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.

Thinking Forward While Looking Back

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Jill Lepore is a New Yorker staff writer and a historian at Harvard University. She tells David Remnick that her new book is the result of a dare: to tell—or even to understand—the story of this country, from the Age of Discovery through the present day, in one volume. In “These Truths,” Lepore surveys six-hundred-odd years of American history, paying particular attention to themes of immigration, suffrage, and how the media has shaped our democracy. Above all, Lepore grapples with whether the United States has lived up to the promises of its founding. She finds an America alternately fearful of change and fearful of stagnation, trapped between idealizing the past and hoping for a better future. The journey toward progress, Leporesays, is less a march than a stumble.

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I have listened to several interviews that Jill Lepore has given during her promotional tour of her new book, such as the one above (click the top image to go to the source). Today I listened to this one, and it has convinced me that this is one of the books I should take the time to read to put the country of my birth, and the country that many people regardless of birthplace are currently confused by, back in some kind of perspective.

We mostly avoid political commentary on this platform but it is impossible to pretend that the USA or Brazil, or the world as a whole are moving forward or in a good direction. My point of view on the state of governance is mainly one of surprise and confusion–how did we get so reactionary so quickly, and where will that lead us?

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Photograph from Universal History Archive / UIG / Getty

I had already listened to this short discussion of the ideas in this book several months ago. It was interesting but had almost zero impact. On the best of days recently I tell myself that if such a shocking mess is possible, then it should also be possible to imagine and move toward a radically superior future. And that always feels Panglossian. But with a few hundred years of history in mind, Jill Lepore gets me thinking that maybe I can see these times for what they are–not good, nor headed anywhere good–but also see that the cycles of history have had us in at least equally trying times, many times in the past. Ezra Klein has one of the best podcasts out there, and this episode proves it to me:

Jill Lepore is a Harvard historian, a New Yorker contributor, and the author of These Truths, a dazzling one-volume synthesis of American history. She’s the kind of history teacher everyone wishes they’d had, able to effortlessly connect the events and themes of American history to make sense of our past and clarify our present.

“The American Revolution did not begin in 1775 and it didn’t end when the war was over,” Lepore writes. This is a conversation about those revolutions. But more than that, it’s a conversation about who we are as a country, and how that self-definition is always contested and constantly in flux. Continue reading

Animals In A New Light

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Jill Greenberg, Glare, Glare, 2005, Ultrachrome ink on hot press paper, 106.7 x 127 cm / 42 x 50 in, Private collection.

9780714876818-780-1.jpgIt has been a long year since our last links to Phaidon. Following yesterday’s essay this seems an appropriate moment to renew our attention to beautiful books, this one about animals (click the image of the book to go to the source).

Don’t look too closely at this Diana Monkey – you might unnerve yourself. Captured by photographer Jill Greenberg and appearing in our book Animal: Exploring the Zoological World, with its defiant yet nervous hazel-eyed gaze, today’s Astonishing Animal stirs an uncanny sense of self in the viewer.

Greenberg’s hyperrealist style – the monkey’s white and grey fur is lit so that each single strand appears in high definition – captures incredibly emotive images of animals showing emotions and involved in gestures previously thought to be the reserve solely of humans. This portrait is one of seventy-five Greenberg has published covering thirty different primates, including species such as apes, chimpanzees, macaques, mandrils and marmosets.

The Great Lakes And Unexpected Consequences Of Human Interventions

9780393355550_300.jpegI was not aware of this book until listening today to its author spend an hour talking about it. And that happened because of a radio program that I listened to during graduate school, which like most radio shows is now available as a podcast. The discussion was all about unintended ecological consequences of what seemed like smart decisions at the time, going back centuries and up to the present day.

It was interesting enough to search for more information about the book. In the process I found a book club that in turn led me to the book review that is just what I was looking for to complement the author interview:

In the oceanic depths of the Great Lakes, life and death swirl like coffee and cream. Growing up on the western shores of Lake Michigan, I knew this instinctively. The lake provided our drinking water and a place to cool off in the summer, but it also occasionally coughed up millions of small dead fish called alewives, which littered the shoreline, giving off an aquarial reek.

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Great Lakes vampires: Lampreys latch on to a brown trout.
 Credit James L. Amos/National Geographic, via Getty Images

As long as the town deemed the water’s bacteria count low enough, we kids would go swimming or fishing (though we weren’t allowed to eat what we caught). Our moms would sit on towels on the pebbled beach, misted with sweat, paging through magazines. “Do you go in?” they would ask one another, with widened eyes and a half-ironic cringe. Oh no, it was much too cold, or too polluted, they inevitably replied. Nevertheless, the lake served as the axis mundi of our little universe; when people gave directions, they were often oriented “toward the lake” or “away from the lake.” The name of our town had “lake” in it; the town next door did too. Both lay within Lake County. We were lake people. Continue reading

Natural History, Artists & Detectives

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This Tyrannosaurus bataar dinosaur was at the center of a lawsuit demanding its return to Mongolia. Credit U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York

97803163825331.jpgMammoth-hunting is the closest anyone in our immediate circle has gotten to the kind of story that is on my mind today. Searching the word dinosaur on our platform I see that the story told in the book to the left has had a long trail that I have been following for years. If like me you had youthful dreams of becoming a hunter for pre-history’s wonders you might have thrown around phrases such as “whatever it takes.”

