahill's analysis, particularly the chapters about Ptolomaic vs. Christian philosophy in artwork, but the book is compellingly written, and it's obvious Cahill loves his subject. The conclusion was a criticism of the recent sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, which was entirely out of place; I sympathize with his views, but a history book is not the place to put them. However, I enjoyed the rest of the book enough that I'll probably look for more of his work.
Next up: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
x-posted w/minor edits from my l.j., a top-5 list . . .
I can't for sure remember the December/January reading time of Paul Krugman's "The Conscience of a Liberal," so while it is good enough to make the short list and I recommend it highly, it's going on next year's.
Anyway, here goes . . .
1. Evolving God by Barbara J King. Beautifully written book about notions of spirituality in general and the whole concept of god evolved, with the theory that it has its roots in the same part of our brains & thought processes that produces empathy, to oversimplify a lot. Also contains a lot about empathy and social interaction among non-human animals, espeically apes, and a lot about differing concepts of spirituality and deity. One of the rare books on religion that should manage to appeal to everyone from the more traditional theists to to the atheists on my f-list, and also anyone who's an animal lover. It isn't specifically making an appeal for animals rights or better treatment of animals for their own sakes, as opposed to just because preserving biodiversity is good for humans, but I can't see how anyone reading this book could NOT think of that. (if someone who is turned off by the notion of animal rights is on my friends list, this shouldn't turn you off the book, necessarily, that's my interpretation and not the point of the book)
2. Helen Caldicott's Why Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer -- not the best written of the books, but given the increasing number of people, most troubling the increasing number of people on the left, who want an immediate massive investment in nuclear power and think it is the only way to save us from globabl warming, I think this is the most *important* book that came out last year, or at least it would be if it had gotten lots of attention. Explains in detail why nuke isn't even a particularly good short term solution--grossly expensive and beyond risky. In the same vein, the Utne reader had nice piece on this subject in their most recent issue, and Scientific American has a cover story on how solar could be supplying all our energy needs by the end of the century, even without new technology (which one would presume will come about, since solar has yet to see really big time investment, alas that Carter lost in '80; we'd probably already be mostly solar and minimally fossil fuel if he had won reelection). My original review w/discussion of a book that took the totally opposite point of view is here: http://mojave-wolf.livejournal.com/30198.html#cutid1
3. Terry Glavin, The Sixth Extinction: Journeys Among The Lost and Left
Behind. Wow. In a lot of ways, the best written and most fun to read non-fiction book I've ever read. Docked a couple of spots because the author annoys me a few times with his dismissive views towards animal intelligence and those who think whales are up there on a level with humans (complete w/pointless shots at Carl Sagan), but other than that you could certainly make a strong case for this being far and away the best book of the year, fic or non-fic. I went on about this at great length in two separate places earlier this year, which I will link to, but first a quick summary from one of those: A beautifully written,
lyrical book, as can be gleaned from from chapter titles such as "Valley of the Black Pig", "The Singing Tree of Chungliyimti", and "The Last Giants in the River of the Black Dragon".
Most of the first half of the book is concerned with the lost of wild land
and species. The second half is mostly concerned with the loss of human
cultures, languages and domestic plants/food crops. One may be dismayed to learn of "patent-protected 'terminator' seeds that produce plants that kill their own seeds or refuse to grow at all unless sprayed with one of the company's herbicides." One may find
oneself agreeing with Richard Manning that the great agribusiness
revolution of the 1960's is "the worst thing that has ever happened on the
planet",that solved (some) local problems only by exchanging them for
unprecedented, global-scale problems."
