Horizon – Book Review

You are going on a journey.

Horizon by Barry Lopez will make you hit the pause button on your busy life to ponder what it means to be a human being living on amazing planet Earth.

I believe this is a good thing.

When you give yourself permission to step away from your overbooked calendar and endless to-do list, you give yourself a gift. You make space in your mind to wonder at the world, contemplate what and who is really important to you, and determine what you are willing to do to protect it and them.

That is what this book is about for me. You may find something else that resonates with you. I doubt anyone reading it will walk away untouched.

Book Review

Before you settle into a comfortable chair and crack open Horizon, you should be aware that you are about to become a time traveler. Proper clothing and a spirit of adventure are essential as you will be accompanying Lopez on excursions into the past at some of the most remote places on Earth.

Horizon is a memoir, travel diary, and a treatise on humanity. Bits of history and geography reside alongside commentary about the state of the world and the people who occupy it.

Even readers with a good grasp of vocabulary will probably find themselves looking up at least a few words.

At the beginning of Horizon, Lopez gives readers a brief overview of his personal history and explains why he wrote the book.

Then you will head off to the first of six destinations spanning the globe.

Horizon Book Cover
  • Cape Foulweather, Oregon
  • Skraeling Island, Canada
  • Puerto Ayora, Galápagos Islands, Eastern Equatorial Pacific
  • Jackal Camp, Kenya, Eastern Equatorial Africa
  • Port Arthur to Botany Bay, Australia
  • Graves Nunataks, Antarctica to Port Famine Road, Chile

Lopez uses these locations as backdrops for recounting his own explorations as well as those of famous and not famous people of the past and present. His descriptions of these places are breathtaking making you feel as if you are there. Underlying the geography, flora, fauna, weather, and history of these regions is a running commentary on humanity.

You will find awe and grief and hope among the pages of Horizon.

Lopez does not shy away from making eloquent yet blunt statements about the state of the world as he observes it. Some people may not want to read these words but for me, they speak the truth.

“I read daily about the many threats to human life—chemical, political, biological, and economic. Much of this trouble, I believe, has been caused by the determination of some to define a human cultural world apart from the nonhuman world, or by people’s attempts to overrun, streamline, or dismiss that world as simply a warehouse for materials, or mere scenery.”

He also embraces all of humanity and delivers messages that I believe are universal.

“It has long seemed to me that what most of us are looking for is the opportunity to express, without embarrassment or judgment or retaliation, our capacity to love.”

The Bottom Line

Barry Lopez is an adventurer, artist, and author. Judging by the opportunities he receives to visit far-flung places to work alongside archaeologists, biologists, and other scientists, he must know an inordinate number of people and be an adequate field researcher who possesses excellent camping skills.

He has traveled extensively around the globe sharing his observations of the non-human natural world as well as the people who inhabit it now, did in the past, or may in the future.

In the beginning, reading Horizon was kind of a chaotic experience. It seemed as if one minute Lopez was describing a patch of land on the Oregon Coast, then he would switch to talking about Captain James Cook’s attempt to land there hundreds of years ago, and the next moment he would be discussing the avariciousness of humans.

Then I realized that I liked this. It was as if I was accompanying Lopez on his travels and having a conversation (all be it one-sided) with him that went on for 512 pages.

I paused often to mark passages with sticky flags or to form my own response to something he had just said. Sometimes I would bring topics to the dinner table to discuss with my family so in a way they were on the journey, too.

All through the book, Lopez acknowledges that each person perceives places, people, and information in their own way. He throws his observations out there and then steps back allowing you to feel and think for yourself.

Horizon is worth the time it will take you to read it.

“We are the darkness, as we are, too, the light.”

Featured Image at Top: View of Cape Foulweather from the Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint on the Oregon coast – photo credit MightyFree/Wikipedia.

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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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