This cautionary tale by Paige Williams might be the antidote for any kid whose instincts are for this kind of sleuthing adventure, which requires rules just like any good game. Speaking of which, longform tale-telling is as much an interest of mine as natural history, and the way this book came to my attention was through an interview with its author.

The Bizarre Tale of the ‘Dinosaur Artist’ Who Trafficked in Stolen Fossils

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John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times

As far as case law goes, there are more consequential decisions than The United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar SkeletonFew, however, feature a more charismatic defendant.

In 2013, the United States literally arrested the skeleton of a giant apex predator dinosaur slumbering in a warehouse in Queens. But understanding how this came to be first requires a panoptic survey of everything from the world of the Late Cretaceous period to the 1990s rise of right-wing politics in Mongolia. This is the dizzying task that Paige Williams, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has set for herself in “The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy.”

What began for her as the tale of an unusual court case involving a rogue fossil hunter unspools in this book into a wide-ranging examination of the ways that commercialism, ambition, politics and science collide. (Just a glance at some of the index’s entries reveals the scope: Genghis Khan, Newt Gingrich, St. Augustine, Stegosaurus and Preet Bharara.) Continue reading

A Forager’s Guide To Making Natural Ink

Ink1Since 2011, foraging has been a favored topic here. We have occasionally featured stories with reference to natural colorants, mainly about their various possible uses, and even an exhibition where you could learn more; but not until now have we seen a book like this. It looks like it will be a perfect addition to any of our numerous coffee tables, suited to brighten up even the rainiest afternoon. Click on any image to go to the website for the book. Thanks to Jason Logan for its authorship, and to Amy Goldwasser for bringing it to our attention in the New Yorker:

Ink Foraging in Central Park

The founder of the Toronto Ink Company leads a group of pigment enthusiasts on a hunt for acorns, berries, beer caps, and other ingredients.

Ink2.jpgOn a recent drizzly Tuesday morning, a small group of ink enthusiasts—already rain-slicked, under umbrellas and ponchos—stood on Gapstow Bridge, in Central Park, admiring a brilliant-pink pokeweed bush. The Park was the first stop on a five-hour foraging trip that would take them up to Hudson Heights, to collect foliage and trash, which they would cook, to make ink. Their guide, Jason Logan, the founder of the Toronto Ink Company, was in town for the launch of his book, “Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking.” At a reading in the West Village, he had asked the audience if anyone wanted to go foraging. The city offers some attractive ingredients: acorns, wild grapevines, beer caps, feathers, subway soot.

Ink3.jpgLogan, who is forty-six, became interested in ink about twenty years ago, when he was living in New York, working as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines. He’d burned through a bottle of black-walnut ink, which he’d bought at Pearl Paint, on Canal Street. When he returned for more, the ink was gone. “Then I found black walnuts on my way to work one morning and realized it was easy to make my own deep, rich, delicious ink,” he said.

On the bridge, Logan addressed the foragers, four women of varying ages. He has curly gray hair and was wearing a windbreaker in almost the same hue. “I’m kind of in love with gray,” he said. “It’s interesting for me, too, in terms of ink. Gray is ashes suspended in water.” Logan speaks like a laid-back chemist, using words like “petrichor,” the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. He carried a backpack filled with ink pots and collection bags.

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“That is so bright!” Julia Norton, an artist who teaches a pigment class, said, examining the pokeweed’s fuchsia stems.

“It’s so beautiful it’s hard to believe it just grows like this,” Logan said. “Pokeberry ink was most famously used by Civil War soldiers to write love notes.” Continue reading

Books In Need, People To The Rescue

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Hundreds of volunteers formed a human chain to help move October Books to its new location in Southampton, England. Credit October Books

It is probably not accurate to say books are in need. People are in need of books. And people who have been enlightened, educated, even saved by books are the kind of people we might expect to believe that the repositories of books, libraries and bookstores for example, need all the help we can give them. In the spirit of yesterday’s post, another today related to books and volunteers and the generosity of bookish people:

A Store Had to Move Thousands of Books. So a Human Chain Was Formed.

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“We wanted something that was accessible for the whole family, for children and people who were older who wouldn’t necessarily be able to paint or move heavy pieces, to help out,” a member of the October Books collective said.

LONDON — The plea went out a few weeks ago from the bookstore in a port city in southern England: “Care to lend a hand?”

Volunteers were needed for “heavy manual work” in shifts. It was “essential” that they be able to lift and carry boxes and office supplies.

Among the supplies: thousands upon thousands of books.

The appeal from October Books, a nonprofit that began 40 years ago as a “radical” bookshop, came after a rent increase forced it from its old home in Southampton, Jess Haynes, a member of the collective and one of the few paid employees, said on Wednesday.

The shop was looking to move lock, stock and barrel about 150 meters (just under 500 feet) to a three-story building that used to house a bank. Would anybody respond to the call for help? Continue reading