I have been reading books lately, and they’ve been great. Some environmental reading and some political reading. I’ll be reviewing some of the political ones, soon. Here’s the list.
-The Humanure Handbook by JC Jenkins. I have been reading about water issues and about things like the treatment wetlands and living machines developed by John and Nancy Jack Todd and written about in their popular recent book, “A Safe and Sustainable World” (also a recent read). But there is an alternative, JC Jenkins suggests, to trying to treat shit that’s in water – and that is to not put it there in the first place. To practice what Jenkins advocates you need some space – a backyard of your own, at least, and perhaps a garden for use of the compost. But by using thermophilic composting, using ample amounts of sawdust and other organic material, pathogens are removed and nasty odors dealt with, and the end product is good, non-toxic, non-dangerous compost. Doing this kind of thing in a city would require a public system, but more importantly it would require a change in attitudes, which leads us to the next book.
-Heat, by George Monbiot. An absolute must read for everybody. Everybody who saw ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and found Gore’s final lines about political will being a renewable resource insufficient is ready for Monbiot. Monbiot shows decisively that Kyoto is too weak and will not stabilize the atmosphere. Instead we need a 90% cut in emissions by 2030. Next he shows how this could be done, evaluating proposals for political as well as technical feasibility. This book is a major contribution to humanity. If we’re actually doomed, it won’t be thanks to George.
-Darker Nations, by Vijay Prashad. The word ‘beautiful’ applies. Vijay Prashad is someone whose books I always learn from and who always sends me thinking in interesting directions. He also always impresses me with how big he thinks too. It’s always the whole world, though that doesn’t mean he ever misses any details. He’s building a really stellar body of work and “Darker Nations” is an incredible contribution. It’s ‘a people’s history of the third world’, by which he doesn’t mean the history of all of the places (though he provides an impressive amount of that) but rather a history of the idea of the ‘third world’: independent, nonaligned, secular, socialist, nationalism. He traces the rise and fall of this idea and this movement, and he does so using a brilliant structure. Each chapter is the name of a city, usually a city where an important third world meeting took place, and he uses each chapter to delve into the politics of the time, as well as of the place.
-Holding the Bully’s Coat, by Linda McQuaig. A long overdue book about the recent changes in Canada’s foreign policy and our craven elites. McQuaig sees through the deceptions and she has both a wit and an indignation that is really refreshing. Especially after reading someone like George Monbiot, with his constant understatement, or Vijay, whose depth of analysis can make you feel like things couldn’t have gone any other way, it’s nice to read Linda and remember that this is actually an appalling situation and it shouldn’t be! I’m not done her book yet – in fact I think I’ll be going back to it tonight.
-I’ve also been reading some of the people Linda critiques in her book: JL Granatstein (Whose War Is It?), Andrew Cohen (While Canada Slept), Sean Maloney (Enduring the Freedom), David Bercuson (a book a year). They can make for demoralizing reading, so it’s especially nice to read Linda’s critiques.
-Anna Politkovskaya on Russia’s war on Chechnya. A friend recommended her to me and I picked up her book, which was very good. She was clearly a person of tremendous integrity and conscience. Amira Hass is the best comparison that comes to my mind.
Next to Politkovskaya in the library was the amoral and always useful analysis of the RAND Corporation, so I picked that up as well. Why should Americans read about Russia in Chechnya, the book asks? Because Americas enemies will look more like the Chechens than the Russians, and better that we learn from their mistakes than make our own, the book answers. RAND’s book came out a year or two before 2003.