Continuing my summer book reviews
1 Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth
2 Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story
3 Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth is a passionate plea for humanity to use new tools in fighting environmental destruction and global warming. New tools not in the technological sense but in the social, psychological, political and strategic sense.
This book has a wide span ranging from Darwin and evolution, to genetics, mnemes and survival, going from the tragedy of the commons to a commonwealth of virtue, extinction and climate change, looking at ants as superorganisms whom we could learn from, considering the forces that kill Gaia and how we can turn the tide, and finally, most interestingly looking to game theory to give us both an account for our selfish unsustainable ways and possible ways of countering these.
Finally he closes with a plea to humanity to change our structure of governance so we can go from ‘monkeys playing politics’ to a truly intelligent species that can reject is self-defeating short-term, reductionist, instrumentally rational ways and find power in expanding Earth’s biocapacity, embrace guardianship and embark on a global transformation that leads to our long-term survival.
Gary Shteyngart is continuing his wonderfully twisted social dystopian vision in Super Sad True Love Story. We are propelled into a financially insecure American future where everyone is glued to their personal devices, personal credit ratings and sexual attractiveness are measured and displayed publicly, where giant corporate conglomerates rule and China has the financial upper hand, where immigrant kids escape into non-stop consumerism while their rights are eroded and the rich do their best to attain immortality. Books, or rather ‘bound printed media artefacts’, are considered weird.
The writing is wickedly funny, wonderfully layered and engaging. Shteyngart has the goods.
Our main protagonist is a second generation Russian Jew who is desperately in love with a much younger seemingly superficial Korean girl who seems to be out of his range. However their similarities in family dysfunction and circumstances bring them together against this first banally dystopian then gradually more apocalyptic backdrop in New York. We skip between dairy entries, instant messages and our protagonist’s first hand account. There is both tenderness and musings on life and death here to round out the overall social critique of a world that is not as far from the present as we’d like to think.
And finally there’s Michael Pollan’s beautifully written The Omnivore’s Dilemma to help you get immersed in the contradictions, peculiarities and dilemmas that our food industry presents to a (semi)conscious consumer. Pollan is a seasoned writer who has wonderful insights into the twisted and complicated relationship between nature, the many species and layers of biosphere in it and the human animal with his insatiable desires who makes use of it all to satisfy himself.
Pollan traces the origin of our food from pasture to plate and shows what processes lurk behind our choices for dinner. Each decision has its consequences. This is thoughtful intellectual fodder with a direct window to informing your everyday choices that will affect how animals are treated, plants are modified and ultimately how Earth’s resources are used to feed ourselves, either depleting its reserves and leading to an even more unsustainable future leading to increasing disasters or a more stable sustainable one where our interconnectedness is acknowledged in our everyday actions.