Skip to main content

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)
Paperback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you   
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!
Community Review by Pema

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Patricia Fara - Four Way Interview

Patricia Fara lectures in the history of science at Cambridge University, where she is a Fellow of Clare College. She was the President of the British Society for the History of Science (2016-18) and her prize-winning book, Science: A Four Thousand Year History (OUP, 2009), has been translated into nine languages. An experienced public lecturer, Patricia Fara appears regularly in TV documentaries and radio programmes. She also contributes articles and reviews to many popular magazines and journals, including History Today, BBC History, New Scientist, Nature and the Times Literary SupplementHer new book is Erasmus Darwin.

Why history of science?
I read physics at university, but half-way through the course I realised that had been a big mistake. Although I relished the intellectual challenge, I was bored by the long hours spent lining up recalcitrant instruments in dusty laboratories. Why was nobody encouraging us to think about the big questions – What is gravity? Does quantum mechani…

The Idea of the Brain: Matthew Cobb *****

Matthew Cobb is one of those people that you can’t help but admire but also secretly hate just a little bit for being so awesome. He is professor for zoology at the University of Manchester with a sizable teaching load that he apparently masters with consummate skill. He’s a scientific researcher, who researches the sense of smell of fruit fly maggots; I kid you not!  He’s also an attentive and loving family father but he still finds time and energy to write brilliant history of science books, three to date. His first, The Egg and Sperm Race, describes the search for the secret of human reproduction in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and is one of my favourite history of science books, on the period. His second, Life’s Greatest Secret is a monster, both in scope and detail, description of the hunt to decipher the structure and function of DNA that along the way demolishes a whole boatload of modern history of science myths. The most recent, and the subject of this review, is

The Big Ideas in Science - Jon Evans ***

The starting point of a review like this has to be to congratulate the author on his achievement, Jon Evans, because getting all of science into one relatively short book is a massive (and thankless) task. Although inevitably the result is a fairly hectic dash through the material, with limited space for subtleness, Evans manages to make the experience readable and has a light touch that is effective without becoming too simplistic.

There is only one reason this book doesn't get four stars - it's not the quality of the writing but rather the selection of the contents. Of course, there is bound to be plenty of stuff missed out - how else could you get all of science into 269 pages? But the balance is strangely skewed. Chemistry is pretty much omitted, though aspects of chemistry occur under other headings. But for me, the real problem is that physics is really under-represented. It's interesting to use Jim Al-Khalili's recent excellent physics summary title The World Acc…