by David QuammenI promised a second review / rant about people I hate.This is it.This time it's Smug Environmentalists.The hate will manifest as the review goes on.
Natural Acts is a collection of essays, which mostly appeared originally in the authors column in "Outside" magazine.The essays mostly look at a particular question that the author thought of and presents a possible answer to the question.Such as, what is the benefit of mosquitos?Or why do bats have such a bad reputation / people are sofearful of them / cause for such sensationalist fear throughout history?The first question is answered by saying that mosquitos are good because they have kept humans from developing certain portions of the world as thoroughlyas they might if swarms of the critters and the malaria they carry weren't present.The second, is that there is just an irrational fear towards them and in reality bats are pretty low on the list of critters that ever harm people.
The essay about bats starts off with an interesting historical anecdote.Apparently some dude in the early stages of World War 2 had the insane idea that bats could be forced into hibernation by freezing them, and then attaching little napalm bombs to them, then they would be thawed and dropped from planes over Japan and strategic firestorms would ensue.He pushed this idea to some influential people and a couple of million dollars went to the development of his idea.Using bats that live in the millions in caves in the South West, a test was made. Some of the bats died from the freezing.More of the bats could not fly with the little packets of napalm attached to them and just fell to the ground and a few were able to do what was hoped.In a short sighted (if you don't call the whole idea short sighted) blunder the bats that did survive and fly to carry out the test ended up setting fire to army buildings and a general's car.The general whose car was firebombed pulled the plug on operation bat napalm.
The book is filled with little anecdotes like this, strange little facts from the history of the natural world,and when the author stays to writing puzzling little why questions or oddities from history he is quite enjoyable.Unfortunately his own voice comes through too often, more and more actually as the essays go on.Sort of like certain goodreads reviewers who started off just writing maybe interesting reviews and over time started thinking that people really want to read about their personal lives, their grievances, rants and why they don't like certain types of environmentalists.
As the book went on I kept getting the feeling that David Quammen probably believes that his own shit doesn't stink.Maybe I should have known that eventually me and him weren't going to get along when he started a very interesting early essay on the eyes of the Octopus with this line, "In Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon's great steaming slag heap of a novel...." and in the rest of the first paragraph gets in a few more jabs on Pynchon.One doesn't need to love Pynchon, but this was my first bristling feeling from the author.
I don't really know anything about Quammen except what he chooses to tell about himself.Some of what follows is pure conjecture on my part and if it's unfair to the author than I'm sorry, I'm probably just projecting how people who I'm reminded of have annoyed me in the past.
He's an outdoorsy type, he does outdoors things and he made a living off of traveling and writing about outdoors things.For example one of the things he mentions in a couple of essays is how much he enjoys skiing.That's fine, I enjoyed skiing when I did it years and years ago and I can see how someone would want to pursue this activity.I don't know where he skies in Montana, but I'm guessing at ski slopes where people generally do that sort of thing.That's fine and good, right?Yeah, except that he attacks the destructiveness of ski slopes in Vermont and ridicules their impact on the environment.It's just a small example he gives in his book of a pretty common theme about how awful it is that people are destroying the environment and constantly decreasing the amount of natural habitat for animals. And it's also part of the unsaid theme that I took, that I'm allowed to do these things but if too many other people do them it is bad but I'm allowed to do it.
As I said I could be just projecting but I was reminded too much of fucking granola types in college who were self-righteous assholes because they did things like rock-climbing and skiing as if their own brand of amusement was really a hundred percent 'good for the environment' with all the consumer products needed to take part in these activities and the amount of gas needed to drive a hundred miles out into nature to partake in them. Our first world privileged lifestyle is put under increasing attack in these pages (as it should be, and he does admit to being a part of it) but he also appears to place himself as being outside of being part of the problem.He's a privileged one who can fly to exotic locales, who can live in the relative wilderness of Montana and involve himself in play activities like kayaking, fishing and skiing, and make a living off of having his words printed on to dead trees.He's lucky and from his position he likes to point out how others are fucking things up.
I don't blame him for being able to do these things or getting to live where he does, but as I kept reading this book I kept feeling like I was spending time with some 'friends' from my past who always had awful things to say about me having a job and not being 'free' like they were but who never seemed to have a problem with me driving them around or getting them coffee or giving them money for smokes that came from the menial and awful jobs I had at the time.
I started to wonder what essays would read like if instead of asking questions about the good of mosquitos or about the peculiar qualities of intelligent play in crows one asked about the environmental impact of manufacturing fiberglass skis and fishing poles, or the how much harm to the natural habitat of an area that has a factory that produces pink plastic flamingos, even if they are only purchased by a consumer for ironical purposes.
I'm harking on the negative, which is unfair.I really enjoyed the first two thirds of this book.And if I had an original copy of the book, and not the revised 2008 edition with an additional 70 pages or so of essays I'd have liked it even more than I did.The preaching really takes off in those last pages, and there is plenty to be angry about in the world but I think criticism needs to be levied by realizing that you yourself might be part of the problem too.Quammen I'm sure realizes this, and is aware of his privileged position, and that he lives a life that if everyone lived the same life would seriously fuck up nature, but its in the tone he takes that makes me want to see him stop pointing the finger at everyone else and take on some of the blame himself.
|eBook format||Paperback, (torrent)|
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|Book rating||4.03 (757 votes)