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Book Review: The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen July 22, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews, Environment, Gardening, Organic Food, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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This is a very accessible book for anyone who wants to start to be more self-sufficient in their home. It’s inspirational and covers a lot of ground from growing and preserving your own food, cleaning your house, saving water and electricity and more, all in an environmentally sustainable way, without going into too much detail, which makes it a good starting point for beginners like myself.

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The book is not particularly well edited – typos et al abound – but makes up for it by providing a lot of useful information and a very nice resource section at the end. The authors’ approach is largely DIY with an emphasis on keeping things cheap and simple. A great little book.

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Book Review: World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler June 23, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews.
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Another one of my short book reviews. Been too “busy” with other “stuff” for more substantial blogs lately…

In this novel James Howard Kunstler explores life in a post-industrial, post-oil United States.

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The age of the motorised machine has ended, society and most of its institutions has collapsed, national and state governments are defunct and transport is mostly by foot or horsepower. Life has become very localised and much of it is controlled by violent thugs and religious cults. While Kunstler’s conception of a post peak oil future is certainly not utopian, this is not an entirely dystopian tale either. I found his storytelling a little stereotyped at times, but would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in peak oil and what our world might look like thereafter.

Book Review: How The Rich Are Destroying The Earth by Herve Kempf June 17, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews.
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In this cool little book, Herve Kempf puts a refreshingly different (in a Frenchy sort of way) perspective on the crucial connection between the “social question” (i.e. growing inequality around the globe) and the ecological crisis (global warming, species extinction, loss of biodiversity, resource depletion, peak oil, pollution).

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Kempf outlines the extent and nature of these crises and explores the issues around who should bear the lion’s share of responisbility. An entertaining and enlightening, if, naturally, somewhat depressing read…

Book Review: Food Not Lawns by H.C. Flores June 4, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews, Environment, Gardening, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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Here’s one of the books that have been inspirational to me in trying to get my own modest urban agriculture project going.

98This book is full of practical ideas and projects, but as the subtitle suggests it’s much more than just a gardening book. H.C. Flores takes a holistic approach to growing organic produce in an urban setting while also addressing broader environmental and lifestyle issues and making practical suggestions about how to change your neighbourhood as well as your back yard.

While she can be a little bit preachy at times, her activist and anarchist background make her a particularly engaging author (to me at least ;-)). The title of the book is of course derived from Food Not Bombs with whom Flores was involved previously. There’s a growing number of Food Not Lawns chapters in the US and Canada.

A definite must for the urban agriculture activist!

Book Review: Little Brother by Cory Doctrow May 28, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews.
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Yes, Little Brother by Cory Doctrow of Boing Boing fame is a kid’s book. That doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of exciting and fun reading for adults as well.

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US teenager Marcus gets into trouble with the law – with the überscary Department of Homeland Security to be exact, but he’s not about to take the government’s bullying nonsense lying down. His troubles start when he runs foul of his school’s electronic surveillance system. And if you think that’s an unlikely scenario, check out this…

Little Brother is one of those books that shows that young adult literature can explore serious politics without being patronising. A progressive thriller for young people. I just wish my kids were a little older. Ah well, they’ll just have to wait a couple of years before I highly recommend it to them. You can download the text for free here.

Book Review: Strangely Like War by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan May 5, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews, Environment, Sustainable Living.
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We recently spent three nights camping in Nature’s Valley, one of our favourite spots in the world. An infestation of particularly voracious mosquitos aside we had a brilliant time on the beach, on and in the estuary and hiking in the forest. This was probably both the best and the worst setting to read Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan.

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The book is a wake-up call for anyone who loves forests and who has yet to realise the desperate state they’re in all over the world (note I’m not including tree plantations here – they are industrialised monoculture deserts that don’t qualify as forests). Read this if you think things have changed in recent times. For fans of Derrick Jensen, like myself, the book goes some way towards explaining his politics and philosophy which you may have come across in his more recent work.

We spend a couple of blissful hours walking in relatively pristine indigenous forest, one of the most revitalising and life-affirming experiences you could ever wish for. Our little hike ended on the beach and a look back revealed that what we had been walking in is merely a narrow fringe of original, indigenous forest that remains, the rest having fallen to tree farms and other agriculture, roads, etc. Driving back home along the N2, I was constantly wondering how much of this area was once covered in forests and reflecting on what humans had done to the place.

Strangely Like War is a must read for anyone who cares about the Earth’s forests. It’s a depressing read, I admit, but, like all of Jensen’s books, it will make you look differently at what we are doing to the planet.

The dough on China Mieville September 20, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews, Life.
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I recently wrote a short review of China Mieville’s new book UN LUN DUN (read it here). If you enjoyed it, read the book and are as much of a Mieville fan as I am, you might find some of the following links of interest:

There’s a two-part youtube interview here and here.

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You can find podcast interviews here and here.

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Here’s a link to an unofficial China Mieville website, called Runagate Rampant and here’s his wikipedia entry.

Finally, there are several interviews here, here, here, here and here.

Book Review: UN LUN DUN by China Miéville August 17, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews.
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My rating: 8.64 out of 10 – loved it!

When Zanna and Deeba, two girls from London, stumble upon their city’s mysterious alter ego, UnLondon, they have no idea that they are predestined to figure prominently in its future and are about to embark on the most breathtaking adventure.

