Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

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The Saône river in Lyon (Herbert Frank from Wien (Vienna), AT – Lyon, an der Saône, Eglise Saint Georges / Wikimedia Commons)

When you have 20 minutes it is worth hearing Bill Buford speak about the same experience he has written about. If you have already read about his Lyon baking experience, and enjoyed it, all the more so; this conversation brings more to the table as he discusses his new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. Click the image of the book below to go to an independent bookseller that offers it.

9780307271013Likewise, even if you have already read plenty on the importance of bread and bakeries in French culture you might enjoy one more take, from the present circumstances, in James McAuley’s article about flocking back to bakeries for comfort: …“The power of bread is particularly emotional now. It’s no longer caloric; a vital necessity,” Kaplan said. “Bread still is the conveyor of this extraordinary, important feeling we have that the state cares about us. It’s a reaffirmation of solidarity. Solidarity is really represented by sharing bread.” (Baguettes were price-controlled in France until 1986)…

Fungus Among Us

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A seemingly brainless organism, the fungus is a model of coöperative resilience. Illustration by Anders Nilsen

It is reassuring to wake up on a Monday morning and read an essay like the one below. Books are still being published. Check. Fungi are still worthy of book-length attention. Check. Book reviews continue. Check. Kind of like yesterday it was a pleasure to know that bioluminescence continues its mysterious ways, and people are still finding ways to be amused by that. The number of articles we have posted here since 2011 about fungi is many times more than about bioluminescence, and our readers demonstrate a greater interest in this subject as well. A book as valuable as this one sounds like from the review should not suffer from an untimely publication date.

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One of the minor accompanying pleasures following the reading of this essay is a quick investigation that shows there is a bookshop in the Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta, GA and its counterpart in Athens, GA where you can order the book. Our view is that when you can support an independent bookshop you should, for so many reasons. Thanks to Avid for being there, and to Hua Hsu for this:

The Secret Lives of Fungi

They shape the world—and offer lessons for how to live in it.

248534In 1957, a man from New York named R. Gordon Wasson published an article in Life about two trips he had taken, three decades apart. The first was to the Catskills, in New York, where his wife, Valentina, took a rambling walk in the woods and became enamored of some wild mushrooms. “She caressed the toadstools,” Wasson recalled, “savored their earthy perfume.” She brought them home to cook, and soon he, too, was enchanted. They spent the next thirty years studying and cataloguing various species, searching out literary and artistic works about mushrooms.

According to Wasson, the world is divided into mycophiles and mycophobes. Reverence might take a variety of forms—think of Eastern Europe or Russia, where foraging is a pastime. There’s a famous scene in “Anna Karenina,” in which a budding romance withers during a mushroom hunt. Wasson was particularly interested in societies that venerated the fungus for spiritual reasons. In Mexico, wild mushrooms were thought to possess “a supernatural aura.” Continue reading

Immunity Boost Pep Shot

5084bce2c484b_170546bWhen Amie and I visited the Greek island of Ikaria in the autumn of 2013, it was years after we had first read about Blue Zones. We were there for work reasons, looking to identify a new location for Xandari. We learned plenty, though Xandari Ikaria never happened. Hortopita, for one. Not only spinach, but all kinds of greens, both cultivated and wild, can make a dish both healthier and more interesting than the spanakopita I had grown up with. For several weeks now, while investigating ways in which the ferias of Costa Rica might adapt to the new health protocols, and whether we might assist family farms in any way, we took a hiatus from attending the one in our town. I am happy to report that our municipality has made adjustments, and so we attended a new, smaller gathering of family farms this last week. Now that the feria is twice a week, the number of people shopping at either one is effectively halved.

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b6cbd244-7cad-4258-bd6a-7293eb55a5b4I bought beets and broccoli and various greens from the stall above a few days ago with no other shopper in close proximity. Good start. And plenty of other distancing measures in place, plus an abundance of soap and sinks and disinfectant sprays at every place where you can enter or exit the feria. Also good. But we remain convinced that a new social enterprise might help these farmers, and shoppers, more. And for that, our kitchen has been a laboratory for generating ideas, with various reading materials to assist. The Blue Zones Kitchen has been especially helpful.