Despite the author's optimistic view, by the time I got to the finish, I
saw it more as an ode to things passing away than as an optimistic work
showing how humanity is working to save things. Yes, many humans are. More
are working to enrich themselves however possible, and those w/the most
power and least actual need to enrich themselves are doing this in the
worst possible way.http://mojave-wolf.livejournal.com/30198.html#cutid1
(for review # 1, before I'd finished, concerned w/writing style as much as anything else)http://mojave-wolf.livejournal.com/32485.html#cutid1
(once I'd finished, w/lots more detail, esp about the latter parts of the book)
Those three were way ahead of everything else, but also making my top 5:
4. Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben (edited from original review) Points out how traditional economics as taught and practiced in most places these days fails to account for all sorts of social and environmental costs, and towards a sort of economics that does these things. Also does a nice job of illustrating that there are all sorts of environmental damage beyoned global warming or even pollution and habitat destruction -- northern China as an example of the kind of catastrophe the whole world is going to face from diminishing water sources unless we get more responsible about our usage of this, amongst other things. And takes apart a lot of big agriculture propaganda against smaller or more localized farming.
I confess, some stuff in the book kinda rubbed me the wrong way -- while I certainly agree we have a responsibility for each other, the emphasis on
community was a little too much for my anti-social taste, & I nearly quit reading when he said "the rest of this book is devoted to the economics of
neighborliness" (don't stop there, btw, the rest of the book is actually
really good); didn't care for his overall excessive cheeriness or his
repeated mentions of being a Sunday school teacher or his being way, way
way too kind in his evaluation of all sorts of people and arguments, but
then, this may be exactly the kind of person/book/argumentation most
likely to reach those people who still resist more
environmentally/socially friendly ways of life.
5. Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali A really gripping if sometimes problematic memoir. Don't always agree with her politics or her analysis, but nonetheless an extremely worthwhile read. For a longer take, http://mojave-wolf.livejournal.com/33707.html
For what it's worth, "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" would have made the list in the #4
spot, except I've heard people cast doubts as to its authenticity, and I haven't had time to check it out. Certainly, most of it rang true to me, but there was one point in particular where I wondered about embellishment, so holding off on ranking/reccing it for right now.
| Conquering the Impossible: My 12,000-Mile Journey Around the Arctic Circle
by Mike HornAn account of man challenging the limits of mental and physical endurance, January 20, 2008( Far North adventurer Mike Horn has written a testament to the physical and mental strength of the human spirit when tested with impossible challenges...Collapse )Truth and Consequences: Special Comments on the Bush Administration's War on American Values
by Keith Olbermann "I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican. This isn't right -- you're not doing what you said you were going to do.", December 30, 2007( Keith Olbermann's first Special Comment (although it was not called such at the first broadcast) was a scathing critique of the failure of the Bush administration to...Collapse )The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
by Philip ZimbardoA scholar seeks to understand "How good people turn evil", December 21, 2007( In 1971, social psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment, a two-week, grant-funded mock prison...Collapse )From Hire to Liar: The Role of Deception in the Workplace
by David ShulmanA superbly executed study of deception at all levels, January 20, 2008( Author David Shulman states that deception is a necessary element of the modern workplace...Collapse )cross-posted to lagizma and booksalon
|Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments
by Alex BoeseIf people on acid see pink elephants, what do elephants that take acid see?, January 21, 2008
Historian Alex Boese was enamored with bizarre experiments in college. During his graduate studies, Boese spent his free time tracking down the more obscure mad scientist experiments that were mentioned in his texts. He amassed a library of notes on bizarre experiments, went on to found the Museum of Hoaxes and publish two books on hoaxes, and now returns with a title about all those bizarre experiments which once intrigued and delighted him. Boese includes only research which was undertaken with genuine scientific curiosity and methodology--that which was published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Elephants on Acid contains overview and author commentary on experiments from the 1800's through the 2000's, in ten different categories - surgery, senses, memory, sleep, animal behavior, mating behavior, babies, bathroom research, human nature, and death. For each experiment, the author sets up the broader social and scientific context, describes the experimental design and results, and includes any follow-on work. Bibliographic details for each scientific publication are included. (But good luck tracking down European journals circa 1803!)
