Falter – Book Review

We don’t have to falter.

In his latest book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Bill McKibben is asking us to get real, get to work, and to have hope.

As soon as I spotted Falter on the bookshelf at a Barnes & Noble in downtown San Luis Obispo, CA, I grabbed two copies and headed to the checkout counter without even looking at the table of contents or reading the book jacket.

One copy was for me and the other one was destined to become a raffle prize at the SLO Climate Coalition event my spouse and I attended later that evening.

At the time, I was already reading two books in preparation for a post called Environmental Impact of Sugar, so when we got home I put Falter on a bookcase shelf in the living room.

Book Review

A few weeks ago, I took Falter off the shelf to read it.

After reading the book jacket, I thought “Hmm…This seems rather dismal.” Then I flipped to the table of contents and saw that the book begins with a prologue entitled “An Opening Note on Hope.” So, I read that part.

“A writer doesn’t owe a reader hope—the only obligation is honesty—but I want those who pick up this volume to know that its author lives in a state of engagement, not despair. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered writing what follows.”

Okay, now I was willing to dive in.

Falter Book Cover

Readers, in this book you will learn about and explore the climate crisis, genetic engineering, and artificial intelligence.

How do these three topics interconnect? Good question. Read the book.

Here are a few highlights.

Part One: The Size of the Board

This first section will give you a good sense of how the climate crisis is unfolding, not in some distant time, but now. You will also get a synopsis of how we got to this point.

“Climate change has become such a familiar term that we tend to read past it—it’s part of our mental furniture, like urban sprawl or gun violence. So, let’s remember exactly what we’ve been up to, because it should fill us with awe; it’s by far the biggest thing humans have ever done.”

On page 43-45, McKibben quotes parts of a poem by climate activists and poets Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner (Marshall Islands) and Aka Niviana (Greenland). I wanted to read the whole poem so I searched on the Internet and found this video. It is beautiful and heartrending speaking to the very essence of what is at stake.

Part Two: Leverage

Money and power provide leverage. This part of the book puts that maxim into the context of the climate crisis.

“The first thing to say is that current levels of inequality are almost beyond belief…The world’s eight richest men possess more wealth than the bottom half of humanity.”

McKibben devotes a fair amount of page real estate to Ayn Rand and her 1957 book Atlas Shrugged. He suggests that this book is required reading for the people who control the money and power in our country and around the world.

I was intrigued so I checked the book out of my local library. If you are interested in what I thought about that book, read the note at the end of the post.

Part Three: The Name of the Game

Genetic engineering and artificial intelligence enter the dialogue at this point. Here you will get a good overview of the topic as well as McKibben’s opinions.

“For our game, the real power of CRISPR comes with the ability to change people.” (CRISPR is a genetic engineering technology)

Part Four: An Outside Chance

Hope returns to the narrative in this section. McKibben points out that we already have the technologies and tools we need to address the climate crisis, like solar panels and nonviolent movements.

“Even in what seems like the very clinical world of environmentalism, mounds of research and data aren’t ultimately decisive: the fight over climate change is ultimately not an argument about infrared absorption in the atmosphere, but about power and money and justice. Given that industry has most of that money and hence most of that power, it usually wins—unless, of course, a movement arises, one capable of changing hearts as well as minds.”

The Bottom Line

Thirty years ago, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature which is often credited as being the first book about climate change intended for the general public. Since then, he has published 17 more books including Oil and Honey, Eaarth, and Radio Free Vermont (a delightful fiction book). McKibben is a prolific journalist, the co-founder of 350.org, and scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

McKibben’s choice to frame the discussion in Falter using game language and concepts seemed kind of weird to me but somehow it works. He writes as if he is having a conversation with you and explains technical stuff in a way I think many people could understand. I like that. I think it makes his work accessible to a wide audience.

I recommend Falter to any human wanting to continue playing the human game and who wants to protect the game board for their children, grandchildren, and the people who come after them.

A Note about Atlas Shrugged

I wanted to read Atlas Shrugged because I feel it is important to try to understand where people are coming from, especially people with different perspectives and beliefs than me. I also enjoy debate (as long it is friendly).

In short Atlas Shrugged is a fiction book written as a sort of treatise on libertarianism taken to the nth degree.

I slogged away until I got to page 291 (of more than 1,200 pages) and then I took the book back to the library. The subject matter was not a problem for me but the book is so poorly written I just could not go on.

