Tuesday 10 February 2015

some reviews

Deadly companions by Dorothy H Crawford

Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our…

A non-expert guide to the microbes that cause disease and what effect they have had on human evolution. Crawford does a good job of explaining the science and casting her gaze over history to see what effects infectious diseases have had. Our fight against them, both ancient and modern. For me, having done microbiology at university, it was a bit of a high level refresher but I think it’s a very good introduction to the subject and the social effects of disease was a fascinating take.

Overall – A good primer on infectious microbes.

The Honey month by Amal Al-Mohtar

The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

The author decides to write a story or poem every day one February to go with the samples of honey she is receiving. There are notes on the honey – colour, smell & taste, that are sensual descriptions and then there are poems and stories inspired by that day’s honey. This is a slight book but interesting. It kept me entertained for part of a long flight but I think it probably would be best as a dipping book.

Overall – Interesting poetry and poetic prose.

The Beauty by Aliya Whitely

The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley

A post-apocalyptic novella set in a wold where a fungal disease has wiped out all women, or certainly all women in the nearby area to where the story is set. The tale follows Nathan, who has been given the task of keeping the group’s stories alive. When strange fungal entities, in female shapes, come to the group of men, everything changes.

The Beauty is written in a sparse style that is also somewhat poetic. There are large themes at play here – gender is an obvious one that is explored in several ways but also hope is a thread woven throughout. There is an almost Vandermeerian focus on fungus but the story stands alone but alongside other gender role reversal stories. It is short but proves that good things come in small packages.

Overall – Small but perfectly formed. Recommended.

Feral: Rewilding the land by George Monbiot

Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and…

Monbiot acknowledges that the Green movement has, so far, been about telling us what we shouldn’t do. This is a manifesto for what we should be doing. We should leave nature alone, in as many places as we can, and let it get on with things. Re-introducing some key species (and there is a long table of species he grades as potential re-introductions) especially wolves and beavers. He makes the case for rewilding eloquently and passionately but there is an element of blindness and monomania involved. For example he excoriates the sheep farming industry and ably demonstrates that sheep, and to a lesser extent goats, are a major ecological menace, when farmed as they are in e.g. Wales. But his contention that people could just switch from sheep farming to eco-tourism, or that they’d even want to ignores human nature. Similarly he is a fisherman, going out in a sea kayak, he at least eats his catch, and yet  we may all bewail the fact that we are emptying the oceans. He suggests that we allow some areas of the seas to rewild, which would require international co-operation.

It seems the UK is well behind its European neighbours when it comes to rewilding and he spends a little time trying to work out why, and concludes that it may be because we industrialised first or that we have an island mentality. Where the book shines is in leaps of imagination when it comes to anthopogenic climate change and historical effects of man on nature. For example, using the example of Serbia, which rewilded after the second world war when the ethnic Germans were either expelled or left, who happened to be sheep and goat farmers, he makes the point that removing human effects on the land cause rewilding. He then covers the native American’s genocide and posits that the amazing abundance of nature, passenger pigeon flocks in their millions, massive bison herds etc. were an effect of the depopulation of the Americas, rather than a natural occurrence.

Monbiot is a journalist and his prose is clear and entices you ever onwards and he is never less than entertaining. But I’m not convinced that his vision is not just another nostalgia for a past that either didn’t exist, or exist in the way he seems to think it does.  In the end how easy is it to go against the powerful farming and fishing lobby and is it possible to remove man’s influence from large areas of our country?

Overall – A fascinating and thought provoking read

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