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Book Review: The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture by Emanuele Coccia

“To live is essentially to live the life of another: to live in and through the life that others have been able to construct or invent.” 

The French philosopher Emanuele Coccia begins his book The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture with these words, following a similar thread of symbiotic speculation throughout the pages. The Life of Plants is filled with reunderstanding and reimagining how life comes to live in the world, and, beyond that, how life (in its many forms) helps create a world where it and others become mutual agents for change. Plants, Coccia argues, are fundamental for life, and therefore the world. 

“If it is from plants that we ought to enquire what the world is, this is because they are the ones who play the world.” Plants provide an especially privileged place in the world– a cosmology unlike any other species. Plants have existed for 480-700 billion years. Plants provide all the organic substances animal species need to live on. Our clothes, homes, diets, furniture and more are all in large part thanks to plants. They provide oxygen, they photosynthesize and they help produce and maintain our climate– the one that’s remained habitable for millennia before anthropogenic climate change. 

Because plants are so responsible for producing and sustaining life they are the perfect philosophic specimen in a time of ecological uncertainty. So what is it like to be in the world as a plant?

Coccia is arguing three things about the world through his primary subject. “[The] world has the consistency of an atmosphere and the leaves are witness to this fact. I will ask the roots to explain the nature of the Earth. Finally, it is the flower that will teach us what rationality is… measured as a cosmic force.” 

Coccia calls his first argument “Leaf Theory.” He begins by developing his understanding of how things come to be in the world– his ontology. Beings in the world are immersed in the world says Coccia– meaning, any organism is immersed in a world full of other beings in which one subject or organism helps codetermine another. As humans, we are immersed in a world of oxygen, and our existence relies on plants to purify the air so we can breath. Our existence is dependent on being immersed in and with others.  

Since there is this mutual relationship, where one subject has an effect on another, the world becomes of a fluid nature. He writes, “the existence of the plant is, by itself, a global modification of the cosmic environment, in other words of the world that they penetrate and by which they are penetrated. It is already by existing that plants modify the world globally without even moving, without beginning to act…To be in the world necessarily means to make world: every activity of living beings is an act of design upon the living flesh of the world.”

Simply by being immersed in a world, plants necessarily shape it. The world must be fluid in order to be shaped.

So what is this shaping? How do plants, as an example, shape the world through their being? “The living being is considered in terms of the type of atmosphere it produces, as though being in the world meant above all to ‘make atmosphere.’” Atmosphere here means the mixture of subjects in a place coexisting together, and not at the cost of other forms of life, but in fact helping support life. Life creates environments who mix in fostering more life. Plants, because they remain the greatest cosmic force on the earth to help produce life, are the prime encapsulation of “life as atmosphere,” of life as mixing to create life, according to Coccia. 

This may seem like a trivial point but Coccia’s argument is a counter to the predominant narrative that environments necessarily shape organisms. Plants, through their atmospheric qualities of photosynthesizing, of spreading themselves across the earth, of giving nectar to birds and pollen to bees, shape humans and all other life. We are immersed in an atmosphere of other living beings breathing together to help create and sustain life itself. As his last chapter in the “Leaf Theory” section indicates, “Everything is in Everything.”

Coccia’s second focus is the roots of the plant. He begins with an interesting fact of natural history, claiming that for millions of years plants didn’t have roots. In fact, they were completely dependent on their leaves and trunk to do their world-making. However, with the evolution of roots Coccia examines the ontology of the root system and makes an interesting observation that the plant-with-roots exists in two environments simultaneously: the abiotic and biotic worlds: one world full of light, the other a deep darkness. 

Where “Leaf Theory” praises the work of leaves and the job plants do in making the world, Coccia seems to suggest a new form of common sense and cultural symbolism in this chapter; a common sense that does not revel in the root so much, but soaks in the sun. He writes, “Fidelity to the Earth– the extreme geotropism of our culture… has an enormous price: it means devoting oneself to the night, choosing to think without the Sun.” Here one really begins to understand that Coccia is talking cosmologically and not just culturally or biologically: we exist in a cosmos and are immersed in relationships with stars, the Sun, gravity, an ozone, and so on. The world, evidently, is more than just the Earth; the Earth is more than just plants. Coccia wants us to be heliocentric people and mean it. 

The final “organ” of chapters discusses the flower. A fascinating and poetic series of chapters, Coccia refers to the “sessile” flower as being a “site of an environment for the world itself.” Or, to put it in a question, how do flowers interact with the world when they are sessile beings? They make themselves desirable to others. But Coccia goes a step further. Coccia likens the flower to reason (logos) itself. Meaning, in a very radical sense, reason is not a uniquely human characteristic, or even animal, but vegetal as well. 

Coccia’s reason for making such an argument? It is in the many different forms that flowers take: “Rationality is a matter of forms, but form is always the result of the movement of a mixture that produces variation, change.” Flowers take their form through a rational, a sexual exchange with other beings; making themselves “a site of an environment for the world itself.” Reason, in this sense, is the ability to interact, absorb, and develop with the world; not just to think like a human being does. Reason requires an understanding of the world– a flower understands itself and the world around it.


Like any good philosophy book, The Life of Plants is better on its second read. Once the reader can grasp Coccia’s lexicon and understand  his reconceptualization of biological and meteorological terms like ‘climate,’ ‘atmosphere,’ ‘breath,’ the text will jump out as really being a book about life from a “plants experience in the world.” Grasping the language is always fifty percent of the struggle in any philosophy book. From there, Coccia’s symbiotic thinking can be used as it relates to the philosophical underpinnings of the natural sciences, or the role of philosophy in intellectual culture and education, or even how political ecology movements can think of themselves. A deeply fascinating piece of conceptual work that requires the reader to think through the life of plants in order to understand the world around us.

Posted in Kid's Books KidsBookClubhouse

R&P Schoolhouse Vol. 2: LGTBQ+ Engagement

Editor’s Note: As Pride Month unfolds we are reminded that we are constantly in the midst of battles for equality on multiple fronts. This is by design, a way to divide and conquer marginalized people and maintain status quo for those in power. We have made great strides in the past decade in the pursuit of equal rights for the LGBTQ community, most recently this week with the Supreme Courts decision in Bostock v. Clayton County (17-1618). We must remember, however, that this success can be fleeting and walked back by future legislators, judges, and executives. Perhaps the best way to pass the baton to future generations is through literary engagement on the very issues we deem vital to equality for all. In that spirit, Kristen Amato and Nicole Cote have selected some of their favorite reads to school-age children on the subject. Kristen has also curated a list of further reading to broaden our selections on our website on bookshop.org.