Featured Image at Top: A hand flipping wooden cubes from the word “change” to “chance – photo credit iStock/marchmeena29.

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Climate: A New Story – Book Review

Open your mind, or not.

This may sound strange but if you are weary of reading books about climate change, Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisenstein could be just the book for you.

At the beginning of January, I was definitely not interested in reading yet another book about climate change, when I spotted an article in the Yes! Media newsletter that arrives in my email inbox on Friday afternoons.

“Threats of global catastrophe won’t move people to action. Only the heart can inspire zeal.”

That text just below the article entitled, Why the Climate Change Message Isn’t Working caught my attention. I thought, “Yes, I totally agree.” The article contained an excerpt from Climate: A New Story.

My Copy of Climate A New Story Bristling with Sticky Flags

I was intrigued so I bought the book. It is now bristling with colored sticky flags (I reuse them), signaling that I found many interesting and thought-provoking passages worth marking for review and discussion.

Book Review

Reading Climate: A New Story requires a little bit of preparation. First, make sure you have some sticky flags, scraps of paper, or a highlighter on hand because trust me; there will be passages you will want to return to later. Second, to get the most out of your reading experience I recommend leaving your personal climate change baggage behind and approaching the book with an open mind.

The book contains twelve main chapters with titles like “A Crisis of Being,” “Beyond Climate Fundamentalism,” “A Bargain with the Devil,” “An Affair of the Heart,” and “Bridge to a Living World.”

I was riveted from the first chapter. Here is a taste of what you will be reading.

Chapter 1 – A Crisis of Being

This chapter is worth reading twice because it forms the basis for the balance of the book. For me, concepts like the story of separation and interbeing were new, the concept of they was not. Although I laughed when Eisenstein described the possible concerns of a fracking executive, he makes a good point that they are people, too.

Environmentalists may not like the part where Eisenstein asks us, meaning everyone on the planet, to give up fighting. After all, fighting, stopping, and banning things are major components of the current environmental movement. I know because I have been a willing participant.

“We call arguments “rational” when they appeal to self-interest. This book will argue that rational reasons are not enough; that the ecological crisis is asking for a revolution of love.”

Chapter 2 – Beyond Climate Fundamentalism

The first page of this chapter contains a hilarious, but probably sadly true, hypothetical exchange between Eisenstein and a prominent environmentalist proselytizing that addressing climate change is the only thing that matters.

“While this book is focused on the realm of ecological healing, it disengages from the rhetoric of “Nothing else is important compared to this. That’s the rhetoric that has alienated so many working-class people and minorities from environmentalism because it carries a patronizing message of “We know better than you do what you should be caring about.”

He goes on to explain why he believes that social healing and ecological healing are the same work and that neither can succeed without the other.

Chapter 3 – The Climate Spectrum and Beyond.

This chapter is all about framing the so-called climate debate and provides a new term “climate derangement,” which I think is much more descriptive than climate change or global warming.

I will leave you here with my favorite quote from “Chapter 8 – A Bargain with Devil”.

“By appealing to self-interest and fear we strengthen the habits of self-interest and fear, which, let’s face it, usually conspire to destroy the planet not save it. We will never increase the amount of care in the world by appealing to self-interest.

The Bottom Line

After graduating from Yale University with a degree in mathematics and philosophy, Charles Eisenstein moved to Taiwan, learned a new language, and spent the next ten years as a Chinese-English translator. This experience and others influenced the later direction of his life. Now, he is a writer, a speaker, and a podcaster focusing on civilization, consciousness, money, and human cultural evolution.

While I was reading Climate: A New Story, I often found myself wanting to jump up and go tell someone in my family about what I had just read. I showed some restraint by saving up tidbits and sharing them at the dinner table.

Generally, I thought that Climate: A New Story was a readable book but occasionally Eisenstein drifted off using language that seemed like he was more interested in hearing his own voice than making his ideas accessible to the reader. When that happened, I either read those parts again or skipped over them.

Climate: A New Story is about way more than climate. Everyone should read this book. Readers will come away with their own thoughts but I doubt anyone will be unmoved. I especially recommend this book to my fellow environmentalists because we need to broaden our horizons.

“Not-in-my-backyard thinking, when universalized to an empowered citizenry, becomes not-in-anyone’s-backyard.

Featured Image at Top: A majestic sunrise over the mountains – photo credit iStock/Alex Sava.

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