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 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. 

 

Try This At Home

I’ve not really listened to Frank Turner much. I’m aware of one or two of his more popular songs but I was going into this relatively blind, mainly as a curiosity from a songwriting angle (In the middle of my own music project at the moment so this was good background reading). Frank Turner is actually quite an accomplished writer. He makes a lot of sense in places and this honest account is quite biographical but also gives a lot of insight into his own songwriting techniques. I don’t really listen to lyrics but, with his work being lyric-centric, I did appreciate a lot of his, each chapter beginning with the lyrics to a particular song. 

For any music fan, this is a really decent read. 

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. 

Prisoners of Geography

Superbly well written and informed. Brilliantly readable and fascinating. This opened my mind to the world of geopolitics which sounds, on the face of it, extremely boring. But it’s not. Admittedly I do love a good map but trust me, this is a very good book that everyone should have a look at. The man knows a thing or two about his subject. 

The Secret Rooms

This was an absolute gem of a find. Bought from a local bookshop in Wiltshire, I liked the look of it but was also aware it could be a gamble. Thankfully it was one that paid off. This is a superbly written account of an aristocratic world of old that doubles as a moving and detailed account of the 1st world war to boot. It flows brilliantly and it really does read a bit like a thriller as the author leaves her finds in the titular secret rooms of an enormous castle as tantalisingly hanging at the end of the chapters. 

An insight into a real life Downton Abbey sort of thing (I’ve not actually watched it but I think that’s a fair thing to say), I would thoroughly recommend this book. 

It was fairly obvious from the outset that this book was going to be biased. It felt consistently as if the author was trying to ‘sell’ biogerontology. This became even more blatant during the last chapter where he as good as admits the book was written to raise political pressure to push forwards the drive to ‘cure’ ageing altogether. While he has obviously done a lot of research into a field that is still significantly speculative and in its infancy, he comes across as almost fanatic at times, treating the subject as would a child with a toy. It is occasionally rambling. What concerns me the most however is the glaring absence of any discussion about the ethical effects on the world should ageing be successfully cured. That is but for a small paragraph near the end. He even includes a link to an extra chapter which goes into the ‘counter argument’. Perhaps he didn’t want to write this in his book because of the obvious role it would play in completely undermining everything he has written about. To leave this aspect out is hugely irresponsible and his comment that the net ethical benefit would so clearly be in favour of stopping us from ageing that it is not really worth including is utter nonsense. This is not a balanced popular science book no matter what it is marketed as. It is a sales pitch – propaganda. Don’t be fooled. And to be honest, it was a bit boring.

Every Song Ever

Initially, I enjoyed this book. But very quickly it descended into a realm of pretentiousness that I really can’t stand. Clearly this man has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. Clearly he has lived his life within a world of music so I will be at least a little cautious in criticising him too much as I haven’t. However, he is the sort of guy who has every vinyl record ever and loves to bask in people’s amazement when he talks about the most obscure artist or song ever as if it was the most obvious and well known thing in the world. 

His analysis of music itself is overly complicated and I feel a little too clinical. He goes on tangents of such irrelevance that the book becomes a mess. The chapter headings that hint at some sort of structure are false. This book was a real slog towards the end which is a shame as the concept was, at least on the face of it, a sound one. Excuse the pun. 

Avoid unless you are a super super geek for music. Even then, probably avoid.  

Extreme Medicine

This one missed the mark for me unfortunately. It markets itself as a book looking at how exploration transformed medicine and even has a polar explorer on the cover. I had envisaged exciting accounts of expeditions to dangerous corners of the earth in which people had to draw upon medicine to help them out. Think jungle medicine to treat gangrene or the account of a polar doctor having to perform his own appendectomy. In reality it mentions people like Scott  only in passing as a way to justify the title and then goes off in completely different directions. It lacks a focus, darting between different areas of medicine with basic text book-like physiology lessons alongside scattered and padded out anecdotes. The space bit towards the end is the only bit that really fits the bill but, for me, is only mildly interesting.

There are better books out there on exploration and medicine. This falls through the cracks of both.