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While the “it” social enterprise is elusive, the meals have been nutritious and tasty. This experimentation has converged with my coffee tests, and my 3-year near-obsession with how to bring Maya nut to a wider audience, so this is what I will report on today.

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I have been combining a couple Blue Zones products with slow brew coffee, thinking of a drink that can add pep to the day and at the same time add other value, nutritional and otherwise. Honey is part of the recipe for its antioxidant properties as much as its sweetness. And the ojoche (aka Maya nut) to the left in the image above is there for its own nutritional reasons, which will require a post of its own.

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But to get this drink just right, sweetly combining pep + immunity, the ingredient that comes from our feria is the magic touch.

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Turmeric became an important part of our diet while living in India. And so it came to be again last month when, just prior to the closure of Costa Rica’s borders, a friend from India visited us. He is a medical doctor, not prone to folk remedies, but under the circumstances we all found ourselves suddenly in, looking for ways to boost our bodies’ immunities–he recommended something simple to us: have some turmeric every day. He specifically recommended combining it with milk, honey and freshly ground black peppercorn. Which we started doing, immediately. And day after day, one thing led to another. So now we have a slow brew coffee with these ingredients, plus some ojoche for good measure.

The Incredible Journey of Plants, Reviewed

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‘You need to imagine a plant as a huge brain’ … the plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso. Photograph: Alessandro Moggi

Thanks to Amy Fleming for this book review:

The secret life of plants: how they memorise, communicate, problem solve and socialise

Stefano Mancuso studies what was once considered laughable – the intelligence and behaviour of plants. His work is contentious, he says, because it calls into question the superiority of humans

9781635429916I had hoped to interview the plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso at his laboratory at the University of Florence. I picture it as a botanical utopia: a place where flora is respected for its awareness and intelligence; where sensitive mimosa plants can demonstrate their long memories; and where humans are invited to learn how to be a better species by observing the behaviour of our verdant fellow organisms.

But because we are both on lockdown, we Skype from our homes. Instead of meeting his clever plants, I make do with admiring a pile of cannonball-like pods from an aquatic species, on the bookshelves behind him. “They’re used for propagation,” he says. “I am always collecting seeds.”

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Flower power … Mancuso’s team has shown that Mimosa pudica can retain learned information for weeks. Photograph: Alamy

Before Mancuso’s lab started work in 2005, plant neurobiology was largely seen as a laughable concept. “We were interested in problems that were, until that moment, just related to animals, like intelligence and even behaviour,” he says. At the time, it was “almost forbidden” to talk about behaviour in plants. But “we study how plants are able to solve problems, how they memorise, how they communicate, how they have their social life and things like that”. Continue reading

A Wonky Yet Infectious Hopefulness

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.The title of today’s post comes from a book review that serves me well after reading yesterday, then re-reading just now, about the conversation between a journalist I respect and a conservationist I admire. Since I am stuck in this myopic debate, a bookend to that conversation is the best I can hope for today. I do not yet have a copy of this book, but I hope to review it in these pages soon. For now, thanks to Hua Hsu for bringing it to my attention in THE SEARCH FOR NEW WORDS TO MAKE US CARE ABOUT THE CLIMATE CRISIS:

The reason we find ourselves verging toward planetary extinction is fairly simple: for quite some time, it’s been profitable for humans to behave this way. For business and government, it’s always been easier to toggle between plunder and neglect than to mind long-term, civilizational time lines. The actual conspiracy is that we are made to feel as though humanity’s fate were purely a matter of personal choice—our desire to buy this, that, or nothing at all, our collective willingness to recycle or compost. This isn’t to say that we possess no power at all. But the scale of the problem is difficult to comprehend, and discussions leave many of us feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed, reduced to myopic debates about whether we are too scared or not scared enough. Continue reading

Public Libraries Adapt

TCPL logo.jpgDuring this time in Ithaca, we made a couple visits with Fern to the Tompkins County Public Library, which I last visited in the first half of the 1990s when Seth and Milo began developing their bibliophilic tendencies. Each time we entered the library last week we were greeted by signs heralding the elimination of late return fines. As a budget conscious grad student at the time we first started using that library 25+ years ago, this policy change caught my attention, so I looked it up.

