Canada Burning

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Does the name Fort McMurray mean anything to you? I must admit that, until I read this book, I had only a vague idea of the place as a remote mining town somewhere in northern Canada. What I now know is that Fort McMurray is a large, sprawling urban area (not technically a city but […]

Where Animals Fear to Tread

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When Hazel, the rabbit at the centre of Watership Down, meets his first road, he thinks it is a river. It’s not surprising. Seabirds sometimes crash-land on shiny roads, mistaking them for the ocean. Hazel, when he investigates further, is scared. ‘Now that I’ve learnt about it’, he says, ‘I want to get away from it as soon as I can.’ Ben Goldfarb shares this sentiment. ‘Roads are, you might say, the routes of all evil,’ he declares in this masterly, readable and troubling survey of what

Freeze Frames

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Not so very long ago, the good readers of Literary Review could expect to be reacquainted with ice at about the time that the November issue arrived. This year, however, don’t be so sure. According to NASA, July was the hottest month since records began in 1880. Thereafter September delivered seven days of thirty-degree heat […]

Animal, Mineral, Pathogen

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Did it start with a pangolin? Were safety regulators in China’s wet markets to blame? Or does the fault lie with a top-secret biological lab in Wuhan? Nearly seven million deaths later, no one really knows for sure what actually caused Covid-19. Wisely, John Vidal doesn’t opine. For The Guardian’s former environment correspondent, Covid-19’s origins […]

Trash Talk

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

There is no such thing as ‘away’. We have long been blithely throwing out our waste – tossing it over our shoulders and moving on to the next shiny new thing, with little thought to what happens to the discarded item. It might be burned, buried, reconstituted or sent on an expedition to new lands, where it might be burned, buried or reconstituted. One person’s ‘away’ is

Caught in the Thirst Trap

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The planet shares the Ancient Mariner’s predicament. There is water, water everywhere. It is the commonest ingredient of the biosphere. Almost everything that is not water contains it. Yet water is so erratic, so unevenly distributed and so vulnerable to pollution, war and technical failures that both its presence and its absence can kill you. […]

Batteries Not Included

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In early June, a group of thousands of young men gathered outside the world’s largest cobalt mine near the city of Kolwezi in the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They were demanding that the country’s mineral wealth be more evenly distributed and blocked trucks from entering and exiting the site. At other […]

A Place in the Shade

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As an ancient Greek poet taught us and Isaiah Berlin reminded us, the hedgehog knows one thing and the fox knows many things. Midway through Nomad Century – or more accurately around two thirds of the way through – Gaia Vince transforms herself from a hedgehog to a fox. It makes for an uneven book […]

Drills & Spills

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The phrase of the last US president that is least missed today – and there are many candidates – may be the one celebrating ‘clean, beautiful coal’. Keith Fisher will probably not forgive me for saying that his new book brings to mind a similarly oxymoronic statement about oil. In his survey of every appearance of the stuff in world history and literature from the time of the Babylonians to the early 20th century – which reads like a grand Google

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