The opening chapter on Dr. Frankenstein-like research is a bit unsettling (Can a head live without its body? Can asphyxiated dogs be brought back to life?). Not surprisingly, few of the Frankenstein experiments took place in modern times. The remaining chapters are enchanting glimpses at scientific fact and fiction over the ages. Boese demonstrates that waitresses who touch customers statistically receive higher tips ("Touching Strangers"), repeats the real Pepsi Challenge ("Coke vs. Pepsi"), exposes the myth of the `Mozart effect' on IQ ("Mozart Effect"), and provides scientific proof of the synchronous menstrual cycles of cohabitating women ("Scent of a Woman"). Studies of human behavior discuss the power of suggestion in creating false childhood memories ("Lost in the Mall"), the effect of a crowd of roaches on an athlete roach navigating a course ("Racing Roaches"), and the role of fear in sexual arousal in humans ("Arousal on a Creaky Bridge").
Two of the most famous studies of good vs. evil are presented in this text. In the infamous 1970's Stanford Prison Experiment, college students playing the role of guards became drunk on their power and humiliated and dehumanized their mock prisoners. In another experiment, researcher Stanley Milgram proved that otherwise "good" individuals could be coerced into delivering painful or deadly electric shocks to other volunteers under pressure from a scientific researcher.
Ranging from the trivial to the socially far-reaching, Boese's compendium has something for everyone.
Last year I requested that my local library buy a few books on zombie cinema. Pretend We're Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture
was okay - it read a bit too much like a dissertation (which it was). Very "cultural studies" - I had a hard time discerning the chicken or the egg - did the filmakers intentionally make horror films that critiqued capitalism or do we read them that way because we want to critique capitalism?
Anyway, next up was Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema
. I made it my bedtime reading (yes, I am so much of a zombie cinema fan this did not give me nightmares - in fact, dreams I have with zombies in them tend not to be nightmares) and savored every word. From the looks of it, Book of the Dead
is a reference book with lots of color pictures. In fact, the first half of the book is chronological and insightful criticism, while the second half is a movie-by-movie reference guide to every zombie film.
Russell doesn't paint zombie films with a broad stroke - rather, he starts with the White Zombie
(1932), explaining the origins of zombie cinema in the American occupation of Haiti and covers every decades, every nation, and every variation up until the present (he ends with Romero's Land of the Dead
). Throughout the book zombie cinema is contextualized; you cannot understand Spanish zombie cinema without taking Franco into account and you can't understand Japanese zombie cinema without taking the Resident Evil
video game into consideration.
Russell is just as willing to discuss terrible zombie movies as the excellent ones, from homemade fan films to Romero's classics. He covers the established interpretations and challenges them (are all Italian zombie films really about Catholicism? Probably not). Sometimes he can't help himself and cracks jokes or expresses shock. He includes fun details (I didn't know Simon Pegg had a cameo in Land of the Dead
or that Tom Savini was also the special effects artist in Dawn of the Dead
) and gave me a long list of films to see.
I'm really interested in the history of the idea of environmental determinism. I don't want to be convinced that it's wrong, or that it's right, but I'd like to read something on the history of the debate, and how it's shaped various academic disciplines.
Does such a book exist, or shall I have one of you write it for me?
What have I been reading? Lately, it's been Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism, a daunting tome. It's to help me understand teh current of history for the new book I am writing.
Two biographies of Hillary Clinton came out recently (within days of one another) - A Woman in Charge
and Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton
. With the election coming up, and after hearing an interview with one of the New York Times book reviewers about both books, I'm really interested in reading one or the other (but goodness knows not both). The NYT reviewer seemed to think the former was superior, though they've both got the same rating on Amazon.
Anyone read either or both of these?
This place has been awfully quiet, so I thought I'd share my recent nonfic reads. Well, as of this year, anyway.
In January, I read Graham Hancock
in which he runs the gamut from early human cave paintings to gods, and angels, fairies, psychedelics, shamans, and aliens and links them all together as basically the same phenomenon. In my mind, (being subjects I've already spent a fair amount of time studying) he does a very good job of forming a solid theory with many examples to back up this theory. Basically he is saying that our encounters with the supernatural, are the same, only the outer appearance changes along with our technology and world view, that what we once thought were angels became fairies in later times, and then became aliens in the present. He makes sure to state that this all presupposes that these experiences are real. And if we suppose that they are, then how do we begin to study a supernatural reality. As I said, the book is great and very entertaining.