Rainbow Revolutionaries by Sarah Prager (local author!!!!)

Rainbow Revolutionaries is a celebration of people from all over the globe who have changed the course of history through their bravery and their voice.  This book is a compilation of over 50 LGBTQ+  people who have made a positive impact in our world.  “In every culture and in every century, LGBTQ+ people have not only existed and thrived, they have revolutionized!”

An example of one of the extraordinary revolutionaries discussed By Sarah Prager is Christina of Sweden.  Christina of Sweden was a queen from birth who ended the Thirty Years’s War in Europe and loved working as the queen.  However, it was customary for the queen to marry a man to maintain power and prestige. “I’d rather choose death than a man” were the words of Christina before they left the life of royalty and wealth to live the life that they wanted. Christina’s bravery inspires all people to lead the life YOU want to live regardless of the societal pressures and stereotypes. 

This informational work of art highlights the stories of LGBTQ+ from the 1600s to the present in all different countries.  The stories will bring inspiration, strength and hope  to all readers and leave you feeling empowered to be YOU! – Nicole Cote

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

This heartwarming story tells the tale of Julián, a young boy who LOVES mermaids. One day on the train with his Abuela, Julian sees three women dressed as mermaids and is instantly enamored. Once home, he creates a mermaid outfit for himself to wear, but worries what his Abuela will think when she walks in. She happily accepts Julián’s choice to dress as a mermaid and even enhances his outfit with her very own necklace.

Jessica Love’s debut book is spectacular. Her illustrations are stunning yet simple. While the book has few words, her message is conveyed loud and clear: this is a story of acceptance, individuality, and being proud of who you are. It is a story that reinforces the idea that there is no “right” way to be. – Kristen Amato

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

In this beautiful narrative on the history of the ubiquitous rainbow flag symbolizing LGTBQ+ rights, we are introduced to other important figures in the movement, most notably Harvey Milk. While documenting the historical narrative surrounding the flag, the author conveys ideals and goals of hope, perseverance and pride. The author attempts to connect the young reader with Milk to give all readers the same sense of pride and hopefulness that maintained Milk as he faced resistance and obstacles. 

This story teaches the motivations behind the Gay Freedom Day Parade and what people were protesting for. This story illuminates gay rights in a child friendly manner in order to allow for understanding and opens up the discussion of gay rights in the United States for children. (Note: The violence that ended Harvey Milk’s life is included in the book.) – Nicole Cote

Posted in KidsBookClubhouse

Booktivity: Mouse Paint by Ellen Stone Walsh

We are going to be running a series of “booktivities” to keep children engaged with reading materials throughout this unique summer. We will post all projects here.

The best way to follow us is through our dedicated Instagram Account:

@rpschoolhouse

Thank you to @thepreschoolproject for this content.

Posted in Kid's Books

R&P Schoolhouse Vol. 1: Race and Diversity

The R&P Schoolhouse is a page designed to connect our store to parents and children via educational professionals in school districts across the state. We are not affiliated with any school but instead utilize the creative passion of teachers to create reading lists, promote crafts and activities, and review books of utmost importance in the genres of social themes and beahvioral development. And, of course, we have our share of FUN!

Since we opened Root and Press, Nicole and I have looked forward to the day when we could develop a community-enriching idea to pair with our day-to-day store activities. A chance email from blogger Kristen Amato opened the floodgates and allowed us the chance to produce content that will (hopefully!) be a source for continued learning and engagement with books!

A major component to our interactions with you will be through a Kid’s ClubNight we plan to host every other Tuesday at Root and Press. These events are obviously on hold until it is safe to congregate, but we plan to have a free storytime hour and food/drink at a relatively low-cost to local families. We are excited about this project and look to pass along more information as we further plan these events.

Until then, please check out R&P Schoolhouse via the link above!


Whenever a crisis hits our nation, or there is wrong in the world, parents and educators resort to books in order to spread a message of hope, compassion, and empathy. Kristen Amato has curated a list in response to the questions children may have about race and diversity. She has also thoroughly reviews The Day You Begin by Jaqueline Woodson, Illustrated by Rafael López. (Ages 4 & up)

In this charming and inclusive story, Woodson’s narrative gives power to children (and people) from all walks of life. From the way we look, to the way we sound, to the things that we eat, there are all kinds of things that make us unique; this story highlights these differences for our young readers.

This book touches upon several important themes: inclusion, differences, race, bravery, empathy, and the power of stories. This inspiring tale sends the message that when we share our stories, “the world opens itself up a little wider to make some space for you”. Now more than ever, it is important to hear the stories of those whose experiences differ from your own, and this book highlights this message beautifully. This, coupled with López’s whimsical illustrations make this book a must-have for classrooms and home libraries alike.


Kristen’s bookshelf on race (click here) is also a resource for those looking for books on race and diversity. We are an affiliate of bookshop.org and purchasing titles on these sites help us immensely. We will be curating more lists like this in the future so keep an eye out.

Posted in Book Review

Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

The aptly titled Convenience Store Woman is Japanese novelist Sayaka Murata’s tenth novel, and the first to be translated into English. The story focuses on Keiko Furukura, a thirty-six year old single woman who works at a ‘Smile Mart’ Tokyo convenience store. Furukura is not only content, but happy with her life as a convenience store worker, much to the chagrin of her family, friends, and coworkers who constantly try to convince her to get a better job, or at least get married. 

For the past eighteen years Furukura has worked stocking shelves, greeting customers, and running the cash register. There is a set order to her days and she finally feels like she has a place in society. Her family and friends cannot understand her desire to stay “stuck in the same job” or to abstain from sexual relationships, and they attempt to steer her in the directions they think her life should go. Furukura admirably resists their interference and resents that people think her lifestyle choices are “strange.” 

Then Shiraha, a disaffected, sexist young man, comes to work at the convenience store. Shiraha is the ultimate stereotype of misogynistic thinking, admitting he only wanted to work at the store in order to find a wife and constantly making rather humorous references to how society hasn’t changed since the Stone Age. Furukura recognizes his rude absurdity but is unfazed by it. Instead she sees an opportunity to stop unwanted scrutiny about her own life and eventually “adopts” Shiraha, letting him live in her apartment. This arrangement seems like it will work for both parties since, to outsiders, it looks like they have both capitulated to societal pressure to settle down into “normal” partnered life.

