Thursday, July 06, 2006

A book for fans of "An Inconvenient Truth"

I recently saw the new Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Its production values are much better than most documentaries and Gore's delivery is much improved since he last frequented the media.

The movie's message--widespread environmental and economic disaster looms unless something serious is done about global warming--comes through loud and clear. Five years ago Gore's argument would have been greeted by considerably more skepticism than it encounters today: simply, the thesis and supporting evidence have just gotten stronger.

(And it is not only politicians and scientists making this claim: Rolf Tolle, director of Lloyd's of London, recently told insurers, "If we don’t take action now to understand the changing nature of our planet, we will face extinction.")

Although Gore doesn't mention it, his argument reminded me of Jared Diamond's fascinating Collapse. From the publisher:

In his million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. Now in this brilliant companion volume, Diamond probes the other side of the equation: What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates?

As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of these societies, but other societies found solutions and persisted. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society’s apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana.

Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?

Both Gore and Diamond (understandably) spend most of their time outlining the problem, yet both also point out that the looming catastrophe can be circumvented if it is addressed. Moreover, contrary to what is said by many of the people who are trying to wish away the problem, the costs of correcting the environmental damage are miniscule: we can fix the environment without harming the economy.

Click here to read an excerpt from Collapse, including a helpful section outlining the plan of the book.

Don't have time to dig into Collapse? Read Malcolm Gladwell's review in the New Yorker here. And click here for an extensive interview with Jared Diamond at Salon.

Diamond is a professor of geography (though he obviously knows quite a bit about other scientific fields). That is a demerit, according to Cambridge economist Partha Dasgupta: click here for his argument in the London Review of Books.

Gregg Easterbrook saw some merit in An Inconvenient Truth but much to dislike; click here for his reaction. (Roger Ebert liked it more.) Easterbrook also found much to like in Collapse yet, again--though with less confidence--many things to dislike:

Taken together, Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse represent one of the most significant projects embarked upon by any intellectual of our generation. They are magnificent books: extraordinary in erudition and originality, compelling in their ability to relate the digitized pandemonium of the present to the hushed agrarian sunrises of the far past. I read both thinking what literature might be like if every author knew so much, wrote so clearly and formed arguments with such care. All of which makes the two books exasperating, because both come to conclusions that are probably wrong.
Click here for the rest of Easterbrook's review.

Interested in Gore's thesis but suffer from theatrophobia? There's a book version of An Inconvenient Truth.

Not interested in Gore's movie or his thesis? Michael Crichton's latest novel, State of Fear, may be the thing for you. The author has quite a bit of information about the novel at his website, including excerpts and speeches.

For a rave review of State of Fear in the Wall Street Journal, click here. George Will praised the book in the Washington Post: click here for his column on the novel.

The reviewer for the Houston Chronicle did not like the book as much as Will did; click here for his review. The reviewer for the New York Times Book Review was unimpressed as well; click here for his review.

Click here to read an excerpt from State of Fear.

Also in the blog's series on "books for fans of [TV show or movie title here]":

A literary thriller for fans of Syriana
A novel for fan's of ABC's Lost (forthcoming)
Two novels for fans of HBO's Deadwood (forthcoming)

--Marshal Zeringue