TCPLF logo.jpgIthaca has always been an inclusivity-centric community. So I am not surprised to see the wheelchair logo as prominent part of the library’s logo. But I was surprised to learn that there is a foundation that supports this adaptive mission. Given the dozens of stories about libraries that we have featured on this platform since 2011 it still surprises me to learn something new about them. How interesting that just a few days after returning from Ithaca, Emma Bowman fills me in on the bigger picture of this policy innovation:

‘We Wanted Our Patrons Back’ — Public Libraries Scrap Late Fines To Alleviate Inequity

For nearly a decade, Diana Ramirez hadn’t been able to take a book home from the San Diego Public Library. Her borrowing privileges were suspended, she was told, because of a mere $10 in late fees, an amount that had grown to $30 over the years. Continue reading

Loving Food To Death

9781770414358_custom-bf6d1d71924fbd2a8904de5d2c8f72d9dd530137-s400-c85Thanks to Luisa Torres for this author interview and book review on a topic we started posting about in 2011, and we unfortunately have continuously found an abundance of stories about, but will continue sharing:

We humans love food to death — literally.

From mammoths to passenger pigeons, we have driven our favorite meals to extinction through overhunting and habitat destruction. And globally, our tendency to overharvest just a narrow range of crops has limited the variety of foods we eat.

“When it comes to fruits and vegetables, we have access to only a fraction of the diversity that existed a century ago,” says Lenore Newman in her forthcoming bookLost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food (out Oct. 8).She is the Canada research chair in food security and environment at the University of the Fraser Valley, in British Columbia.

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An engraving dating from the 19th century depicts passenger pigeons, once one of the most common birds in North America but now extinct because of overhunting and deforestation.
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty

In her book, Newman explores how human activity has limited our food options and still threatens what we are able to put on our plates. Continue reading

Underland, Reviewed

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Armando Veve

Robert Macfarlane first came to my attention in Ethiopia a few years ago. And then again the following year while in India. And now I see where it was all leading, in the form of a book, to see what is beneath our feet, reviewed here:

McfarlaneYou know a book has entered your bloodstream when the ground beneath your feet, once viewed as bedrock, suddenly becomes a roof to unknown worlds below. The British writer Robert Macfarlane has written such a book. “Underland: A Deep Time Journey” is an epic exploration and examination of darkness and the caverns underground that have captured our imaginations, pulled us downward, housed our dead and allowed us to bury our most violent secrets. It is also a descent into the beauty where dark wisdom is located.

Macfarlane divides his explorations into three sections, or “chambers,” devoted to “Seeing,” “Hiding” and “Haunting.” As he moves through them, he will take us to ancient barrows in Britain’s Mendip Hills, the understory of the Epping Forest and a physics lab investigating “dark matter” from deep within a coastal Yorkshire mine. He will guide us through underground rivers in Italy and show us the pictographs known as “the red dancers” found in Norwegian sea caves.

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London’s Epping Forest in the autumn.CreditDavid Levene/evevine, via Redux

Macfarlane homes in on “something seemingly paradoxical: that darkness might be a medium of vision, and that descent may be a movement toward revelation rather than deprivation.” Night vision becomes an essential strategy for survival in the Anthropocene, the new epoch we find ourselves in, which registers the human press on the planet as a geologic force. “For more than 15 years now,” Macfarlane explains, “I have been writing about the relationships between landscape and the human heart. What began as a wish to solve a personal mystery — why I was so drawn to mountains as a young man that I was, at times, ready to die for love of them — has unfolded into a project of deep-mapping.” Continue reading

Libraries as Cultural Hotspots

 

An installation at The State Library of Victoria during White Night in 2014. The library hosted almost 2 million visitors last financial year. Kerry O’Brien publicity

Never one to tire of reading about libraries, the essay below gives me a surge of hope in a world where culture is often upstaged by bullish showmanship. The sense that libraries encapsulate and span centuries of human endeavors, yet still evolve and remain essential to communities around the world is completely on point. “All hail the librarian!”, indeed.

Friday essay: the library – humanist ideal, social glue and now, tourism hotspot

Last year two Danish librarians – Christian Lauersen and Marie Eiriksson – founded Library Planet: a worldwide, crowdsourced, online library travel guide. According to them, Library Planet is meant to inspire travellers “to open the awesome book that is our world of libraries, cities and countries”.