Though short, the book functions and can be read on several levels, from universal to specific:  it’s a study about how everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, tries to fit into social constructs; it’s a critique of capitalism, toxic masculinity, and the double standards to which women are often subjected; it “eviscerate[s] three of Japanese society’s most sacred cows: marriage, the workplace and the strained concept of the ‘normal’ life”; and it’s also a wonderful representation of one likely autistic character. These universal themes are explored from the viewpoint of a woman who has been conforming to fit into society for her entire life. She’s an outsider looking in, an anthropologist if you will, calling things as she sees them. And it is precisely Furukura’s outsider status that throws these societal issues into such stark relief.

Personal Experience Affects How We Read

photo – KEH, 2020

I really struggled to write this review, not because of the story itself (I loved it), but because of other reviews that I read. Most of these reviews were positive, and touched on a lot of the themes I too thought were interesting or important. However, when it came to reading reviewers’ opinions about Furukura, it’s like I had read a completely different book. I worried that the review I wanted to write would be misunderstood. As I thought about it though, the wildly different reactions to the main character seem to be a good example of how personal experience and knowledge can drastically change how you read a book and what you get from it. 

Although it’s never explicitly stated in the novel, or in interviews with Murata, I read Furukura as an autistic character. In my mind she was autistic and I related to her. I think many other reviewers, however, may have missed Furukura’s probable autistic traits. Instead they labeled her behavior as something different. “Chilling,” “psychopathic,” and “depraved” were all adjectives used to describe Furukura and her lifestyle. It’s possible that these reviewers read quickly, reaching for a familiar shorthand to describe Furukura, effectively glossing over why she might act the way she does in order to focus on other themes in the novel. The fact that so many reviewers dismiss Furukura as a strange, aberrant woman without agency over her life seems an ableist perspective that tramples on a strong protagonist. 

In Convenience Store Woman, we are presented with a potentially autistic woman as a main character, a welcome deviation from popular portrayals of autism which usually feature young white boys or men. One autistic author, in the only review that I completely agreed with, was thrilled to recognize someone similar to herself in Furukura and praised the novel for its diverse representation. 

In a welcome reversal of the usual narrative, it’s the neurotypical (non-autistic) people of Convenience Store Woman who are stereotypes. This is part of the book’s charm. In one interview, Murata explained how when you switch perspective to that of a less conventional character it is “the so-called normal people […] who appear strange or odd.” We see the world through Furukura’s eyes: we see how she has organized the world for herself so it makes sense for her

Autistic Furukura

Supermarket Chicken – watercolor – KEH, 2020

The ways in which Furukura experiences and interprets the world around her could definitely be described as autistic. She realizes that she’s different from an early age when she continually misinterprets social norms. As a child, Furukura is confused by the horrified reaction of her mother when she suggests taking a dead budgie she happens upon in the park home to grill for dinner. Her mother, in order to stave off the reproach of onlookers, insists they hold a mock funeral for the dead bird: 

“Everyone was crying for the poor dead bird as they went around murdering flowers, plucking their stalks, exclaiming, “What lovely flowers! Little Mr. Budgie will definitely be pleased.” They looked so bizarre I thought they must all be out of their minds.” 

Furukura, on the other hand, struggles to understand why everyone is so upset; the budgie is, afterall, a bird like any other they might eat. For Furukura, the bird’s funeral seems as absurd as holding a funeral for a pack of supermarket chicken. 

Later in her childhood, Furukura resorts to distinctive courses of action in order to accomplish objectives, like when she hits a boy over the head with a shovel to stop him fighting with another boy. In her view, using violence to break up a fight made logical sense – she was using the same tool as the boys (violence) to affect a positive outcome (stopping a fight). Her thought processes make sense, they are just unexpected and sometimes socially problematic.

Furukura: A “Marmite” Character

The homogenous being known as a convenience store worker – digital illustration – KEH, 2020

One Amazon reviewer called Convenience Store Woman a “marmite book,” a unique British saying which means “you either love it or you hate it.” It seems to me that some of the “marmite” quality of the book hinges on whether the reader picks up that Furukura could be autistic. Most of the reviews that I read never mention the possibility that she might autistic, but instead label Furukura as “frightening and robotic” or “latently psychopathic.” 

However, that’s not at all the impression I got. Furukura is a woman who has been emotionally wounded by social misunderstandings and by repeated insinuations that she needs to be “fixed.” Her youthful social missteps lead to her suppressing her natural mannerisms so as to appear more “normal,” a strategy known as autistic masking. As a child she consciously decides to never say more than is absolutely necessary in any conversation so she won’t unwittingly break any social rules. She explains, “I would no longer do anything of my own accord, and would either just mimic what everyone else was doing, or simply follow instructions.” Furukura starts to mask in order to blend in and, heartbreakingly, “the adults seemed relieved.” 

By the time she reaches adulthood Furukura has become an expert at conforming in different social situations. While visiting with her only friends outside the world of the convenience store, Furukura thinks, “It was the me with different clothes and speech rhythms that was smiling. Who was it that my friends were talking to? Yet Yukari was still smiling at me, repeating again how much she’d missed me.” It was the me with certain clothing and speech patterns that she is presenting as a mask to her friends. I think Furukura’s question, wondering who exactly her friends thought she was, hints at the tremendous amount of anxiety and mental energy that goes into autistic masking.

Furukura is a sharp and extremely perceptive woman, perhaps because she has had to work so hard intentionally studying human behavior in order to “fit in.” She has a way of cutting through society’s pretense to explain what is really going on, whether it’s calling out casual misogyny or considering the fact that everyone, to some degree, puts on certain masks in order to belong. In one whip-smart remark she observes how her coworkers masquerade in the store:

“It was fun to see all kinds of people – from university students and guys who played in bands to job-hoppers, housewives, and kids studying for their high school diploma at night school – don the same uniform and transform into the homogenous being known as a convenience store worker. Once the day’s training was over, everyone removed their uniforms and reverted to their original state. It was like changing costumes to become a different creature.” 

She possesses incredible insight here and I can’t help but compare this to what so many autistic people often feel they have to do, and indeed what Furukura does throughout the novel: put on a mask to transform into the being known as a neurotypical person.

***

My knowledge and personal experiences definitely influenced how I read Convenience Store Woman. I appreciate and agree with Murata’s critiques of capitalism, misogyny, and Japanese society, though to me, social masking was the central theme of the book around which all the other themes orbited. Perhaps Furukura’s chameleon-like nature stems more from Murata’s personality and cultural upbringing than from an intentionally autistic portrayal. Nevertheless, many of the reviews which I read didn’t focus much, if at all, on the character’s social transformations, let alone the possibility that this could be an autism trait. 

