Doughnut Economics

This is an utterly profound book that I urge everyone to read. 

For a long time, a thought has been brewing in my head. Why is everyone obsessed with growth? Both sides of the political spectrum are falling over themselves to tell us all how they will grow our economy and make our lives better in the process. I found myself wondering whether I was mad to question this. Surely many of the problems we face in the modern age are linked to growth. Climate, resource limitation, land loss etc. 

The population of the planet reached 8 billion just last week. It seems barn door obvious that this cannot go on forever. (And don’t tell me it’s fine because population growth is slowing. That means it is still growing and I don’t know about anyone else but 8 billion is a tad too many in my books). It is blatant that there must be a limit at which we can build more and manufacture more, space and resources being two obvious limiters. The collateral effect on the climate is also something blindingly obvious but is something that many lunatics seem to still deny. Growth seems to be an infinite prospect that we all must apparently crave but the problem is we live on a planet that is very much a finite playground.

Well, a while back I stumbled across this TED talk by Kate Raworth about Doughnut economics and she verbalised pretty much everything I had been thinking about. And then some. Her book goes even further. 

It is an unmissable and undeniable classic that explains her ‘doughnut’ theory of economics, one which depicts a ring that represents the sweet spot of social pillars such as climate, equality, peace, land, ocean health, wealth etc. Within the ring are represented the things that we still need to grow and improve upon. But outside the ring is where we overshoot into a realm of profound unsustainability. Not surprisingly, we are not doing very well at staying within this ring. 

The book eloquently explains why this inexorable journey in growth at all costs is perhaps not a good idea and suggests ways in which this might be changed.  That it has to be explained is somewhat of a mystery to me, but then this world is a strange place. 

Take home message would be that if all countries in the world grew to the stage at which the US, Canada and Sweden do, we would need 4 Earths to sustain them. 

Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but the fact that there are such odd, politically selfish and shortsighted perspectives out there, particularly from those in the position to do something, that the measures required to change our path are never going to come to pass. 

But either way read the book. Everyone should be forced to do so imo. 

 

 

The Lies of Lock Lamora

I haven’t read what I would call a ‘fantasy’ book for quite some time. I have been thinking about doing so for a while and this is the one that caught my attention. Really enjoyed it. It follows a gang of thieves operating within a gothic, Mediterranean style fantasy city. They are sort of grifters so it resembles a sort of fantasy style Hustle. Good story, interesting characters, good twists and an easy read. You can’t go wrong with this if you like the genre I reckon. It’s the first in a series so I’ll be reading the rest, although not straight away!

Norwegian Wood

This is one I’ve been meaning to read for a while. It’s always on those ‘good book’ lists so I thought I should give it a go. This was the one that propelled Murakami to success. I must say, it was a bit meh in my opinion. The characters are frankly odd. They are not realistic in any way. Exaggerated they may be, it’s possible I suppose that this is not necessarily a bad thing in a novel. But I don’t think it added anything really. It just plugged the gaps in what was a fairly dull story. Well written I suppose and flowed reasonably well but overall, dated and dull. One think I do like in his style is his attention to mundane every day detail – for example, he showered, brewed himself a coffee and then went for a short walk before hanging out his washing upon his return. Might sound odd but that concise summary of an ordinary morning is strangely therapeutic and minimalist. This is something I also noticed in Killing Commandatore, a book I much preferred. 

The Story of Music

This is a fair old undertaking, so it’s impressive that this book is not as long as one might think. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t manage to cram in a lot of interesting stuff. Shore is eloquent and learned in what he writes. There is an enormous breadth of material referenced by him in an assured display of knowledge of his trade. 

From my perspective, I found it enlightening in terms of the evolution seen by music. The enormous shifts within the early twentieth Century in particular in a way that things just made that little bit more sense afterwards. A bit like having looked at one’s location on a map and seeing it’s position in the context of everything else around. For anyone interested in music, this is a good shout. 

 

A Fatal Crossing

Bought on a whim in an airport. Already had more books on me that I would read but I couldn’t resist this one. Perfect by-the-pool reading. Perhaps better for an autumn evening but nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed this – what was essentially an intelligent, concisely written detective novel. The classic closed environment whodunnit, especially if maritime in nature is too much for me to resist. Refreshingly the story does not disappoint towards the end. Annoying that this guy is a decade younger than me and can produce something so accomplished as this! He’ll go far I suspect. 

The Power of Geography

Loved the first instalment. Loved this. More of the same incisive and intelligent analysis of our current geopolitical situation. Allows one the luxury of broadening their horizons in what has become a far too insular and inward looking world. Clever bloke. 

When We Cease to Understand the World

A nice short book so I picked it up as it wouldn’t be too much of an issue if it were a slog and also it has been endorsed by William Boyd which must be a plus. I do also note that Philip Pullman has stuck his oar in too and I have mentioned before how misled I’ve been from one of his endorsements. Happily, this book was brilliant and, as they say, is quite unlike any other I’ve read. Part history of science, part fiction, it takes one on a journey through various voyages of scientific discovery. Mathematics, Chemistry and physics all get his attention and ironically it gave me, if anything, a litter more understanding of the world. Recommended. 

Cryptonomicon

This is a door-stopper of a speculative fiction novel. I have mixed feelings about it. The two time frames, one during WW2 and one in the late 90s, were well imagined and quite cool. It is set around factual events but has a couple of random additions which I didn’t feel were necessary – the invention of two fake countries for example. The characters were well written and fleshed out well. One character seemed quite mysterious and although on the face of it presented quite a big plot hole, upon reflection I quite like this aspect. I particularly liked the mirroring of certain themes between the two time frames. 

The plot was good and centred on code breaking giving rise to modern computers and crypto currency. It does not seem to have been edited in any way however. Perhaps it is a testament to his writing that I didn’t struggle to get through it – it just took a long time because it’s so long – but I think it could have been easily trimmed to a sixth or seventh of its length without losing anything. Indeed this would have made it a bit easier to follow in places. I suspect his style is to write in a bit of a vague fashion with an underlying assumption the reader will infer what a character is doing or something that has happened off page without writing it. While it is his style, the book could have been more successful if he had written it in a more conventional way I think. He probably doesn’t care about that though.  

The spine of a cracker is there, it was just fleshed out to the nth degree, sometimes with rambling extraneous info and at other times random cryptography sections that would be better off in a text book. Overall, packed full of interest and action. A real epic.  

A Good Man in Africa

Back to my favourite author as I continue to ration his books so I don’t go through them all at once. This was his first novel and is quite the lesson in authorship. It is, as he has continued to demonstrate throughout all the other books pf his I’ve read, superbly measured – every word in every sentence counts, there is not one sentence out of line. This book creates a marvellous picture of the setting and of the main character. His flaws are excellently observed and his escapades hilariously told. A fantastic book.