Apr 26, 2009

Book Reviews @ The Temple

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman - This book was so awesome!  The question asked is what would happen to the world if all humans disappeared tomorrow.  Not our stuff - not our buildings or cars or power plants or ipods or shoes, just us.  What would happen to those power plants, how long until our buildings fell, how long till nature has grown over our traces?  It's really fascinating and he went to a lot of places to get the answers to those questions (which is the only real weakness of the book, though he mentions names in text and has a selected biblio, he should really footnote and cite things if he's trying to make a point, these facts and claims should be backed up).  Each chapter is a subject like those above, or about given biospheres - birds, forests, coral reefs, etc.  Every single chapter had "oh my god" moments in it, facts that stagger you with their scale, or that stagger you with our arrogance and selfishness.  The chapter on plastics will stick with me longest - our sea is invaded by plastic.  Not just bags or soda rings, either.  Apparently plastic, because it won't biodegrade, is eroded away just like anything else, to smaller and smaller bits.  At this point you can go to the beach and the waves will leave behind tiny multicolored plastic bits.  The smaller they get, the more things can eat them, and things eat them, and things eat them, and we eat those things.  At what point will we all have some permeating amount of plastic in us?  But every chapter tells something amazing.  Rare spots on earth where nature has come to rule again are particularly fascinating.  I could go on and on, but the point is it's great.  I read it at the same time I'm listening to Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded, so I'm getting double whammy'd by the environment.  Between that and certain other factors, I'm turning into a giant hippy.  But that's ok, another 10 or 20 years, we'll all be huge hippies, either that or dead!

The Giver by Lois Lowry - We listened to this one on a car trip, it's a pretty good book.  I had no idea it was going to be distopian, I don't know why, but i didn't assume that a kid's book would go that way.  It's a nice story, it's pretty simple.  The structure of the distopia isn't original or revelatory, but it gets the job done, makes you feel very uncomfortable with the culture, and gives you a reason to cheer for the main character.  It's got a nice feeling to it, the discovery of non-distopian characteristics feel like real discoveries.  The performance of the audiobook was meh.  The narrator was fine, the addition of music was horrible.  It didn't contribute, it distracted, plus it made me think my car was making funny noises until I realized it was the intermittent music again.  Anyway, good book, not sure if I want to read the sequels, I feel funny that they were even written, but we'll see.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded  by Thomas Friedman - Another great book.  I listened to this one, I don't remember the narrators name, but he was good.  The book is fantastic, it's really a strong argument for reshaping the US as a green-based economy.  He covers both bases as far as doing it for environmental long term preservation reasons and economic & security short term preservation reasons.  If you are a selfish prick, he has a reason for you, if you are a hippy treemonkey, he has a reason for you.  He also pushes for preserving biodiversity.  I think this is his weakest point.  Though I certainly agree with doing all this solely to preserve biodiversity on this planet, I don't think he convinced anyone who didn't already think that way, unlike the other parts where I could see him convincing a conservative.  The book spends the first half discussing the situation and what he sees as the problems, and the last half discussing what to do about it.  The second half has great moments and mediocre moments.  The latter comes when he gets a little too specific about what devices we can use to enable a greener country/economy.  While hearing about these devices and methods is pretty cool, I think he goes too deep into things that are relative transitive, but the time I read the book there are probably better widgits.  However when he talks, ever so slightly more generally, about the types of technologies that will enable certain types of infrastucture or models for managing energy usage, for example, it's really fantastic and inspiring.  Overall, I think he does a great job of convincing us, and writes well.  He does have a tendancy to make lists, usually heavily parallelized lists, i.e. "we can go to the store by doing this, we can go to the store, but doing that, we can go to the store by saying the thing, we can go to the store by stopping the stuff", it gets a little annoying, truth be told.  But that's really the only thing I'd have to complain about.  It's very good.

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