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review 2017-07-24 20:01
The Lost City of the Monkey God / Douglas Preston
The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story - Douglas Preston

My friend Barbara recommended this book to me, so really how could I refuse? Especially once I found out that much of the action takes place in Honduras, a country that I have been interested in visiting for several years. Why? The Lovely Cotinga, that's why (have a look at http://www.sabrewingtours.com/hondura...

But I think I may be cured of that desire now. You see, in addition to the anthropological research and the jungle exploration (poisonous snakes, hip deep mud, and unremitting rain, anyone?) there ends up being a fair amount of discussion of insect-bourne disease. A number of the team were infected with Leishamaniasis by the bites of sand flies. What is easily done can be difficult to undo and they struggle to find treatment options. Most of the world's victims of this disease are among the poorest people on earth--if they had money to spend on drugs, the pharma companies would be doing the necessary research. But that's not the way things are.

Now, I am one of those people that biting insects adore. In fact, I was just at a family reunion and I think I heard everyone say at some point, "Oh, mosquitoes love me!" So apparently it is a family trait and as I sat in their attractive midst, I did get only 3-4 mosquito bites. But I am hardly encourages to brave Hondruas, even for the most beautiful bird. Sorry, Lovely Cotinga!

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review 2017-07-23 11:36
An entirely adequate book which did not excite me.
The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy - Raj Patel

If you haven't heard it all before, I guess this is worthwhile. Basically the standard complaints about capitalism- which is failing in present day precisely because it is no longer free market capitalism, but rather an increasingly regulated (by international "managed trade" agreements like NAFTA and the now-defunct TTP) crony capitalism. Discussion about Adam Smith and Ayn Rand, the history of "commons" and the Enclosure Acts. The British East India Company. Negative and positive rights. Useful value of an object vs. Transactional value of an object. (i.e. water is useful and necessary for life but also extremely plentiful so has a high useful value and a low transactional value; gemstones are pretty and rich customers may pay top dollar for them, but don't fulfill any dire need so they have a low useful value but a high transactional value.)  The nature of corporations (i.e. as "legal fictions" endowed with rights akin to human beings, but immortal, unsleeping, and dedicated to a single purpose: acquisition of more.)

 

The title refers to corporate cost-avoidance strategies which allow companies to push unseen expenses on to third parties (usually the public), which reaping profits. An example would be taxpayer-funded subsidies for corn, which knocks $500,000/year off the cost of raising cattle to maturity, resulting in lower cost of beef, which allows McDonald's to get beef cheaper than they used to, while keeping the price of their sandwiches the same. End result: McDonald's realizes a large profit selling hamburgers to taxpayers who subsidized the end-product, but do not profit from the subsidy... in fact, they are effectively paying twice for each burger they buy.

 

If you've been interested in these things for more than 5 years, I doubt there is anything new in here to stimulate you. 

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text 2017-07-17 20:41
The Invention of Nature - Reading Update: Part 5
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf

I am a little sad.

 

This was a fascinating book, and I loved the chapter that described the last years in Humboldt's life and the political changes that he was surrounded by, even tho for Humboldt the novelty of revolution had worn off because he had seen and been in the midst of so many of them.

 

As for the remaining chapters on Perkins, Haeckel, and John Muir, I am in two minds: We did not really need them to understand Humboldt and his times. But, they do illustrate - again - the far-reaching impact Humboldt and his work have had on a future generation that would lead to the birth of environmentalism. 

 

I appreciate the link that Wulf creates between the extraordinary Humboldt and the subsequent discussions that are still current affairs more than I criticise Wulf for meandering a little in the last three chapters

 

What a book! What a guy!

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text 2017-07-17 00:57
The Invention of Nature - Reading Update: Part 4
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf

At the end of July, more than three months after leaving Berlin, Humboldt reached Tobolsk – 1,800 miles from St Petersburg and the most easterly point on the prescribed route – but it was still not wild enough for his taste. Humboldt had not come this far only to have to turn around. He had other plans. Instead of travelling back to St Petersburg as previously agreed, Humboldt now ignored Cancrin’s instructions and added a detour of 2,000 miles. He wanted see the Altai Mountains in the east where Russia, China and Mongolia met, as the counterpart to his observations in the Andes. As he had failed to see the Himalaya, the Altai was as close as he could get to collecting data from a mountain range in Central Asia.

I'm finding it hard to put this book down. He is such an unlikely rebel, and yet...he gets away with it.

 

Having been denied access to the Himalayas by the East India Company, and having returned to Berlin, Humboldt is dying to get out again.

 

I was so relieved when I read about his travels through Russia. Not only because the parts where he travels have been my favourites of the book, but also because I really hate seeing him cooped up.

 

And of course there several passages where I caught my breath, most notably where he basically upsets Cancrin, the czar's official delegate, by wanting to see the true living conditions of the eastern peasants and, the second, where he is so set on reaching his destination (also against the will of Cancrin) that he rode straight through a region plagued with an anthrax epidemic. Anthrax!!! WTF, Alex?

"As they sat in silence, hot and cramped behind tightly shut windows in their small carriages, they passed through a landscape of death. The ‘traces of the pest’ were everywhere, Humboldt’s companion Gustav Rose noted in his diary. Fires burned at the entrances and exits of the villages as a ritual to ‘clean the air’. They saw small makeshift hospitals and dead animals lying in the fields. In one small village alone, 500 horses had died."

I guess the views would have have been worth it:

 

 

As for the other parts, I enjoyed learning about how much Humboldt had influenced Darwin. I had never expected this.

 

I am, however, puzzled by the chapter about Thoreau. Not only was this the least interesting to me, but I found the description of Thoreau quite annoying.

 

While Humboldt and Darwin were scientists who were able to write well, Thoreau merely strikes me as a - somewhat lofty and self-indulgent - writer, but not really a scientist.

What was the point of including this chapter other than to illustrate Humboldt's influence across several continents?

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quote 2017-07-16 08:18
Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.

Odede, Kennedy, and Jessica Posner. Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum. N.p.: Ecco, 2015. 13 Oct. 2015. Web.

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