The name of the online project is a deliberate nod to the Australian-made Lonely Planet. The concept is simple and powerful. Library lovers contribute library profiles and images from their travels; the founders then curate and publish the posts, with the ambition of capturing library experiences and library attractions from around the world.

Why make libraries a focus of travel? There are a thousand practical and aesthetic reasons, as well as cultural ones. Libraries for the most part are safe and welcoming places. And they tell unique stories about the people who build and appreciate them. If books are the basic data of civilisation, then nations’ libraries provide windows on national souls. They are precious places in which to seek traces of the past, and reassurance about the future.

Library Planet now has dozens of intriguing profiles – including from Burma, Iceland, Tanzania and French Polynesia. A recent entry celebrated the Melbourne Cricket Club library at the MCG. The site has rapidly become a favourite among the bibliographical communities and subcultures of Instagram and Twitter, such as #rarebooks, #amreading and #librarylove. Continue reading

Upheaval, Another Heavy Book For The Reading List

First I had read the Guardian interview with the author, which was good, and made watching the above worthwhile. But when David Wallace-Wells conducts such an interview, it is something altogether more compelling. He knows how to word a title alarmingly. My reading list just got 320 pages longer:

Jared Diamond: There’s a 49 Percent Chance the World As We Know It Will End by 2050

Upheaval.jpgJared Diamond’s new book, Upheaval, addresses itself to a world very obviously in crisis, and tries to lift some lessons for what do about it from the distant past. In that way, it’s not so different from all the other books that have made the UCLA geographer a sort of don of “big think” history and a perennial favorite of people like Steven Pinker and Bill Gates.

Diamond’s life as a public intellectual began with his 1991 book The Third Chimpanzee, a work of evolutionary psychology, but really took off with Guns, Germs, and Steel, published in 1997, which offered a three-word explanation for the rise of the West to the status of global empire in the modern era — and, even published right at the “end of history,” got no little flak from critics who saw in it both geographic determinism and what they might today call a whiff of Western supremacy. In 2005, he published Collapse, a series of case studies about what made ancient civilizations fall into disarray in the face of environmental challenges — a doorstopper that has become a kind of touchstone work for understanding the crisis of climate change today. In The World Until Yesterday, published in 2012, he asked what we can learn from traditional societies; and in his new book, he asks what we can learn from ones more like our own that have faced upheaval but nevertheless endured.

I obviously want to talk about your new book, but I thought it might be useful to start by asking you how you saw it in the context of your life’s work.
Sure. Here’s my answer, and I think you’ll find it banal and more disappointing than what you might have hoped for. Continue reading

An Unusual Book Of Birds

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Thanks to Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose books I have read about but never read, this book above came to my attention with the photo below featured under the review’s title on the New Yorker website.

To Be a Bird

The photographs in Stephen Gill’s “The Pillar” encounter birds on their own terms.

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A pillar knocked into the ground next to a stream in a flat, open landscape, trees and houses visible in the distance, beneath a vast sky. That is the backdrop to all the photographs in Stephen Gill’s book “The Pillar.” We see the same landscape in spring and summer, in autumn and winter, we see it in sunshine and rain, in snow and wind. Yet there is not the slightest bit of monotony about these pictures, for in almost every one there is a bird, and each of these birds opens up a unique moment in time. We see something that has never happened before and will never happen again. The first time I looked at the photographs, I was shaken. I’d never seen birds in this way before, as if on their own terms, as independent creatures with independent lives.

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The review got me to seek out the book to see what it looks like; the picture at the very top and the ones below are what I found:

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10180249_grande.jpgI see from these pages what the reviewer describes, and to the right is what appears to be the cover of the book:

What was shocking about it was that I already felt familiar with birds, as I imagine most people do, since we can hardly go anywhere without being surrounded by them in one way or another.Here, where I’m sitting, in London, if I turn my head and look out of the glass doors, two, perhaps three seconds will go by before a bird passes over the trees and rooftops. Continue reading

When Bill McKibben Speaks to Elizabeth Kolbert, Listen

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Climate activists block traffic in London’s Oxford Circus on April 19, part of a string of protests organized by Extinction Rebellion. COURTESY OF VLADIMIR MOROZOV/AKX MEDIA