UnLondon, you see, is an abcity – a fantastical parallel universe to the real thing, similar to other abcities like Parisn’t, Helsunki, Sans Francisco, Lost Angeles and, I am now convinced, Nohannesburg and Cape Down. It is a non-place that could only have been conjured up by the twisted genius mind of China Miéville – populated by the most outlandish and phantasmagorical characters and scene of an epic battle between good and evil.

While J.K. Rowling has at times been charged with cobbling together her Harry Potter saga from bits and pieces out of the existing canon of fantasy fiction, Miéville can never be accused of lacking imagination and originality. For me, he has been one of the finds of the decade as far as new writers go. He’s my undisputed king of steampunk and weird fiction, his work, a delicious combination of postindustrial sci-fi and swash-buckling organico-goth fantasy.

UN LUN DUN is a book for “younger readers” and makes no claims to be anything else, but the parallels with Miéville’s other books, particularly the amazing Perdido Street Station, are obvious. UN LUN DUN is funnier and substantially lighter on the existential angst and moral ambiguity fronts than Miéville’s “grown-up” fiction, but it’s still a brilliant read for people of any age. I couldn’t put it down.

Read it – you’ll never look at your own city (or at broken umbrellas, empty milk cartons and giraffes) the same way again.

Book Review: Looting Africa by Patrick Bond April 16, 2007

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", Book Reviews, History, Politics, South Africa, Southern Africa.
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My rating: 6 out of 10 – lots of very valuable info, but quite academic.

I’m a big fan of Patrick Bond and have read several of his books, including Fanon’s Warning, Talk Left, Walk Right and Against Global Apartheid.

He has been one of the most consistently outspoken progressive voices and establishment critics in South and Southern Africa in the last few years. He combines grassroots activism with cutting-edge political and economic analysis and constantly illuminates crucial connections between the global north and south.

His books are, however, very technical, academic and dry and if you are not a political economist, you may find them rather heavy going. I’m left to wonder how much more impact and influence his work would have if it was more accessible to ordinary people. To people like myself the economic jargon tends to obscure rather than clarify matters…

Having said that, his latest book, Looting Africa – The Economics of Exploitation should be required reading for anyone who’s concerned about Africa’s future. In it, Bond basically addresses the question “Why is Africa still poor?”.

At the beginning of the book, Bond presents two opposing answers. The first, which is widely pushed by the liberal press and establishment, is that “Africa is poor, ultimately, because its economy has not grown…”. The second states that “Africa is poor, ultimately, because its economy and society have been ravaged by international capital as well as by local elites who are often propped up by foreign powers…”.

Obviously Bond is a proponent of the latter answer and he proceeds to present data and analysis to demonstrate that Africa’s poverty is not only a result of historic evils such as slavery and colonial-era extraction of resources and profits, but that comparable processes do in fact continue today “in an amplified way” via debt repayments and “African elites [who] have transferred their society’s liquid reserves to oversees accounts on an even greater scale […]”.

Among other issues, Bond discusses the continuing African foreign debt crisis, unequal and unfair trade and investment relationships, the role of the Bretton Woods institutions (International Monetary Fund and World Bank), China’s growing influence on the continent and South Africa’s increasingly sub-imperial role.

Looting Africa concludes with an assessment of the two predominant views on how to fight Africa’s continued impoverishment, either through paternalistic mainstream efforts (Global Call to Action Against Poverty, Make Poverty History, “Live 8”) or through radical grassroots civil society movements.

Book Review: The Great War for Civilisation by Robert Fisk March 19, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews, History.
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My rating: 8 out of 10 – insightful and shockingly tragic.

For the last thirty years or so, Robert Fisk has been the English-language correspondent in the Middle East and The Great War for Civilisation – The Conquest of the Middle East is his monumental masterpiece.

This is not the kind of book you are likely to finish on a lazy long weekend. It’s heavy, both in size (1368 pages!) and content, and will leave you shocked and terrified. Even if you have kept abreast with developments in the Middle East over the last few decades, this book provides first-hand insights and between-the-lines details from one of the greatest, old-school investigative journalists and war reporters of our time that will keep you turning the pages.

Fisk has seen it all. He was there when the Russians invaded Afghanistan; during the eight year long Iraq-Iran war he spend harrowing days under fire with both the Iraqi and Iranian armies; he has interviewed Osama bin Laden three times and he was the last western journalist to enter Baghdad before the start of the second Gulf War.

This book is part history, part personal testimony and part political analysis from an engaged and angry writer who has remained steadfast in his condemnation of the horrors of war, genocide, oppression and injustice whoever the perpetrators or aggressors may be.

Fisk’s compassion for the thousands of innocent victims shines through in all of his work. He is not the kind of reporter who is content with being “embedded” with an invading army and he is not the kind of reporter who is prepared to sit on the fence or the sidelines. He tells it how he sees it. He does not simply repackage the latest government press release, but insists on visiting the morgues and the hospitals and the missile impact sites himself – even at grave danger to his life.

This book is required reading for anyone who cares about what is happening in the Middle East, but be warned: its pages are stained with blood and littered with accounts of murder, torture and atrocities. Fisk insists on telling the gory details of the human tragedy that has pervaded so much of Middle Eastern history because no body else will.