Just as Furukura struggles to understand and integrate into “normal” Japanese society, readers without more than a superficial understanding of autism could struggle with interpreting the character. Many prominent reviews feature vague references to Furukura’s oddities and extreme social contortionism without delving deeper into why she behaves in this way. I would like to suggest that if we read Convenience Store Woman from an autistic perspective or armed with up-to-date knowledge about the autistic spectrum, it will be a vastly different reading experience; hopefully one with more understanding and empathy for a neurodiverse protagonist.

Convenience Store Woman
by Sayaka Murata

Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Winner
2016 Akutagawa Prize

163 pages

Posted in Book Review

Book Review: This land is Our Land by Jedidiah Purdy

The word “Commonwealth” has a particular place in Massachusetts vernacular. It’s common to find the word used as political branding, “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts” as an obvious example. But beyond sounding nostalgic, orderly, and constitutional, “Commonwealth” literally means, well-being—wealth, shared by all—common: Commonwealth. 

This reminder begins Jedidiah Purdy’s newest book, This Land is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth. In this short book (150 pages), Purdy, a law professor at Columbia University, meditates on the ways in which the land, the American soil and territory, has been both a dividing and unifying source throughout American history and politics. Purdy likes to say how the land keeps us “apart, together.” 

Divided into seven sections, five chapters, a Preface and Forward, Purdy tackles several issues throughout his book: mountaintop removal, climate denialism (beyond just fossil fuel profits), mainstream environmentalism and its relationships with labor and justice; Henry David Thoreau, the Green New Deal, and more. Purdy attempts to weave these many ecological threads in order to build something of the political imaginary: a Commonwealth, which he describes as, “a way of living in which our survival and flourishing do not prey constantly and involuntarily on the lives of others, in which, instead, my flourishing is the condition of your flourishing, and yours reciprocally of mine” (146). 

The first chapter, “This Land is Our Land” explores the conflicts over whose land this is, and what it means for the land to be “ours.” Purdy does this by examining when “nationalism and nature come together,” or, put another way: how “the things that tie people together and the things that divide them tend to be the same thing. (3)” 

Purdy discusses coast-to-coast examples of this divide using the material of public and natural land to demonstrate this point of land keeping us “together, apart.” In 2017, more than one million acres of land was cleared from Bears Ears National Monument in order to drill for oil and gas. The Monument was shrunk in half–the first time such a thing has happened on public land in more than a century. In the east, The Appalachian Mountains have been dubbed the battleground for the “war on coal.” And the Mountains, Purdy paints for us, is similar to a war-zone, with their mountaintop-removal using dynamite and other explosives to assault the land. But it’s also war-like because there are delineated sides on the issue: those for and against coal. “War is what we call politics that has lost its capacity to bridge, mitigate, and most important, transform our differences, (12)” Purdy says.

Most of the chapter is spent discussing the coal-miners and thinking through the situation of climate change as it relates to the actual lives of the miners: their jobs, their well-being, their sense of identity. He takes them for more than denialists or immoralists. Purdy provides a scope of the issue and how it impacts those on the front-lines: coal-miners included. 

Chapter two, “Reckonings” discusses a handful of examples concerning air and water pollution, hammering in on the point that “Those who cannot control their environments are controlled by it.” 

Chapter three focuses on Henry David Thoreau as a political figure, beyond just the man who “went to the woods to live deliberately.” Purdy discusses an essay by Thoreau called “Slavery in Massachusetts” where Thoreau describes the feeling of himself “losing his country” (the title of the chapter) because of how the State had turned moral lies–the enslavement of black people, into laws and physical facts. Purdy follows Thoreau’s sentiments on slavery, on nature, and on social life, to deal with his own belief that, under a Trump presidency, Purdy also feels himself “losing his country.” 

Purdy remarks, “Losing a country might mean losing whatever accommodation you had made with the country… ‘Losing a country’ might be a way of describing coming to see it more clearly. To use a phrase that is facile but necessary, Thoreau is complaining about, among other things, losing the privilege of ignoring slavery much of the time while also disapproving of it.” (60). Politics was not optional in the time of slavery, and nor is it optional in the time of climate and ecological collapse. 

Chapter four, “The World We Have Built” looks at the built environment and infrastructure of our world. Purdy quotes a study that estimates the entire human infrastructure, what he calls the “technosphere”– our roads, bridges, buildings, crop land, and so on, is around thirty trillion tons. Such an estimate reveals a breakdown in the anachronism between traditional concepts of the natural and the human world. “A ‘natural disaster'” writes Purdy, “is at least half unnatural, the product of a natural event and the infrastructure that it floods, shakes, or ignites. (78)”

Purdy is attempting to weave two ideas together in this chapter to say something about the human species: we are an infrastructure species (we build and develop various forms of technologies, including the immaterial infrastructure of laws, capital, and culture) and we are a political animal (how we organize our lives and make collective decisions). 

What Purdy hopes to accomplish by emphasizing the building of our world and the way we make such decisions, is that, in the Anthropocene, we are the makers of our collective lives. “The great power of a political species is to change the architecture of its common world, (91)” writes Purdy. It is on this hopeful note that we are reminded we are a species who make choices, and therefore can make the choice to live in a world where our infrastructure, both intellectual and material, can be one built upon commonwealth politics: “a way of living in which our survival and flourishing do not prey constantly and involuntarily on the lives of others, in which, instead, my flourishing is the condition of your flourishing, and yours reciprocally of mine.”

The last chapter, “The Long Environmental Justice Movement” is arguably the best chapter. Here, Purdy begins to move away from describing how we got here and the problems our country faces, into offering something a bit more concrete and prescriptive. Purdy begins with the failures and shortcomings of mainstream environmentalism. Most noticeably it’s emphasis on catering to white, suburban, wealthy America and its ties to the popular imaginary of wilderness and “untouched nature” that were in most cases, only accessible to the wealthy and white. 

This image of who and what environmentalism is left the problems of air pollution, toxic water, the fragility of our infrastructure, and more “urban” problems, outside the mainstream of environmentalism. As a result, black and brown people, who are most adversely affected by these “urban” environmental problems, were on the margins if not outright rejected in the mainstream environmental consciousness of America throughout the 20th century. 

However, Purdy recognizes a shift in environmentalism in the first two decades of the 21st century. This is when the terms “environmental justice” and “environmental racism” become  concepts and material realities at the forefront of 21st century environmentalism, says Purdy. 

