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Recent reads

Posted 12-05-2007 at 02:38 AM by fragment

I wanted to give a shout out to a bunch of books I've read recently. Well, I wanted to write up a post reviewing each one, but that turned out to be overly ambitious given other constraints on my life, and they're due back at the library already. So here's the brief shout:

The Future Eaters, by Tim Flannery. Ecological history of Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand and New Caledonia. Fascinating, takes in a broad sweep from the break-up of Gondwana through to recent human impacts, and outlines the potential of a more sustainable future taking over from the ecological disasters of the past. Readers of Jared Diamond would probably like this book.

Storm World, by Chris Mooney. Excellent introduction to the development of scientific knowledge about, and attempted predictions of, tropical storms. Covers the current debates about storms and climate change and attempts to survey what we can and can't legitimately claim about them. Highly readable, anyone with an interest in the topic would get a lot out of this book, I think.

Plows, Plagues & Petroleum, by William F Ruddiman. I'm sure the title's a hat-tip to Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. This is an exposition of climate scientist Ruddiman's intriguing hypothesis that human's have been having an influence on global climate since long before we started burning fossil fuels at an insatiable rate. He traces rises in carbon dioxide and methane over the last several thousand years that are anomalous in the last two million years of temperature and atmospheric composition that we can reconstruct from long ice cores. The hypothesis is that agriculture-driven forest clearance and irrigation caused these rises, which have had the effect of preventing the slow onset of a glacial period that we would otherwise be in the early stages of. I don't know which way the science will go on this hypothesis, but the book's a good read, accessible to lay folk, and informative on climate science.

Chicken with Plums, by Marjane Satrapi. In the style of her excellent comics Persepolis and Persepolis 2, Satrapi takes us back to an earlier Iran than we met in those books, and gives us a tale of her uncle Nasser Ali Khan, a musician who has lost his reason to live. Though no longer dealing with autobiographical material (much), Chicken with Plums is full of the humour, wry observation, and compassion that made the Persepolis series so good.

Klezmer Book One: Tales of the Wild East, by Joann Sfar. Another comic, this is the first book of Sfar's tribute to his mother's family background, as Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. This is a fable of itinerant Klezmer musicians; intertwining desire, murder, rejection of God, and songs. Book one only just gets started, I'm looking forward to the next part.

Blood of the Isles by Bryan Sykes. Geneticist Bryan Sykes takes us on a tour of his team's results from a survey of what the genetics of people in Britain and Ireland can tell us about the histories of the people who lived there. He tracks changes in mitochondrial DNA, passed through the female lineage, and the Y chromosome, passed through the male lineage. The basic findings are largely ones of commonality and continuity - that for the most part the peoples of the Isles share the same genetic heritage, despite the cultural and historical divisions. Sykes spends a bit of time challenging nationalist myths, like the idea that the Celtic peoples are descendants of iron age central Europeans, or that the Anglo-Saxons largely displaced the populations that previously occupied England. Sykes is unembarrassed to present speculative reconstructions of the lives of people who lived in the distant past, which gives his books readability, but leads me to wonder if he's indulging in a bit of myth-making of his own. Intersting stuff, though.
Posted in Ecology, Climate, Books
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