In March, I read A Year in the Merde
by Stephen Clarke
which is a slightly exaggerated account of the Englishman Clarke's year in France to open a set of British tea shops. I have not laughed so hard and so often while reading a book as I did during the first quarter of this one. The entire thing is brilliant, but the opening scenes and the language miscommunications are laugh-out-loud funny and it sheds a strange strange light on life in Paris. An excerpt:
"My good friend Chris told me not to come to France. Great lifestyle, he said, great food, and totally un-politically correct women with great underwear. His theory was that the French are like the woman scorned. Back in 1940, they tried to tell us they loved us but we just laughed at their accents and their big-nosed General de Gaulle, and ever since we've done nothing but poison them with our disgusting food and try to wipe the French language off the face of the earth. That's why they built refugee camps yards from the Eurotunnel entrance and refuse to eat our beef years after it was declared safe. It's permanent payback time, he said. Don't go there. Sorry, I told him, I've got to check out that underwear."
Then in June, I read A Short History of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson
which is the funniest book ever written about science. This man is hilarious and could probably write a knee-slapper about the Holocaust. He covers just about anything you ever would want to know, as a non-scientist, about science, from the amazing level of facts about how it is, for all intents and purposes, an absolute statistical impossibility that we even exist, all the way to black holes and airplanes and vaccines and the history of the weird characters who invented all the things that make our improbable existence longer and better (and often worse as well. Don't get me started on the insane amounts of lead we used to ingest.) One of my favorite side notes is about a scientist (I forget what he did) who married, had some kids, the wife died in childbirth, so the wife's sister moved in to help him take care of the children, they fall in love, marry, have more kids, she dies in childbirth, when grown, his daughters die in childbirth, the Nazi's blow up his house and all his work during the London bombings, and his last remaining son is executed when he is caught in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Yeah. that part wasn't so funny. But the whole book is funny and informative and the U.S. would lead the world in the sciences if people like Bryson taught it.
Years ago, I read Prague
by Arthur Phillips. I can't write a full review since it was so long ago, but I remember it being remarkable. A very rich story about the joys and difficulties of expat Americans living in Budapest.
One of my favorite parts--that I'm still mulling over years later--is one of the characters studied the "history of nostalgia." So, in conversation, other characters will tell him, for example, that the cafe scene in Paris is nothing like it was years ago--and he'll call bullshit on it. Then, he goes to some length quoting various historical figures who have thought the same thing about Parisian cafes--that they're were better years ago--going back decades and centuries. Basically, making the point that nostalgia is misleading but an easy trap.
[Those of you who've read the book recently, I apologize if I'm butchering the scene. Those of you who haven't read it, I'm making the book sound way more academic than it is--it's very witty.]
I would love to read a cultural studies book that explores these issues of nostalgia in more detail, or maybe a case study of nostalgia? Can anyone recommend one? An Amazon search came across The Future of Nostalgia by Svetlana Boym
and The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz
. Anyone read these? Know others?
|The Dogs Who Found Me by Ken Foster Rating:
208Rec for people who love:
dogs, New Orleans, rescue animalsSummary: After Foster adopts his first dog, Brando, from a shelter, he can't help noticing an alarming number of stray dogs, which he had never noticed before. Once he starts looking for them, he finds strays everywhere: on the side of the road, at the dog park, at gas stations and stuck in drainage grates. But this book isn't about Foster as much as it's about his dogs, who help him through 9/11 (he lived in Manhattan then), a heart condition that lands him in the hospital and the deaths of two good friends. As if channeling the frank and fundamental nature of dogs, Foster's sentences hide little pretense or poetry. It's an appropriate writing style that lets Foster present his joys and sorrows plainly. Interspersing vignettes on topics such as missing dog posters, shelters, heartworms and understanding dogs' body language, Foster fleshes out this charming account of a life among dogs while providing hints for would-be dog savers. - From Publishers WeeklyThoughts: ( Foster's work is a cut above the standard pet-lit genre )
This nonfiction book, which is subtitled Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond
, tries to give a context to school and workplace shootings. Ames argues that there is something deeply wrong with the culture of the United States and it has nothing to do with violent video games or objectionable music. According to Ames, our culture celebrates and rewards bullies (like Jack Welch), meanness, conformity, and acceptance of things that are against our own self-interest (e.g., union busting). These shootings, or rage massacres, are a rebellion against the current state of things, the institutions involved, particular targets, etc. rather than the mindless rampages portrayed by the news media.