But Purdy takes it a step further: he proposes the long environmental justice movement must include things like the Wilderness Act of 1872 which has protected over one hundred million acres of land since. Rachel Carson’s work on pesticides in Silent Spring and the Clean Air and Water Acts of 1970 as well. Purdy recognizes the shortcomings of the environmental movement, especially in including those fighting for social and economic justice. Rather than taking this at it’s word, he examines some historical decisions that were made in order to pivot environmentalism in such a way. Nonetheless, protection of public land, clean drinking water, less carbon in the atmosphere are all themselves justice issues. The Long Environmental Justice Movement is long because environmentalism has been turned in many directions, with some choices directly and indirectly supporting justice and others betraying it. Purdy’s point is that environmentalism goes on, and this incarnation will hopefully remedy some of its previous shortcomings. 

Purdy ends with a rather simple prescription for environmental justice. Fight for big changes like the Clean Air and Water Acts. Create partnerships and tie environmental justice with issues not always seen as directly related: subsidies for corn and soybean oils and its impact on obesity and human health for instance. “[Environmental Justices’] mission is more than technical.” Purdy says. “They are working to defend a living world that is under assault at every point, from the global climate to the most vulnerable communities.(140)” It is through the lens of the Green New Deal that Purdy believes we should pursue our 21st century ecological politics. What This Land is Our Land brings in ambition, hope, and examples of land and people under assault between seemingly disparate problems, it also suffers from a singular thesis to tie everything together–or at the very least, remind the reader of that thesis. But maybe that’s not the book’s purpose. The book began as content for a lecture Purdy did at New York University, and follows such a fashion, behaving much more like a book trying to make sense of a situation than trying to solve or deeply criticize. It is not simply philosophy, natural history, nonfiction, and doesn’t come close to legal theory. It is Thoreau-like in its public lecture style prose, both men trying to hold onto a country they each felt they were losing.

Posted in General Blog

Reopening after Opening

Root and Press will be opening for takeout and curbside pickup Weds-Sun, 9:00-3:00. The full menu will be available and can be found here. Please note, we may have to change some items because we are reliant on other local businesses for many of our products, and they have consolidated product lines or are still not operating.

Every business owner I know has faced such unique challenges that it is unfair to apply generalisms to mom and pop stores, even those in the same industry. Some restaurants are thriving, some will be thriving, and some face a long road ahead filled with uncertainty. As we just opened last year, we basically had no fourth quarter of our initial year, a time when many in business will tell you that new businesses start to “turn the curve.” Therefore, we have focused many of our efforts attempting to remain relevant in any conceivable “new normal,” a phrase i detest but, with the uncertainty of what will characterize daily life in a few months, there really is no other term I can think of.

We have already taken steps to try and compete for business now, as we have a limited opening, while also looking forward to the days when we can have diners eat in. We have completely refurbished and cleaned the store, we have changed the layout to help with social distancing and spacing, and we have moved online, both selling books at bookshop.org and putting out menu online through the Joe App.

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We’ve partnered with joe so you can order ahead from your phone and have your order ready when you arrive! No lines, no wait, no reason to pass us up when you’re in a rush. Each time you order you earn points towards free drinks and receive deals and discounts that you can redeem on your favorite items on our menu. (Ed. Note: These are Joe’s words, not ours, but we share the enthusiasm!)

These points and coupons are available on the APP – if you do not want another app on your phone, or you simply prefer to order through a browser, you can do that too (from the menu page I linked to above.) But, we must say, to reap the full rewards of the program, you would be better served ordering through the app itself.

The biggest challenge facing us when we first shut down was managing to go orders with only one phone line and a small staff (even if we installed another phone line, I would have to hire someone else to come in and actually answer the phone.) Ordering online has such benefits for customer and staff it really is a win-win.

When we opened, we wanted to create an atmosphere, an environment conducive to congreagating and hosting events. This has obviously been turned on its head. Yet, the community has still taken care of the Root and Press Family, and Nicole and I, as well as the staff, cannot thank you enough!

TO DOWNLOAD THE APP:  

Click here or text “coffee” to 474747.

Posted in General Blog

One Year Birthday Celebration!

Hi blog followers! We are writing this blog to let you know of some promotions available on our social media. It is our one year anniversary, and although we would obviously rather be down the shop to celebrate, we are on the sidelines for another week or so. We will be re-opening the shop for takeout and curbside pick-up in the next week or so (pending Gov. Baker’s announcements tomorrow.) To our customers and book blog followers, we just want to say thank you for all your support. We also want to you know we have spent the past few weeks doing everything we can to make the store better (we will announce a lot this week!) and more accessible during the next few months.

As for our on year celebration, we have posted a promotion across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you are not on social media, you can also play along by contacting us through commenting here, email or on the “Contact” page above.

Here was the Facebook Post:

Monday (5/18) marks our one year anniversary of opening – and it is bittersweet. We are so thankful for the customers/staff who made this possible, yet we must admit it doesn’t feel quite like the celebration we imagined. Still, this does not mean we can’t have a good time.

For the next days 5 days on FB, Instagram, Twitter and our blog, we will be promoting a way for you to support our store as we prepare to relaunch and to give back to you, our supportive customers. For every day and every way you support us, we will enter you in a contest to win gift certificates, tee-shirts, books, and food/or drinks.

For today, Monday, we ask that you review us on Google, Yelp, Facebook, or any other platform. For each site you review us on, we will enter you once into our contest.

Simply reply here if you submit a review! (We do the honor system!) If you have already reviewed us, let us know and we will still enter you in the contest!

Prizes: Grand Prize $50 GC + free book + tee-shirt
Runner-Up Prize $25 GC + free book + tee-shirt
Third Prize – $25 GC + tee-shirt
5 Winners = $10 GC + tee-shirt
Thanks, and we hope you are hanging in there!

Posted in Book Review Longreads Vietnam

The Vietnam War Remembered Part I: Ho by David Halberstam

Note: As we come up on the 50th Anniversary of the Pentagon Papers, and with the recent release of the Afghanistan Papers, we felt it was timely to look back at the conflict in Vietnam. Over the next month, I am doing an examination of several Vietnam-era historical works that examine both sides of the conflict. Part I will be the biography Ho by David Halberstam, a deep-dive into understanding the nationalist movement of Vietnam. Part II will be If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O’Brien, one of the seminal works of the American combat experience in the war. Part III will be They March Into Sunlight by David Maraniss, a look at the domestic turmoil the war on the ground caused at The University of Wisconsin-Madison in October 1967. Part IV will be Patriots by Christian Appy, a reflection of the war by those who fought on both sides.

