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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Max Veut Sauver Les Animaux - Dominique de Saint Mars, Serge Bloch I read the latest Ainsi va la vie while we were waiting in the line at the post office. Max, who as you will recall is Lili's kid brother, has just discovered Environmental Issues. He lectures the family interminably. Don't drive a car! Biodiversity! No GM food! (As usual, there are footnotes explaining what all the hard words mean). In particular, he wants to Save The Animals. Lili used to be into this kind of stuff, but that was when she was young and naive. She even started a club, "Verts de la Terre" (geddit?), but now she's older and more cynical. She looks on with a superior smile and asks all the obvious questions.

This annoys the hell out of Max. He gets up really early next morning and goes out with the mutt to do some Saving. It's harder than he thought. He thinks he's on to something when he sees a lady farmer spraying fruit trees with pesticide, and gives her a good lecture. However, the reader can see that the tank on her back is labelled "Completely Harmless Natural Products". She doesn't say anything, but when Max gets home he notices the bottle of Artisan-Produced Organic Apple Juice that's sitting on the breakfast table. Weird, the woman on the sticker looks just like the lady farmer! Then the penny drops. He's disgusted with himself.

No more talk! All you ever do is preach to the choir. Action! He hits the trail again... and this time, when he comes back, he's not just been lecturing people. He's found a baby hedgehog! It was sitting by the side of the road next to its dead mom. Max's little heart went out to it. Someone who's able to access Google gives him a bunch of useful tips (Tip #1: feed it using kitten milk. DO NOT use ordinary cow's milk). Max successfully nurses the baby until it's able to fend for itself.

Meanwhile, he's been out in the yard, transforming it into a mininature animal sanctuary. This hedgehog's going to have a nice place to live! And so will a bunch of birds, squirrels and frogs. Lili's half amused and half impressed. "Okay, Max!" she says. "You're the new president of Verts de la Terre!"

Like Lili, I can't quite decide what to think. Is the message that we should just do what we can, and every little helps? I would like to believe it was. But, unfortunately, I felt it was really the opposite. As David McKay says in his excellent Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, if we all do a little, then we'll only get a little done. Saving baby hedgehogs feels good, but even a smart ten year old knows that it won't really make a difference. Lili's already given up and decided it's hopeless.

A scary and depressing message. But, at the end of the day, I think the author's being as responsible as ever. She's trying to get to us think seriously about the issues rather than make token gestures, and right now we're not doing that. Kudos, Mme. de Saint Mars.