Do people just snap when they go postal? Do they act "without any cause or provocation" as Nat Turner supposedly did? Or are they reacting to grievances both specific and institutional: griveances that we are barely able to see because we lack distance, grievances which seem as banal and part of the natrual turn-of-the-millennium landscape as strip malls and stress-palpitations, yet grievances which will be perceived as obviously unbearable twenty, thirty, fifty years from now? What, in [the] case of Fight Club, are the grievances that lead Jack to wage a violent revolution against Middle America? Some are easy to put your finger on; other grievances are impossible to verbalize, they could be sort of summed up as "life." Yet the millions who saw that movie and sympathized with its message understood what it was that drew Jack to violent rebellion. There was another, more comforting explanation for his violence too: Jack, as we learn at the end of the book, was mentally ill. As all rebels-before-their time are ill. (The movie version wisely left that cheap escape-hatch ending more vague than the book, which is why the movie was far more effective than the book.) The huge underground popularity of Fight Club's message makes another point: it takes someone who is mentally ill to see, and fight against, the sense of oppression that healthy people otherwise accept to such a degree that they can't even see it.
Everyone today agrees that slavery caused slave violence, and that inner-city poverty and pressures breed violent crime. Why is it so awful to suggest that offices, such as they are today, breed office massacres?
Ames's language is often deliberately inflammatory and judgmental. He has a particular venom for Reagan; he blames the Reagan-era policies for changing workplace culture into an intolerable situation ruled by fear to make profits for outrageously over-compensated CEOs. Moreover, he rails against US citizens for not rebelling against the changes, including reduced vacation time and brutal lay offs, that have made our lives worse. I think at one point he refers to us as acting like peasants. I also suspect that calling our current situation a type of slavery and comparing rage massacres to slave rebellions could be construed as outrageously offensive.
On the other hand, the book raises many good points and interesting topics for discussion. I tend to agree that a free-market-driven culture is not ideal. I also appreciate an analysis of school shootings that points to bullying, rather than that ubiquitous and useless accusation of evil. I recognize that many of his points about office politics and culture are disturbing and true:
A "cheerful attitude" and laughing are tactics employed by all Americans, at an unconscious, even genetic level. Though many Americans privately know that one's own smile is an attempt to put the other party at ease rather than a reflection of one's own inner happiness, publicly, this is rarely admitted. Thus few of us know how many other Americans also force this desperate smile—we all think we're the only ones faking it. These smiles are more like mammal calls used to identify the individual with the herd, to keep from being expelled. These calls that have to be repeated and repeated: you can't just recite the backslapping platitutudes once and you're off the hoos—as mammals, the office herd requires you to send out the correct marking signals every single day, every hour. It can be exhausting and humiliating. Yet the consequences of not constantly reminding everyone how normal you are range from getting placed on the slow-track to being first on the plank when the next downsizing diktat arrives from headquarters. In my own experience, this cheerfulness, this desperate smile, is one of the most corrosive features to daily life in America, one of the great alienators—a key toxic ingredient in the cultural poison.