No western work of the Vietnamese independence movement encapsulates the contradiction in thought between the West and the Vietnamese more aptly than David Halberstam’s Ho. Halberstam, writing the original publication of Ho as the war unfolded in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, was constrained by a limited access to materials historians would later have at their disposal. Still, the work was surprisingly adept for its time at assessing the true causes of Vietnamese success in their fight for independence. Halberstam discards the common western modus operandi of labeling wars (after World War II) as fights against communism and more aptly describing them, at least from the perspective of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, as a struggle for the true autonomy of his people. Conflict to achieve self-government had not been a foreign idea to the Vietnamese, as centuries of fighting to resist Chinese subordination had predisposed the population towards fighting for their mere survival. The Vietnamese leadership of the era would agree, notably military commander Vo Nguyen Giap, who would later remark that “we won the war because we would rather die than live in slavery.”1Christian G. Appy, Patriots (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 43. At the core of Ho’s effectiveness in leading the Vietnamese people was his ability to harness their nationalistic impulses to a common cause focused on rebuffing even the most powerful military nation on the planet. Uncle Ho, as he came to be called, was able to resonate with his own countrymen because his “goals have always been his people’s goals”, an aspiration to control their own fate without foreign intervention.2David Halberstam, Ho (New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007), 117.

After the 1954 fall of Dien Bien Phu ensured Vietnamese victory over their French colonial masters, the western world would have been hard-pressed to not notice the primitive and unembellished nature of the victors compared to the more advanced and adorned military culture of the losers. It was counter-intuitive to generations of westerners that such a backward people would be able to defeat one of the most advanced nations in the world, throwing off a colonial yoke that had existed for almost one hundred years in less than a decade time. What the French government failed to realize at the time, and the succeeding generation of Americans would also fail to grasp in the 1950’s and 1960’s, was that the true power of the Vietnamese came not in elegantly clad soldiers or with advanced weaponry on the battlefield. Instead, their power manifested from nationalistic impulses in their hearts and the yearning to eradicate foreign oppression in their own land after generations of foreign meddling. Most compellingly, they succeeded because Ho dedicated his life to becoming a “living embodiment to his own people…of their revolution.3Halberstam, 12.

Ho was born amid the entrenchment of French colonial power in the region of Indochina. The idea behind the imperialistic goals of nations in the era was to increase power and prestige through the accumulation of foreign lands ultimately governed from the European capital cities. In 1884 Prime Minister Jules Ferry of France justified the French colonial empire by admitting that the “higher races have a right over the lower races…a duty to civilize the inferior races.”4Robert J. McMahon, Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.) As one can infer, the opinion of Vietnamese culture from Paris was not flattering. Their abuses spread to the economic sector, where low wages, plundered lands, heavy taxes, and public loans “reduced us (the Vietnamese) to wretchedness.”5McMahon, 21.

Ho was born in this time when one had to acclimate to the French style to attain limited success, and when those who did not were usually left destitute in its wake. His family did not take to the diminishment of Vietnamese sovereignty and they would lead revolutionary lives throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The future Vietnamese leader was blessed with the good fortune to travel abroad and he often went to places that had drastic influences on his political thought. He developed, according to Halberstam, a “quiet admiration for the best of westerners and their traditions” but was also exposed to the poor slums of Paris, a contradiction of the France portrayed in his own homeland.6Halberstam, 23. His ideas of freedom, sovereignty, democracy, and technological advancement were all hardened and his visit laid the foundations to turn “an angry patriot into a modern revolutionary.7Halberstam, 24. He was sure to note that although Indochina was a French possession, they had “neither freedom of the press nor freedom of speech….freedom of assembly and freedom of association do not exist,” as they would in Paris, Lyon, or Marseilles.8McMahon, 20. As the Treaty of Versailles was being adopted after World War I and the President of the United States Woodrow Wilson advocated for his Fourteen-Point Plan, Ho proposed his own Eight-Point Plan asking for representation in the French Parliament, freedom of the press, and equal rights, among other measures. Although he was dismissed in France, his reputation grew in his homeland.

Moving to Russia in 1923, Ho admitted being drawn to Lenin before he even read his work; his ability to liberate his compatriots was highly appealing to Ho. Eventually he felt communism was the best system to aid the “revolution of the oppressed nations and the exploited working class.”9McMahon, 21. His introduction to communism, more than any other early occurrence, helped him transition from a thinker to a revolutionary, a theorist to an activist. Ho would often be at odds with the Stalinist of communism emanating across the globe from Moscow. For instance, Ho would never embrace the realpolitik of the USSR in dealing with colonial powers such as France under the Popular Front in the 1930’s, nor would he ever succumb to any urge to purge his people or party like Uncle Joe Stalin during the same era. However, he would grow to feel that his form of communism provided his best chance of advancing the nationalist cause of his nation. As Halberstam succinctly put, Ho was “part Gandhi, part Lenin, all Vietnamese.”10Halberstam, 12.

However, there were antecedents for Vietnamese nationalism that would become, at least in Ho’s mind, hindrances to this new movement.  For instance, Ho’s father’s friend, Phan Boi Chau, was one of the most respected and revered early voices for the nationalist movement, although many of Chau’s reforms would seem antiquated by the time Ho began to take his revolutionary practices from theory to reality. Chau’s methods, honed before the dawn of the 20th century, seemed stale for Ho’s liking, a “relic of the past” compared to Ho’s modern Marxist agenda.11Halberstam, 44 Ho would eventually out Chau to French authorities while both were in Canton in the mid-1920’s, leading to the latter’s arrest and imprisonment. To Ho, removing Chau from the convoluted Vietnamese nationalist movement would consolidate Vietnamese peasants under his guidance. Halberstam, who earlier praises Ho for his ability to remain “uncorrupted in a corrupt world”, avoids criticizing Ho for his actions against Chau and other competing nationalist groups, either due to a bias in favor of Ho or an inability to reconcile iniquitous acts with the greater narrative of an altruistic patriot. Halberstam attempts to justify the political maneuver by pointing out that Chau was eventually pardoned of wrongdoing and hinting that his removal helped the revolutionary cause because many young Vietnamese had become weary of the “vagueness and softness of Chau’s policies.”12Halberstam 13, 44-50.

