Category Archives: Book reviews

Rainforest by Tony Juniper – a review

‘Rainforest dispatches from Earth’s most vital frontlines.’ By Tony Juniper. Profile Books, London. 448pp.  978-1781256367

         

Rainforests are Tony Juniper’s speciality and one of his previous books that I especially liked was ‘Spix’s Macaw’ (2002). He has spent a life working for Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace and is currently with WWF. This book is a summation of his industriousness trying to reduce or slow-down the rate rainforest loss, many times with direct action. Not that he, or anyone else, has been entirely successful in this venture as rainforests are being visibly destroyed (for all to see by satellite), still at an alarming rate since at least the last 30 years; he illustrates the familiar clearance of rainforests to make way for palm oil plantations, or local people living amongst the burnt out stumps of emergent trees. Juniper’s ‘dispatches’ are in fact 22 chapters on different issues affecting tropical rainforests in Asia and Pacific, Africa, Americas;e has not forgotten temperate rainforest globally, including one fragment in South West Wales. There is not too much on Australian rainforests, and he has missed the area off his map on p. 277.  His Chapter 16 is pretty damming in one sentence ‘Indonesia largely erased its rainforests over two decades, aided by the World Bank and the IMF – and multinationals.’ The value of the book is in the endnotes for each chapter that provide corroborative links. There are black and white photographs throughout the book (pity not in full colour) and two sections of stunning colour photographs demonstrating biodiversity by Thomas Marent.  The book is recommended as an excellent source of information on rainforests, as indeed is my own ‘Rainforests’ book (Published by Wildlife Matters in 2009, full colour, 646pp) which is not mentioned!

7 Years of Camera Shake -a review

David Plummer, 2017. 7 Years of Camera Shake, One Man’s Passion for Photographing Wildlife. Unbound. 256pp. In aid of Parkinson’s UK. ISBN 978 1 7852 392 4

Renowned wildlife photographer David Plummer found that he had Parkinson’s when he was 40 seven years ago.  This book is a perspective of his work. The picture perfect images from around the tropics, Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Galapagos show wildlife in close-up, mostly birds, mammals and reptiles with some from his base in Sussex. The book is a delight (large format 28x26cm), an impressive production with a single amazing photograph on each page accompanied by a brief description. The colour reproduction is spot-on showing off the stunning colours of toucans, skimmers, owls and kingfishers. His patience in getting the right shot of leopards, and jaguars in the Pantanal is evident in the photographs, and his arduous field techniques are explored. This is a book that is worth having for just for its amazing photography. It is crowd-sourced by the many people who have contributed to the publishers Unbound and half of the profits go to Parkinson’s UK (https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/).

Grove’s Biodiversity Green Brexit – a review

Michael Grove’s length speech at the Oxford Farming Conference (4 Jan 2017) mentioned ‘biodiversity’ twice, and ‘Green Brexit’ once. It is encouraging and surprising times for wildlife and nature conservation with Secretary of State Gove at the Defra helm. ..’we will design…through countryside stewardship and agri-environmental schemes…to enhance the natural environment by planting new woodlands, providing new habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity…and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows or other more natural states.’  The Government now has a wildlife mission, a vital one no less: ‘Enhancing our natural environment is a vital mission for this Government.’ And they will be delivering a ‘Green Brexit’ by implementing various policies after leaving the EU.  Gove bases a lot of his background information on ‘Natural Capital’ that reflects back to the initiatives of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) set up in 2012.  Gove is clearly enamoured by the countryside ‘ I am moved by the beauty of our natural environment’ promising ‘a truly sustainable future for the countryside’.  Let’s see how this Green Brexit grows.

 

The Switch – A review

Chris Goodall, 2016. The Switch. Profile Books. 274pp.

With so much free solar energy the world is catching up fast in harnessing it day and night. The author, an expert on these matters, puts the case for the inevitability of the global switch and turning over to ever more efficient systems and storage in particular. The switch to a low carbon economy is convincingly told. We learn of the novel perovskites coatings on new PVs that my give an extra 20-25% boost in productivity. The book is a good read on the history of solar production which includes details of main players (and photos of them in black and white), how the ‘experience curve’ provides for cheaper materials, of Swanson’s and Moore’s laws, and all manner of alternative energy sources being trialled and honed. Altogether this is an essential guide to the subject. It has an appendix to figures and terms and an index. There are no references in the book, but reference is made to the authors website (www.carboncommentary.com) which is complete as can be, and offers updates (following publication of this book in 2016) and warns the reader to be wary of columnists in newspapers who get solar stats wrong.