I don't know if the book qualifies as a scholarly analysis, but I do know that it is thought provoking. I can't fully endorse it's point of view, but it would be boring to read only books that present ideas that I agree with. And, yes, I picked this up in response to the Virginia Tech killings.
|Garlic & Sapphires: The Life & Times of a Critic in Disguise, Ruth Reichl
4 stars (out of 5)
First, the obvious: food is for eating. Food is very, very rarely fun to read about; we may think we enjoy it, but ultimately, it's no fun being teased unless we can have some kind of release at the end, and last I checked most food books don't come with a mini-fridge. For this reason, food literature seems to appeal to a very particular group of masochists, or those who at least have the means and ease of running out to satisfy their cravings when the going gets tantalizing. Somehow, however, Ruth Reichl manages to make not only writing about food, but writing
about writing about food both entertaining and gastronomically bearable.
In Garlic & Sapphires: The LIfe and Times of a Food Critic in Disguise
, Reichl grudgingly accepts a position as the new NY Times food critic, but the trouble starts before she even moves to New York to start the job. On a plane from LA, she is recognized by a waitress who begs her to reveal where she'll be eating that night, confessing that the information is worth a lot of money in the high-stakes restaurant world of the Big Apple. Not only does the waitress know Ruth by sight, however, but she quickly ticks of a list of personal details like the name and age of her son, and what her husband does for a living. ( The lack of anonymity may not be a problem for some critics...Collapse )
Right now, I'm in the middle of Sputnik: The Shock of the Century by Paul Dickson. I found it at an outlet bookstore, and picked it up to add to my books about early spaceflight. It's not very long, but it gives a general history of rocketry and then examines the impact of the Sputnik satellites on the United States. It's sparked my interest in the Soviet space program.
So, what are you reading?
Some weeks ago, zepgoddess
reviewed "Nickel and Dimed", by Barbara Ehrenreich, and although the opinions were mixed at best, I still decided to pick it up, because I'd heard of it before and was always tickled by the concept. You can find the post here
And my two cents (or should those be nickels):
Well, I read the book. It is pretty bad.
Mainly you get the impression that if you live in the low-wage world, your life revolves around food, housing, and the ailments that your job causes: sore feet, back-ache, you name it. Although all those *are* no doubt important issues, I presume to have been in low-wage jobs for long enough to know that these "working poor" people also have lives: marriages that go wrong, children that grow up and smoke pot and stay away all night, annoying relatives; there is flirtation and hope, there are movies and nights out with the girls, and yes, there are even books and the occasional museum and the desire for more knowledge.
If I didn't share an apartment, I probably would be scraping by as well. Barbara Ehrenreich makes it sound as if sharing an apartment or house with a friend, a spouse, or a flatmate, was below anyone's dignity, when the fact is that prices for rents and housing everywhere in the world are insane, and lots and lots of people are sharing.
Still, some of the things she described were so totally alien to me that they alone made the book worth reading. If your purse is on the premises legally owned by your boss, he can search your purse? Computer orientation modules for Wal-Mart employees (excuse me, associates) include instructions on what to do when there are pools of blood on the floor? (This was my laugh-out-loud moment of the book, I must admit.) You can be fired for talking? Wow. After this, Europe doesn't feel like another continent, but more like another planet.
When we talk about anthropogenic global warming, we tend to be referring to the dramatic rise in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide since the beginning of the Industrial era, some two hundred years ago. Scientists often refer to this apparent change in the atmosphere as the "Anthropocene," the beginning of significant human impact on the earth.