Two luminaries on climate, in conversation:

Why Bill McKibben Sees Rays of Hope in a Grim Climate Picture

end-of-nature.jpgThe world has done little to tackle global warming since Bill McKibben’s landmark book on the subject was published in 1989. In ane360 interview, McKibben talks about the critical time lost and what can be done now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Three decades ago, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature, the first book on climate change aimed at a general audience. McKibben went on to found the international environmental group 350.org, help launch the fossil fuel divestment movement, and write a dozen more non-fiction books, as well as a novel. In 2014, McKibben received the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes referred to as the “alternative Nobel,” for mobilizing popular support for “strong action to counter the threat of global climate change.”

falterbookpage.jpgMcKibben’s latest book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, was published this month and debuted last week on the New York Times bestseller list. In an interview with Yale Environment 360 , McKibben talks about why the critical time for action on climate was missed, where he still finds hope, and what the world will look like three decades from now.

“Thirty or 50 years out, the world’s going to run on sun and wind, because they’re free,” McKibben says. “The question is… what kind of world will it be?”

Yale Environment 360: It’s almost exactly 30 years since you published The End of Nature. One way to read that book is as a warning. How you would characterize Falter? Is it also a warning, or are we beyond that?

Bill McKibben: Look, 30 years ago this was all still prospective. You couldn’t really take a picture of climate change yet. Now, having wasted 30 years, we’re at the point where it’s a dominant fact of everyday life for hundreds of millions of people and promising to be the overwhelming fact of our time in the years ahead. It’s too late, obviously, to stop climate change. I hope that the book gets across that it may not be too late to keep it from getting absolutely out of control. It’s not a warning. It’s some combination of a report and a chronicle and a plea, I think. Continue reading

Plastic Soup & Creative Re-Use With A Critical Purpose

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Ocean Sole turns reclaimed flip-flops into colourful, hand-made animal toys and sculptures. Tonnes of flip-flops wash up on the east African coast every year.
Photograph: Courtesy of Ocean Sole/Plastic Soup

PlasticSoupAnd speaking of plastics, a new book has come to our attention thanks to the Guardian, and thanks to Island Books for the explanation of the book:

Plastics have transformed every aspect of our lives. Yet the very properties that make them attractive—they are cheap to make, light, and durable—spell disaster when trash makes its way into the environment. Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution is a beautifully-illustrated survey of the plastics clogging our seas, their impacts on wildlife and people around the world, and inspirational initiatives designed to tackle the problem.

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Peter Smith made this floating work, World of Litter, in 2012.
Photograph: Courtesy of Jos van Zetten/Plastic Soup

In Plastic Soup, Michiel Roscam Abbing of the Plastic Soup Foundation reveals the scope of the issue: plastic trash now lurks on every corner of the planet. With striking photography and graphics, Plastic Soup brings this challenge to brilliant life for readers. Yet it also sends a message of hope; although the scale of the problem is massive, so is the dedication of activists working to check it. Plastic Soup highlights a diverse array of projects to curb plastic waste and raise awareness, from plastic-free grocery stores to innovative laws and art installations.

According to some estimates, if we continue on our current path, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050. Created to inform and inspire readers, Plastic Soup is a critical tool in the fight to reverse this trend.

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Washed Ashore makes larger-than-life sculptures of marine animals, like this parrotfish, to make people aware of plastic pollution.
Photograph: WashedAshore.org/Plastic Soup

Falter, Bill McKibben’s Latest Book

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Mikel Jaso

My morning hike yesterday was accompanied by Bill McKibben. We have featured him so frequently in these pages that I was surprised that I had not already known he had a new book. So I found what I could read about the book, starting with Jared Diamond’s review (snippet below), and a book talk by the author himself (above).

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A floating island of solar panels in Santiago, Chile.CreditEsteban Felix/Associated Press

Solar panels and nonviolent movements are the two of the causes for hope that McKibben mentions in his podcast interview, and in the book talk in Philadelphia, and according to Diamond’s review those are substantive but not sufficient. Hope and fear are both motivators and getting the balance right is the most important task in perhaps the entire history of mankind. I highlight only this part of the review because it is an echo of what Nathaniel Rich says in an interview about his own book:

 

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…McKibben’s book is much more about grounds for fear, which take up some 18 chapters, than about grounds for hope, which take up five. Fear will motivate some people who are currently undecided, and increase the motivation of others already convinced. But in my experience most people need a strong dose of hope to be spurred to action. Why waste effort on a hopeless cause? One group that has learned this lesson is the cancer lobby, which succeeds at raising funds for research by stressing cures that may be just around the corner more than the grim statistics of the disease’s ongoing toll.