Regardless of a moral justification for Ho’s treatment of Chau, Ho’s belief in the communist system further fostered his ability to organize effectively. As the Second World War commenced, he founded a permanent nationalist settlement in Vietnam, called Pac Bo, in the mountainous Cao Bang region in the winter of 1940. The next year he would form the Vietminh, the organization that would lead the way in fighting the French and Americans for the majority of the next three decades. He recognized that there would be a vacuum in Vietnam after the war, and the void would be filled by “the best-organized and best-disciplined indigenous force.”13Halberstam,61. Ho was right: after the war France was severely weakened and did not have near the control in possessed before the fall of Indochina in 1940.

Other nationalist groups existed during the period, but they did not have near the organization skills or tenacity for the moment that Ho possessed. France unknowingly aided Ho indirectly by removing overly-ambtious rival groups from power, those that were too premature in their attacks against a relatively stronger France in the 1930’s. In addition, other Vietnamese group, such as the Dai Vet, were too upper-class to acquire a broad base of support. These groups often wanted to remain in the upper echelon of society without giving any gained benefits to the common Vietnamese citizen, an independent and sovereign nation yet featuring a status-quo social structure. They were less forward-thinking and more reactionary and because of their haste, by post-World War II, only the Vietminh had any sort of military presence in the country. Expectedly, after the war, the Vietminh were able to establish power by neutralizing or eliminating rival nationalists and taking over key posts in Vietnamese political structures.

Ho led the Vietminh effectively because he was “brilliantly organized…to capture the seething nationalism of Vietnam.”14Halberstam 63. Halberstam postulates that it was his ability to walk among his own people and identify with their causes that led to his success in harnessing the nationalistic spirit. Even communism dared not approach the sanctity of nationhood; Ho often downplayed the communist role so people did not associate the movement with any outside influences from Moscow or newly-organized communist Beijing. Despite this outward strategy of ambivalence, Ho sent various associates to military academies in China and the USSR in the 1930’s anticipating armed hostilities in the future.

The bomb crater at A1 Hill, Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam

The future of Vietnam, as for all nations, was changed immediately following World War II. In the month after the Japanese surrender, Ho declared Vietnam independent, using words and prose similar to both the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Although the document did not guarantee the Vietnamese any sovereignty, it provided Ho a chance to be the face in the country’s negotiations with France, an “arbiter of Vietnamese nationalism.”15Halberstam, 82. An agreement between the two sides in March 1946 agreed to a united Vietnam under French rule with French military presence. Although the agreement was far from what Ho wanted, it provided the nation with some notion of relief from outright oppression. Still, the position of the French after the war was immovable. The restoration of pre-war France in Indochina was a serious goal for their politicians.

Ho felt these circumstances drastically favored the Vietnamese. Indochina cost France more than it was worth and Ho felt that if he could use the Vietminh to wage long, punitive wars against the French they would eventually be worn down. His guerrilla war would consist of attacking with strength, overwhelming the opponent when odds were in the favor of the Vietnamese, acquiring strength and weaponry as the conflict wore on. Although casualties would be high, Ho’s troops were willing to wage a total war against their overlords. While France tried to control territory and economic centers, the Vietminh sought to control the minds and souls of their population.

France’s “war of vanity and pride” against Vietnam’s “war of survival” resulted in a war of attrition that France would be destined to lose. The disregard for territory and a lack of emphasis on fixed military engagements by Ho turned the military inclinations of old guard in France on its head. The Giap-led revolutionary warfare – political, psychological, and of course military, presented the French with a foe they could only beat if they became fractured. The leadership of Ho ensured this would not occur. Ho is comparable in many ways to Winston Churchill when the British Isles were under attack from a seemingly insurmountable Nazi assault. He advocated for a united movement that “will not pause and…will die of exhaustion and loss of blood,” an outlook that was shocking to the already war-weary French. This led to the military disaster at Dien Bien Phu that should have guaranteed Vietnamese independence.

Although Ho did not advance communism as the calling-card of the revolution, leery politicians in the United States saw the events unfolding in Vietnam as severe threats to their policy of containment of the ideology. Ho had once been “optimistic about American help”, even working with the American intelligence community in World War II.16Appy, 37. However, circumstances in America had changed profoundly, as American politicians were focused on who lost China to communism. For American diplomats and politicians, witnessing another nation falling to the communist bloc would be a dire blow to American interests in the region This was the era when American politics were dominated by the domino theory, and any the emergence of any new communist nation further escalated fears of widespread capitalistic collapse. Instead of allowing Ho to govern as the leader of the free Vietnamese, delegates at the Geneva Conference in 1954 decided to split the nation into two, north and south, and hold elections in two years. These elections would never take place.

The leader that would eventually lead the south immediately after the Geneva Accords was Ngo Dinh Diem. It was theorized that constitutional checks on Diem’s power would weaken his ability to govern effectively; therefore, Diem led a virtual police state with little domestic allies. Diem represented the old regime, even having French corporals serve in his military. As Ho’s modern revolutionary state was growing in the north, Diem’s “feudal, anachronistic” government was fracturing in the south as purges were increasing in both severity and frequency.17Halberstam, 109. The appointment of Diem pleased Ho as he recognized that Diem’s dependence on foreign aid would alienate him with Vietnamese nationalists, perpetuating his reliance on American support and munitions until eventual defeat.

 Increasing American aid and involvement in Vietnam throughout the early 1960’s was a direct function of the spiraling dysfunction of the Diem regime. In 1962 the United States gave weapons and radio equipment to the Diem regime but the ineffectiveness of the regime on the ground led to its procurement by Vietminh (which came to be known as Viet Cong) forces. In 1963, The Diem government collapsed and Diem was assassinated. The following year the southern Vietnamese resistance was eliminated and the United States had to make the choice whether to abandon their attempts to rid the nation of communist influences or continue on a path of escalation. By February 1965, the United States was bombing the North Vietnamese.

 As in the previous war, Ho’s popularity was the Viet Cong’s, perhaps even more so in juxtaposition with the government installed in the South. Ho and Giap advanced a similar strategy that had worked against the French, advocating a war of attrition, frustrating the Americans, wearing them out, bogging them down, and eventually causing them to capitulate. The Americans had a more powerful air force than the French, causing the Vietminh to fight closer to cities and American lines, hoping to mitigate the advantages in aerial superiority. Ho refused to provide a target for which the Americans to aim, an achievable goal that they could point to as progress, or an achievable objective upon which to pin victory. Without these ends, and considering “that which is not a total success in Indochina will be a total failure,” revisionist history would point to an inevitable American disappointment.18Halberstam, 114.