The Switch

Mulberry by S.J.Bowe, Review

S.J. Bowe 2015. Mulberry, the material culture of mulberry trees. Liverpool University Press. 124pp.

Mulberry Book

If ever there was an introduced tree that has such a fascinating historical record in the grand gardens of Britain it is the mulberry. The book looks at both the white and black mulberry species and how they are wound up in the silk industry and associated with people such as James 1 and Shakespeare as well as Morris, More and Milton. The unique part of the book is its approach to the use of mulberry in the Japanese sashimono furniture tradition, highly regarded and often used in the tea ceremony. It is beautifully illustrated in colour showing many artefacts such as whisk shapers, tea containers all made from mulberry. This is a serious, almost academic book though accessible for general readership – the author is Senior Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University – magnificently published and ideal for dendrologists, especially those keen on the historical perspective of the Morus genus, as well as antique dealers and enthusiasts of Japanese art. Each of the five chapters has exhaustive references and there is a good bibliography and useful list of 100 UK gardens where mulberries continue the tradition. 

RBG / World’s Plants review

RBG book

RBG Kew. 2016. The State of the World’s Plants. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 80pp (also on-line).

It was a surprise that the world’s plants had not had been put under the microscope before, but this timely report sets the record straight, and will be an annual event. This is a major work brought together and verified by scores of eminent botanists worldwide. The brutal message is that the quantum of plants is declining.  There are three sections to the book, first, how many plants are there (391,000 vascular plants) second, threats, including climate change, and third, policies and international trade. The stark facts are highlighted throughout the book in large print: 21% of global plant species currently threatened with extinction, one in five of plants threatened with extinction. This is not compensated by the 2,034 new plant species logged up to March 2016. Genome sequencing is running apace, with 136 species whose whole-genome sequences are known. There are an amazing 31,128 species of ‘useful plants’ and 1,771 ‘important plant areas’ but, worryingly very few of these areas are protected. There are 4,979 species now documented as invasive; they say it is inevitable that with globalisation the incidence of invasives will rise. On climate change they agree that ‘>10% of the earth’s vegetated surface demonstrates high sensitivity to climate change.’ This year the review focussed on Brazil where there 32,109 native Brazilian seed plants known to science and where more seed plants are known than any other country in the world. There are 219 scientific references in the book, just in case anyone wants to dispute the facts. It will be interesting to compare parameters next year on the world’s inventory of plants. Clearly, then, there are plenty of reasons to be worried about plants.

Latest book by John Feltwell

bw-cover-26-oct

  • ·         The first book ever on black and white in animals
  • ·         Black and White as a colour
  • ·         Which came first black or white swans?
  • ·         Life in bright deserts is best served in white
  • ·         If you are not a Darwinist, this book is not for you
  • ·         Global warming effects on colour
  • ·         Radioactivity effects on colour
  • ·         Piedness in birds

‘Energy Revolution’ review

Howard Johns review

Howard Johns 2015. Energy Revolution – Your Guide to Repowering the Energy System.  East Meon, Permanent Publications. 2015. ISBN 978 1 85623 197 8  288pp.

Some books take decades to evolve, but this one has been borne out of one man’s enthusiasm for the subject that goes back 15 years. The author is from East Sussex whose passion for renewables has seen Southern Solar, Transition Lewes and Ovesco establish themselves in the marketplace. There is an energy spirit coursing through Johns’ veins, a passion to see renewable energy succeed, even though politics repeatedly gets in the way. Given that sunlight, wind and water are free resources it is a great pity that they have not been exploited further. In 2014 20% of the energy used in the UK was from renewables, about half of that from wind. There are people who sit back, flick the light switch, watch TV and have no idea where the energy comes from, or are that bothered. The book is not just about energy in the UK, how it is produced, especially at community level, but there are chapters on the state of repowering in fifteen countries. We learn that energy from renewables in Germany peaked in May 2014 at 73% of total energy production. The chapter on ‘100% renewable’ details the advances that companies such as Ikea, Apple, Google and J. Sainsbury’s have made, and how Iceland (the country) first produced all its electricity from renewables in 2013. Overall this is an up to date and exciting book charting the rise of renewables – a good textbook on the subject; with glossary, index and list of resources.