In fact, there are reasons for hope besides those McKibben discusses. One is the change in policies of some powerful multinational corporations. I can already hear the horrified screams of many of my environmentalist friends as I say this. Continue reading

Betting On Planet Earth

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Illustration by Dadu Shin

Last week we pointed to this article, and today we point to another of equal value from the same issue of the same magazine.

How Big Business Is Hedging Against the Apocalypse

Investors are finally paying attention to climate change — though not in the way you might hope.

The New York Times Magazine is on to something. More than most magazines, it is offering stark, long form accounts of the stakes being wagered against our planet.

9780374191337.jpgNathaniel Rich has become one of the most potent writers on the fate of our planet in relation to human actions and inactions. Last year the New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to one article he authored. And now he has a book, which you can listen to him talk about here. The publisher’s blurb:

By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change—including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late. Losing Earth is their story, and ours. Continue reading

Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins Of What We All Need To See In Our Lifetime

book-christakis-blueprint.jpgThe blurb from his own university’s news service is enough to catch your attention:

Drawing on advances in social science, evolutionary biology, genetics, neuroscience, and network science, “Blueprint” attempts to show how and why evolution has placed us on a humane path — and how we are united by our common humanity.

For too long, the author contends, scientists have focused on the dark side of our biological heritage: our capacity for aggression, cruelty, prejudice, and self-interest. But natural selection has given us a suite of beneficial social features, including our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, and learning. Beneath all our inventions — our tools, farms, machines, cities, nations — we carry with us innate proclivities to make a good society.

There are not many reviews available yet, but here is one:

KIRKUS REVIEW

A social scientist looks at the good and bad sides of human character, arguing that we are evolutionarily inclined “to make a particular kind of society—a good one full of love, friendship, cooperation, and learning.”…

…A refreshingly optimistic view of our kind.

If, like me, you had previously only known of him due to this incident, the blurb and the review are catchy enough to warrant further attention. So I found an interview he recently gave (on a podcast I would not normally have sought out, but it was all I could find) and listening to him talk about it has made me want to find this book and have a read.

Books Are Things Unlike Other Things

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My father loved books ravenously, and his always had a devoured look to them. Illustration by Rose Wong

Kathryn Schulz came to my attention four years ago, and we immediately deemed her worthy of an invitation to Kerala. We linked to two more of her articles after that, but re-reading the first essay, it is easy to recall what “ignorance is bliss” means. The world was, as always, facing challenges. But I had no clue then what 2019 would look and feel like, so I enjoyed that essay differently then than I do now.

I am in need of more frequent diversions from the daily news, not to hide but to remember what matters. Times like these call for tangible reminders of what is good and healthy for us, much as comfort foods at certain other times are required to anchor us to better thinking. Food seems the most common thing to turn to for comfort, but books are a better one because ideas that come from books are not just to be remembered, but to renew inspiration, commitment, and determination related to values:

My Father’s Stack of Books

When he was a child, books were gifts. For his daughters, he made sure they were a given.

When I was a child, the grownup books in my house were arranged according to two principles. One of these, which governed the downstairs books, was instituted by my mother, and involved achieving a remarkable harmony—one that anyone who has ever tried to organize a home library would envy—among thematic, alphabetic, and aesthetic demands. The other, which governed the upstairs books, was instituted by my father, and was based on the conviction that it is very nice to have everything you’ve recently read near at hand, in case you get the urge to consult any of it again; and also that it is a pain in the neck to put those books away, especially when the shelves on which they belong are so exquisitely organized that returning one to its appropriate slot requires not only a card catalogue but a crowbar. Continue reading

The Power Of Panic

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Ms. Cohen favors vendors who don’t use plastic. Credit Adam Amengual for The New York Times

When I started my Saturday morning reading it was just prior to our weekly visit to the farmer’s market and there was visual resonance with our own experience eliminating, or trying to eliminate plastic:

You’re Addicted to Plastic. Can You Go Cold Turkey?

