Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shelf Life [adult]

The Once and Future World by JB MacKinnon

So, um, who needs a palate cleanser after watching Toronto and Ottawa these past couple weeks? I mean sure, it’s been riveting stuff, but when the 24 hour news cycle sucks you down the rabbit hole faster than scripted reality TV we could all use a little break to get in touch with the bigger picture.

JB MacKinnon, co-author with Alisa Smith of The 100-Mile Diet, is back with a new book that’s just the thing for a shift in perspective. The Once and Future World is a solo venture, but it retains the graceful writing, personal reflections and social conscience that made The 100-Mile Diet a hit.

MacKinnon grew interested in the changes humans make to our landscapes when he began to learn more about the prairie on which he was raised. To his surprise, the foxes that were ubiquitous in his childhood were imported; grizzly bears used to roam there freely, before being pushed back to the wild, mountainous terrain with which we currently associate them. It made him wonder - in what other ways had we changed the landscape, and what does this loss of wilderness means for nature, for society, and for our psyches? The Once and Future World explores all these themes, drawing from disciplines and sources as varied as paleontology, geology, archaeology, climate and social science, and even journal entries from early explorers.

The Once and Future World could be a depressing book, and I suppose it is in some ways. In many other ways, though, it is a book full of wonder and hope. (Did you just look at your Twitter feed? You need wonder and hope.) MacKinnon investigates rewilding - the idea of reintroducing species to their native habitats, and even back into cities. He’s not wearing rose-coloured glasses about the potential consequences of this; he does document some instances in which corrective rewilding has gone horribly wrong. He doesn’t dismiss its potential, though, and his reasoning is at least compelling, if not convincing for the pessimists and misanthropes among us. The Once and Future World is a bona fide dose of sober second thought, highly recommended for anyone whose divine spark is starving on a steady diet of mayoral misadventures and senate shenanigans. 

This review appears in The Stratford Gazette on November 14, 2013. Written by Shauna Costache, Librarian.

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