According to the American humorist Ogden Nash, ‘God, in his wisdom, made the Fly. And then forgot to tell us why’. This long-standing mystery has apparently been resolved by John F. McDiarmid Clark, who argues that the fly’s main purposed was to allow early Victorian amateur bug-hunters to become 20th-century professional entomologists.
I received the invitation to review this book during the same week – 16-20 November 2009 – that over 1,000 emails to and from climate scientists in the Climatic Research Unit at my university found their way into the public domain.
Most of us who have tried to write of time and place on a large scale resort to a broad framework of ideas, punctuated by an example or two from the literature or even from our own experience. As in his first edition, Donald Hughes does it differently: a series of footprints rather than a superhighway, as he puts it.
For readers like this reviewer, who do not read Germany fluently, the translation of Joachim Radkau’s Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment is a major event. This is probably the best available overview of the changing human relationship with the biosphere: a subject whose historiographical and political significance is becoming more and more evident.
In the opening of his recent volume, Nature and History in the Potomac Country, historian James D. Rice informs his readers that the idea for the book began with what he perceived as a ‘hole in the map’ (p. 1).
In our age of climate change and peak oil anxiety, environmental problems loom increasingly large in politics as well as everyday life. Yet even if ecology were to become the preeminent science, it is difficult to imagine a future where the authority of nature will form a unified source of morality, aesthetic value, and scientific truth. Such a world seems irretrievably lost to us.
This year (2010), the world has seen a number of big earthquake disasters, like those that hit Haiti in January and Chile a month later. Disasters strike when least expected, and the death and destruction that follows represents critical tests of the ability of cities and nations to handle crises and to rebuild.
Debates, disputes, and even injustice lay just beneath the outward signs of vaunted Victorian technological progress. The ascendancy of the imperatives of industrialization and urbanization over all other considerations was not inevitable or automatic; there were moments when those imperatives were challenged and rival ones championed.
Originally seeing the light of day as conference papers or seminar presentations, this collection of environmental history essays brings together a very personalised, and at times highly impassioned journey by Professor Christopher Smout reflecting how he turned his attention to this relatively new field of historical enquiry in the 1980s, a decade after the ‘great efflorescence of environmenta