But what if the Anthropocene started not with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, but some eight thousand years ago?William Ruddiman
, a senior climatologist at the University of Virginia, makes that very argument in his book Plows, Plagues, & Petroleum
. Looking back at past paleoclimate data and computer models, Ruddiman noticed that at around 8,000 years ago, carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere should have gone down in association with changes in the Earth's orbital patterns known as Milankovitch Cycles
. Instead, he noticed that concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane actually increase
, albeit slightly and gradually. Finding no plausible hypothesis for this in his knowledge of earth science, Ruddiman turned to archaeology for clues, and found that the rises in carbon dioxide and methane corresponded with the beginnings of deforestation and landscape burning for agriculture, and the formation of Asia's first rice paddies. Even this relatively small change in human land use (compared to today's scale) was enough to start a long-term trend in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, and possibly contributed to the prevention of the next ice age, which he argues is overdue
It's a compelling argument, and one that Ruddiman describes in an accessible format without being thin on the scientific details. But Ruddiman doesn't stop there; he continues to examine the seemingly anomalous blips in the carbon dioxide record up through the modern age, in an attempt to explain the unusual (but slight) drops in the record that have taken place in the last thousand years or so. Some such blips, Ruddiman argues, follow major pandemics in human history, such as the Bubonic Plague. Following major decreases in human population, large areas of farmland would return to forested conditions and less wood and other fuels would have been burned, which may have accounted for the decrease in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. Ruddiman proposes that this drop may have been responsible for the Little Ice Age
These thought exercises, backed up with computer models and ice core records, are extremely compelling. Ruddiman of course acknowledges that correlation is not causation; that is, simply because two things happen at the same time, doesn't mean that one caused the other to happen. My only significant criticism is with the title; "control" implies a deliberate attempt on the part of humans to forestall the next ice age, which certainly wasn't the case. Otherwise, the book is concise and well-written, and has an excellent reference list (a feature often neglected by popular science writers).
Ruddiman's ideas have caused a lot of healthy debate and inquiry among climate scientists, and have caused a number of people to rethink the assumption that human impact was negligible until the Industrial era. Researchers will continue to test these hypotheses (Ruddiman and colleagues continue to work on the problem, and are now also looking at the impact of the domestication of livestock animals), and while the jury is out on the "Early Anthropocene" hypothesis, in the meantime the ideas (and the book) make for good thinking and great conversation.
Cross-posted to antarcticlust
, and literal_libris
I really wanted
to like this book. The premise was interesting, at least - feminist writer Barbara Ehrenreich, self-declared member of America's upper class, goes undercover to write about what life is like as a $7/hour wage slave.( My review, some spoilersCollapse )
My mother, who is a retired school librarian, reads a great deal, but mostly, all she ever reads is fiction...some of it high literature, but mostly not; she also kept up with children's books, and reviews of them, when she was still working.
Imagine my surprise when I find her reading my copy of James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency! I was shocked. Me, nearly everything I read, even in audiobook format, is non-fiction. I only read fiction if it is high literature, otherwise, forget it, for the most part. I'm an academic librarian, not a school librarian (well, correction, I am an ALA-accredited MLS holder and currently unemployed academic librarian looking for academic library work while working in an underpaid office job to make ends meet). And now, my Dad's reading it too! I went ahead an switched to reading Julian Darley's High Noon for Natural Gas, since there's a good bit of overlap with The Long Emergency. I'm glad my parents are taking an interest in the book, if only because maybe they'll understand a little better the kinds of things that I worry about all time and get paranoid about. ;-)
I really like James Howard Kunstler's acerbic writing style. I also like following his website, which he updates regularly, and his blog, "Clusterf*ck Nation" is there, too, and updated every Monday (www.kunstler.com). I browsed some of his earlier works, too, recently, and I think I'd really like to sit down and read Geography of Nowhere. Kunstler is from upstate New York, and he has a certain Yankee sensibility that is attractive, yet irritating at the same time. Some of what he writes about my native American South is painful to read, but true. Some of it is unfair and shows a lack of comprehension--but not much.
He seems to be able to make a living from his own writing, and that's admirable, since it's so hard to do.
I'm only about half-way through it, but the message of The Long Emergency is very sobering and unsettling. Even if you're inclined to disagree with him, he presents a very challenging thesis.
Teaching the Restless, Chris Mercogliano
Discussing the diagnosis and medication of ADD children, Mercogliano tells the story of several students at Albany Free School over the past few decades. Through thorough anecdotes and relating research findings he shows that children diagnosed with ADD are able to flourish without medication in an environment that is responsive to their needs. A good read for those interested in free schools or ADD.
I received David Sedaris' Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day as Christmas gifts. Does anyone know if it is it better to read one before the other?