Going plastic free starts with cloth bags and straws. Suddenly, you’re … making your own toothpaste?

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Reusable cloth bags are a must. Credit Adam Amengual for The New York Times

Like most people, resonance is always welcome in my reading. But like a second cup of coffee to really get the day going, there is nothing like cognitive dissonance. I can think eliminating plastic from our lives is a big deal one moment, and then the next it is clear that it is not enough, that it is like tinkering. Or as the punchy cliche puts it, like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. David Wallace-Wells is a skilled dissonance artist in this vein. He can make your best efforts suddenly seem pathetic; not in a snarky way and if you listen to him explain his work you will realize resistance is futile; you cannot look away from what he is saying, even if you want to.

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‘A profound book, which simultaneously makes me terrified and hopeful about the future’ Jonathan Safran Foer
A Times and FT Most Anticipated Book 2019

His book will not likely be damned by faint praise; its look at our future prospects will more likely draw extreme responses in favor of the intensity of his alarm, and claims of alarmism from the usual suspects. He is catching up to Elizabeth Kolbert in balancing our preference for optimism with extreme realism. His op-ed on Saturday tipped the balance for me quite like a second, maybe third cup of coffee:

The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.

We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization. Continue reading

The Original “Third Place”

Louie Chin

A friend of mine recently posted on social media about beautiful libraries in Halifax, as well as other favorites, including the Boston Public Library. We’ve written about libraries countless times on this site, both due to their clear cultural importance, as well as their impact within our family. It reminded me how libraries have been part of our lives since early toddlerhood for our sons, starting in Ithaca, where they were born, and in Paris, the American Library (the largest English-language lending library on the European continent) where they discovered authors like Philip Pullman and Terry Prachett. There are no limitations for what libraries have meant to our family over the years.

Thanks to sociologist Eric Klinenberg for this opinion piece.

To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library

This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.

Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.” Continue reading

Books For Early 2019

collierbookI have a few more books, in addition to this history, on my reading list. Reihan Salam, the executive editor of National Review, provides this preview of the Oxford economist Paul Collier‘s new book:

You might expect that Paul Collier, a noted development economist at Oxford who has devoted most of his professional life to the uplift of the global poor, would see himself as a “citizen of the world.” But that’s not quite right. Collier grew up in Sheffield, a once-flourishing English steel town that provided working-class families like his own with a modicum of prosperity and stability, and that has since struggled in the face of import competition and the loss of many of its most ambitious citizens to London and other dynamic cities. He attributes his prodigious accomplishments in no small part to the cooperative character of the community, and the nation, in which he was raised.

National loyalty, far from being inimical to a more just and decent world in which all, including the world’s poorest, can flourish, is seen by Collier as a firmer foundation for global cooperation than abstract cosmopolitanism, which all too often serves as a mask for unenlightened self-interest. The question animating his small but wide-ranging book “The Future of Capitalism” is whether the sense of rootedness that so defined the Britain of his youth can be restored…

ValueBook.jpgRead the whole review here. My second encounter with Paul Collier was this panel discussion on Intelligence Squared. The way in which the world’s developing economies view capitalism is as important as the current changes in how mature developed economies view capitalism. For that reason I am also looking forward to Mariana Mazzucato’s most recent book, to the right. Surprisingly I had never heard of her before listening to her muse about various influences in her life that led to her distinct voice on how value is created by societies. Her self-introduction makes me wonder how she did not show up in our pages previously:

I’m a Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London (UCL), and Director of UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose . My work is focused on the economics of innovation; patient finance; economic growth and the role of the State in modern capitalism. I advise policy makers around the world on how to achieve economic growth that is more innovation-led, inclusive and sustainable. My 2013 book, The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths, looks at the ‘investor of first resort’ role that the State has played in the history of technological change — from the Internet, to biotech and clean-tech — and the implications for future innovation and for achieving public-private partnerships that are more symbiotic. In 2016 I co-edited a book called Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth focusing on the need for new economic thinking to drive more effective economic policies. My new book The Value of Everything, available in UK and US edition, looks at the need to revisit the difference between value creation and value extraction, and the problems that arise when one is confused with the other.