Part adventure travelogue, part popular science journalism, part conveyor of big truths, Ben Rawlence‘s The Treeline is a beautifully written, mind-opening account of how trees are migrating north in response to climate breakdown. It’s a page-turner and yet also book I lingered over, because there were so many passages that necessitated an intake of breath, followed by a solemn stare into the distance, and then a re-read to make sure I had fully understood the devastating implications of the new information just imbibed.
I approached The Ministry for the Future, eco sci-fi master, Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest book, with some trepidation. I was anticipating a grim imagining of a near future in which human civilisation descends into chaos as a result of failure to respond to the climate crisis, something I am generally trying to escape when I find time to pick up a novel. But while there is plenty that is frighteningly real in Robinson’s narrative – from millions dying in droughts, floods and fires, to the rise of global eco-terrorism as a generation realises that the one-percent really are willing to sacrifice their futures for short-term profit – ultimately ‘The Ministry of the Future’ is a manifesto of hope.
“To begin at the beginning” – there’s really no other way to start a blog about Laughrne, the small former cockle-fishing town on the Carmarthenshire coast which I visited this week to pay homage to its most famous son, Dylan Thomas.
‘Humankind: A Hopeful History’, by the Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman, has given me philosophical reason for optimism in a bleak year, alongside reinforcing my view that neo-liberalism is the biggest threat to human prosperity, while challenging other deeply ingrained perspectives. In a highly compelling, research-based narrative, he demonstrates that the underpinning dogma of neo-liberalism is false: human beings are not “naturally” selfish and competitive. In fact, if you look at the historical evidence, the basis of our success has been collaboration.
Robert Macfarlane is the nature writer of choice in markontour’s household, and so reading Landmarks, Macfarlane’s linguistic exploration of landscape, has been a deliberately drawn out affair – a book that we have read out loud over several months in order to savour every word.
If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything it is the life-saving difference between good and bad government, and why the foundation of a successful society is strong, well-funded and universal public services. This, of course, shouldn’t have needed reaffirming. As Stuart Maconie points out in ‘The Nanny State Made Me’, a book that is both wonderfully entertaining and annotate-every-page informative, “The people who complain about the ‘nanny state’ are the people who had nannies”. Nevertheless, in most parts of the western world the public sector has been on the receiving end of a forty year battering. Perhaps this pandemic will be the moment when it bounces back off the ropes.
This weekend’s British Sea Power curated Krankenhaus festival on the Cumbrian coast has been pure joy. Housed in a barn on the Muncaster Castle estate, it felt like a legal rave curated by a nature-loving art-school band. Where else would you get hear everything from folk to tree-people trance, alongside a reading from the poet laureate, late night DJ-ing from a snooker legend, and musically enhanced bingo from Japanese punk band?
A recent blog by my colleague, Luke Sherlock, comes highly recommended by markontour and is well worth a read for anyone still wondering if China is serious about building an ‘ecological civilisation’. Reviewing Barbara Finamore’s recent book, ‘Will China Save the Planet?’, Luke highlights that China’s federal government is quietly delivering something like the Green New Deal that a growing climate emergency movement is demanding in the USA and Europe (and is already being delivered in cities like Los Angeles and New York).
For a quick trip to radio heaven, listen to Cerys Matthews’ show from 9 June 2019. Jeff Towns of Dylan’s Mobile Bookstore joins Cerys to discuss Idris Davies’ poem ‘The Bells of Rhymney’, which may be the most influential poem you’ve never heard. Documenting life in the South Wales mining villages of the 1920s, and based on Davies’ own experiences of following his father down the pits aged 14, the poem clearly influenced Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milkwood’ (just listen to the start), inspired Woody Guthrie’s ‘Talking Centralia’ (or ‘Talking Miner’), and was put to music by Pete Seeger, only to be covered first by Bob Dylan and then The Byrds.
In The Three Body Problem trilogy, Cixin Liu has created an extraordinarily compelling vision of humanity’s near future, underpinned by a narrative that is as rich in philosophy as it is in science. While paced like a thriller, Liu’s prose is as packed with multi-layered insight as the plots of most other works of that genre are filled with holes. Perhaps it is the effect of altitude, as my old-technology airship glides over the Black Sea at 35,000 feet, but despite having only just finished reading the second in the series, The Dark Forest, I am ready to declare Cixin Liu the most exciting author of the twenty-first century so far.