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Ecologic – Brian Clegg *****
We’ve thought long and hard in the past about how to review books written by our editor, Brian Clegg. There’s always the danger of seeming biased. So for this book we’ve instead gone for a summary of what it’s about and a few quotes from an independent review in BBC Focus Magazine.
This is the thesis of the book:
We aren’t well equipped to deal with green issues. Our natural tendency with such an emotive issue is to be swayed by feelings, rather than logic. And that’s fine to get us all excited – but it doesn’t make for good solutions to green problems. Ecologic uncovers the reality behind the greenwash and the eco-bogeymen.
Here’s part of the review:
This book crackles. Every paragraph pits your heart against your head. Those with green sensibilities and a nervous disposition may have a cardiac arrest. But the rest of us will have our synapses set alight…
He rails at ‘MMR madness’ and has the notorious Channel 4 programme The Great Global Warming Swindle bang to rights as an intellectual swindle itself. He is intelligent on fair trade and the “muck and mysticism” of organic farming and understanding about our unfortunate confusion over biodegradables…
A cracking read for anyone who cares about both their environmental footprint and their sanity in a world being flooded with greenwash and gobbledegook. (5 stars out of 5)
Also on Kindle:
Review by Fred Pearce
It was an admirable task for Brian to set about analysing the true “green-ness” of those claiming to be green on several broad spectrum environmental issues. However, I found the book more debilitating and exhilarating when it came to changing my own behaviour to be green. The approach was methodical indeed, the arguments well founded and certainly I learnt more in depth about several issues including a real look at the “organic” movement. And yet, while the author’s best intentions are to reveal why and how we should be green, and properly green at that, there is little hint of this motivation apart from in the dedications and on the final pages of the book. Taking a scalpel to the “irrational” side of science is fine and yet it somehow cut out my raison d’etre of reading the book. By the end the book I was still wondering if cutting my carbon emissions would make the blindest bit of difference to anyone if nitrous oxide is the true bogeyman we should be focusing on, as Brian had factually pointed out.
On the positive and rather academic side the book made me ask lots of questions.
The best question the book made me ask myself was “what organic and natural things am I deceiving myself with that are actually really poisons?” It has stimulated much label reading in the kitchen and bathroom and a reverence for coffee, one the most toxic things I had not really thought much about until reading this book.
Oh well. If you want to pass your university Msc. in Science Studies by arguing and critiquing the issues then buy this book. If you want a green fairytale or a local green operational manual to inspire yourself out of eco-inertia you need to look elsewhere.
I am still waiting for a popular science book that is clear and easy enough to read in the bath to relax!
The great 20th century physicist Enrico Fermi didn’t say a lot about extraterrestrial life, but his one utterance on the subject has gone down in legend. He said ‘Where is everybody?’ Given the enormous size and age of the universe, and the basic Copernican principle that there’s nothing special about planet Earth, space should be teeming with aliens. Yet we see no evidence of them. That, in a nutshell, is Fermi’s paradox.
Not everyone agrees that Fermi’s paradox is a paradox. To some people, it’s far from obvious that ‘space should be teeming with aliens’, while UFO believers would scoff at the suggestion that ‘we see no evidence of them’. Even people who accept that both statements are true – including a lot of professional scientists – don’t always lose sleep over Fermi’s paradox. That’s something that makes Milan Cirkovic see red, because he takes it very seriously indeed. In his own words, ‘it is the most complex multidisciplinary problem in contemporary science’.
There's good news and bad news. The good news is that The Order of Time does what A Brief History of Timeseemed to promise but didn't cover: it attempts to explore what time itself is. The bad news is that Carlo Rovelli does this in such a flowery and hand-waving fashion that, though the reader may get a brief feeling that they understand what he's writing about, any understanding rapidly disappears like the scent of a passing flower (the style is catching).
It doesn't help either that the book is in translation so some scientific terms are mangled, or that Rovelli has a habit of self-contradiction. Time and again (pun intended) he tells us time doesn't exist, then makes use of it. For example, at one point within a page of telling us of time's absence Rovelli writes of events that have duration and a 'when' - both meaningless terms without time. At one point he speaks of a world without time, elsewhere he says 'Time and space are real phenomena.'…
This book was sitting on my desk for some time, and every time I saw it, I read the title as 'The Happy Brian'. The pleasure this gave me was one aspect of the science of happiness that Dean Burnett does not cover in this engaging book.
Burnett's writing style is breezy and sometimes (particularly in footnotes) verging on the whimsical. His approach works best in the parts of the narrative where he is interviewing everyone from Charlotte Church to a stand-up comedian and various professors on aspects of happiness. We get to see the relevance of home and familiarity, other people, love (and sex), humour and more, always tying the observations back to the brain.
In a way, Burnett sets himself up to fail, pointing out fairly early on that everything is far too complex in the brain to really pin down the causes of something as diffuse as happiness. He starts off with the idea of cheekily trying to get time on an MRI scanner to study what his own brain does when he's happy, b…