Why it’s good to be mortal

Whenever Natalie reads something in a magazine that she thinks I’ll find interesting, she leaves it out somewhere obvious for me to find. And so I stumbled this morning upon a review in the Guardian of Swedish philosopher Martin Hagglund’s book ‘Why mortality makes us free‘. It’s “a sweepingly ambitious synthesis of philosophy, spirituality and politics”, apparently (the book, not the review), which argues that it is not believing in the glorious afterlife promised by many religions that makes our lives on Earth so full of meaning. To be honest, though, this benefit of what Hagglund calls “secular faith” is far from news to me. Or to my fellow humanists around the world. Continue reading

Being a dog (A book review)

Anyone who has a dog will know that their sense of smell is far superior to our own. But how does their nose work? What is it capable of? And what can we learn from our dogs about the world around us?
Being a Dog - Book Cover

In ‘Being a dog: Following the dog into a world of smell’, psychologist and animal behaviourist Alexandra Horowitz sets out to answer these questions.

She learns from experts in all things scent and scentwork, from perfume creators to truffle dog trainers. And she observes her own dogs in their scent-based world.

Horowitz also works to improve her own sense of smell, engaging with ‘scent tours’ around the city, participating in experiments and training herself to be more aware of the smells around her.

I really like this book, with its fusion of scientific investigation and personal experiences. Sure, it does go off on a bit of a tangent at times, but overall it’s a highly enjoyable read.

It also provides an excellent overview of the different ways in which dogs can be trained to use their sense of smell, from search and rescue to the detection of explosives, cancer and (my personal favourite) Orca scat (yes, that’s Killer Whale poo).

There are lots of books about how the sense of smell works. And there are plenty about the different ways in which dogs use their sense of smell to help us. But there are very few that explore both. And I have yet to find one that does it as well as this one.

You can find the book on Amazon, but I’d much prefer you ordered it from your local independent bookshop. Or order it from my local bookshop, which is Books on the Hill in Clevedon, Somerset.

Enter the Doughnut

Doughnut Economics.jpgI’m not an economist. But I do know that economics is broken. The economic models of the past have created a world in which human well-being and our planet’s natural resources are being sacrificed on the altar of economic growth.

These models have failed to predict, to prevent or to respond to the financial crises that have shaken our society. They have allowed inequality to flourish. And yet they are still taught in classrooms and lecture theatres across the world.

We need a new way of thinking about economics. And we need it now. Continue reading

In search of a new politics

If you have recently watched the news, picked up a newspaper or left the confines of your own living room, you may well have noticed that things appear to be far from right with the world. Indeed, they seem increasingly to be crumbling around us. Yet we are told that the answer is to work harder, to consume more and to stop whining. Thankfully, there are people who recognise that this is far from being the answer. And George Monbiot (one of my favourite writers, in case you haven’t already noticed) is one of them. Continue reading

Taking refuge in nature

We all need to get away from things from time to time. To recharge our batteries and to regain perspective on our often chaotic lives. And there is no better place to do this, science is now telling us, than in the outdoors. Where we can leave our troubles behind us and embrace the deeper rhythm of the natural world. Where we can take time to heal. Continue reading

Changing how we think about nature

There are books that make me laugh and books that make me think. But there are very few books that actually change me as a person. Feral by George Monbiot is one of those books. It has transformed fundamentally how I think about the world and has inspired me to be more courageous in challenging the received wisdom of our times. Continue reading

It’s the little things

My new favourite author, Michael Perry*, has a theory about making it as a writer. It is, he says, like shovelling horse manure. If you keep at it long enough, sooner or later you’ll have a pile so big that people can’t ignore it any more.
Pencil

In my writing, as in life more generally, I have a tendency to forget this. I seem always to be aiming for the one big idea. The thing that will bring everything together. A towering monument to my own accomplishment.

This is, sadly, just as unlikely as it is pompous. Continue reading

A populist explosion

Unless you’ve been particularly unobservant or on an extended spelunking expedition, you’ll have noticed that politics has gone through a bit of a change recently. People whom we would previously have dismissed as loons are attaining political office. The gap between the political establishment and the man or woman in the street has become a chasm. And everything that we thought we knew about electoral maths no longer seems to apply. Continue reading

On pastures new

I’ve been to the Lake District three times now. And each time I go there my love for this remote corner of the country grows a little bit stronger. But I’m very aware that I do little more than skim across the surface of this ancient and revered landscape. I do not truly know it. I do not understand it. And I most definitely do not belong. Continue reading

On (flatpack) democracy

There’s a general feeling at the moment that voting in elections isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Politicians are all the same anyway, so the consensus goes, and you get an almost identical old bunch of self-serving, out-of-touch buffoons regardless of the candidate or party you select on the ballot paper. Whether it’s a national election or a local one, it seems, you might as well stay at home and rearrange your CD collection. Continue reading