Recent book reviews — March 2014


Title: Climate Matters — Ethics in a Warming World
Author: John Broome
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3.5 stars

This was my first book about the ethical considerations related to climate change. It was a good place to start.

Broome outlines the challenges to justice presented by climate change, both for governments and the individual. He delineates the distinctions between “goodness” and “justice” and artfully switches between the intellectual, universal concepts of philosophy and more immediate individual responsibility. The somewhat esoteric discussion of how to weigh future humans’ desires against those of the living, for example, eventually tie to the pressing economic decisions the US government faces. Throughout the book these loftier topics (“intuition of neutrality”, “non-identity problem”, “utilitarianism vs prioritarianism”) are grounded by Broome’s concrete conclusions; “I recommend you use offsetting as a way to meet your duty of justice not to cause harm.” Broome’s writing feels fair, giving honest voice to arguments against his conclusions.

Reading Climate Matters changed and improved the approach I have to my role in climate change. Thoroughly recommended.

Title: The Small Wood Shop — The Best of Fine Woodworking
Author: various
Source: LAPL
Applicability/Interest: 3.5 stars

Though a bit dated, this collection of articles from Fine Woodworking is an excellent source of inspiration and know-how. I particularly enjoyed Tony Konovaloff’s tool chest, a tightly-packed, beautiful storage solution made possible by a deep understanding of one’s needs in the shop. An article on a DIY dust collector switch is hard-core geeky, explaining how to modify an off-the-shelf transformer to serve as a mains-voltage sensor clamp, and home-made, automatic blast gates for dust-collection ducting. Awesome.

Title: Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air
Author: David JC MacKay
Applicability/Interest: 4.5 stars

This is the best book I’ve read yet on the topic of sustainability. MacKay provides the information and methodologies an individual needs to tabulate one’s consumption and to then make informed decisions. It is full of good data and explanations of the relevant issues. My only minor complaint is that rather than measuring my consumption in kWh, I plan to measure my CO2 production and won’t be able to use some of the book’s data.

Title: Eating Animals
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Source: LAPL
Applicability/Interest: 3 stars

Eating Animals is critical of factory farming – the cramped, cruel, and unhealthy way almost all American beef, pork, fish, and chicken is created. I found Foer’s responses to a number of anti-vegetarian arguments to be particularly lucid, and liked his over-arching wish that more people eat in concert with their own beliefs (whatever those may be).

The book re-invigorated my commitment to trying to eat sustainably and has inspired me to find a cruelty-free (or at least cruelty-reduced) solution to my use of leather for taiko drums. As the only non-vegan material I regularly use, and as something so essential to my work, I would love to find a responsible farmer, slaughterhouse, and tanner from whom to buy skins.

Title: We are the Weather Makers
Author: Tim Flannery
Source: LAPL
Applicability/Interest: 2 stars

We are the Weather Makers provides a good overview of the scientific concepts behind climate change, but was less personally inspiring than I was looking for. It is essentially an assortment of loosely-structured essays on various climate change topics. I am glad I read it but wouldn’t recommend it for someone who is looking for information that informs day-to-day decisions. I can imagine it would be a valuable starting resource for someone wanting to learn more about climate change.

Title: Now or Never
Author: Tim Flannery
Source: LAPL
Applicability/Interest: 2 stars

This is a quick read; less than 170 small pages including a critical responses section. It is less technical than We Are the Weather Makers, with more time spent making the social and ethical case for dealing immediately with climate change, and briefly exploring a few possible climate change solutions. I found it less successful. While I essentially agree with Flannery and am very interested in doing what I can, I was not particularly moved by the book’s ethical foundation – that humans have become the conscious controllers of Gaia, the living earth. I disagreed with a few of the suggested solutions as well, namely that we should purchase meat, dairy, and chicken from places like PolyFace Farms. While PolyFace is indeed a dramatic improvement over standard factory farms, something like 99% of our meat in the US comes from factory farms so “eat PolyFace meat” is only a solution for the handful of people that live in Swoope, Virginia and for some reason cannot find a way to eat organic, local, vegetarian.

Title: How to Grow Fresh Air
Author: Dr B.C. Wolverton
Source: LAPL
Applicability/Interest: 2.5 stars

This is an interesting and quick read on how to improve indoor air quality with plants. The first few chapters outline the problem of indoor air quality and the specific mechanisms underlying plants’ purification of air. Unfortunately, the writing is bland and the info-graphics are painfully lacking. Things pick up, however, when the book ranks and describes 50 specific plants and their positive effect on air quality.

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