Statue of Uncle Ho in front of City Hall in Ho Chi Minh City

Notwithstanding this pessimistic outlook, the government of the United States attempted to report major advances in the war throughout 1967, maintaining that the Vietnamese, not the Americans, were winning the war. By February 1968, however, this mirage had evaporated. The Tet Offensive, a Viet Cong military advance that attacked forces all over Vietnam, “punctured overnight the official American illusion of an exhausted enemy and imminent American victory.”19Halberstam, 115. The campaign cast a long shadow on all of the decisions to escalate US involvement made by American Presidents going back to Dwight Eisenhower, as each subsequent head of state “acted as if they were trapped by the history they inherited.”20Appy, 35. Contrarily, Ho refused to accept the history of his nation as a dependent state, rebuffed colonialist desires, and spurned the status quo by embracing ideas absorbed through the very culture of the nations he sought to depose. While Americans pointed towards his communist tendencies for justifications for war, Ho used the ideology to seek the very autonomy and sovereignty that the founders of America had eulogized for centuries, evidencing a paradox between American foreign policy in the latter half of the 20th century and the country’s’ foundations two centuries earlier. Although Halberstam indicates there were two Ho’s, the “Gandhi-side”and the less peaceful communist military leader, it is clear that the personalities were cooperative and inseparable: that the nationalist was impotent without the organizing principles of the communist, and the communist aimless without the ideals and goals of the nationalist.

This book is available for order through Root and Press (email rootandpress.@gmail.com) or order online – we are an affiliate of bookshop.org and have a virtual shelf featuring the books we review here.

Posted in Book Review

Book Review: Notes From an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell

What do Cold War Bunkers in South Dakota, real estate transactions in New Zealand, Elon Musk at a conference in LA, the Chernobyl wasteland, and a wilderness retreat in Scotland all have in common? For Mark O’Connell in Notes From an Apocalypse, all these places are at the center of how humans are handling anxieties about an increasingly inhospitable earth. Whether it be through ecological collapse, asteroid impact, nuclear war, a pandemic, or some other means, there are thousands of people preparing for the worst in a myriad of ways. (Note: The book was written and published before the COVID-19 Pandemic.)

O’Connell investigates his own anxieties vis-à-vis others, tantalizingly intrigued by those around him who share his anxieties but not his despondency . The author weaves together what read like distinct articles, and he unites them under one umbrella by utilizing his own experiences and, most touchingly, his thoughts on the morality of having children in a world that is doomed. Although the end of the world could come from any factor or more listed above, the main focus of his personal narratives is the damage humans have done to the planet. O’Connell’s morose nature stems from the complexity of the problem and his generations abdication of responsibility in solving it. Through these viewpoints of end-of-the-world anxieties and possibilities, O’Connell captures “the apocalyptic tenor of our time.”

First, the author visits preppers and South Dakota Bunkers where he finds a cross-section of manliness and power, measured by a consumerism that O’Connell ironically notes brings this future ever-closer. Interestingly, he discovers these nightmare scenarios often seem to be the fantasy of some preppers, as apocalypse would validate their foresight and superior preparations, giving them a leg up in whatever world they conjure to be the future. Contrary to O’Connell’s own instincts, these people believe a post-apocalyptic world will be an us-vs.-them hellscape, anti-city, anti-minority, and anti-community. These men (the author notes they always seem to be men) romanticize the prospects of going-it alone, hoping to reclaim a time of “feudal paternalism” and an old order that was seemingly banished long ago. While he displays many different vantage points from which to consider cataclysmic world events, he often generalizes and shortchanges preppers in a condescending manner, a tone that came off as unwarranted as I read the book under worldwide quarantine. Although many of the people he met in the book seemed to be fit his typecast of a roughneck, feminist-fearing rebel, it must be noted these meetings are entirely anecdotal and these are arbitrary assertions.

Far from underground bunkers in the middle of nowhere, O’Connell also follows the more luxurious and tech-savvy of preppers who seek to replicate their life of comfort while hiding from the depravity of the end. Some, like controversial techie Peter Thiel, hope to find a paradise relatively removed from the most uncomfortable of ecological disaster zones. New Zealand, an island-nation, seems to be the paradise du jour in apocalyptic prepper circles, and many have bought significant portions of real estate on the island. The New Zealand government has sought to restrict outsider access to the island to ward off speculative buyers, yet its seems like many can slip through by simply applying for citizenship online.

Contrarily, if the earth is due to completely collapse, many look not for an island, or in the ground, but to a new planet altogether. As Elon Musk and his SpaceX project can attest to, besides the obvious capitalistic exploits, much of the impetus behind the privatization of space travel involves colonizing Mars for apocalyptic “insurance.”. The old adage of “not putting all your eggs in one basket” seems to be the driving force here and a Plan-B is not just desirable, but necessary. To underscore his point, the author visits the wasteland of Chernobyl, a most stark reminder of what this planet can look like without humanity to interfere. The plans of these technocrats, however, do not seem to be the last ditch efforts of space settlers for the sake of civilization. Rather, these would-be explorers have grand designs of rebuilding a society largely free from standard government, taxation, and public funds. Despite their promise, a rueful O’Connell notes that these techno-societies seem to put more money and energy into creating a new world than saving the old.

Fresh off these demoralizing visits to view people prepare for the end of humanity as we know it, O’Connell goes on a solo wilderness retreat in Scotland to try and reconnect with nature. The author notes this sort of retreat is built from traditions in countless cultures, particularly indigenous and eastern philosophies, where man is one with and dependent on nature. This runs in stark opposition to many western traditions, especially Christianity, where traditional views during  colonization and the Industrial Revolution held than man was meant to be a master over nature. In a dialogue that brings to mind Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet, O’Connell notes that all these prepper strategies continue to bend nature to the will of man and save humanity through further technological solutions. In comparison, he asks, what if we just tried to save what we already have?

Through all these illuminating chapters, a persistent undercurrent ties in to every chapter: his own growth as a father. In between trips to bomb shelters and Chernobyl, the author keeps the book poignantly personal – we are filled with readings of the Lorax to his son, childhood nightmares, and a rueful sorrow this generation has laid such dire problems at the feet of its children. Noting the constant bickering and lack of progress this generation has had, O’Connell asks “Is it possible to be terrified and bored at the same time?” We can see the complacency in the author himself as he freely admits the process of writing the book took him on airplanes around the world. Further, he offers little in the way of guidance of what to do today. Still, the concluding chapters are an ode to hope, a completely desperate, yet absolutely necessary, leap of faith that the next generation will be able to rectify the issues their predecessors created.