Being a good ancestor (A book review)

When we make decisions, we’re pretty good at thinking about what they’ll mean for us in the immediate future. But when it comes to the longer-term impact of our decisions, whether taken individually or as a society, we struggle to think further than the next decade or so. Anything beyond that is, as we tend to see it, someone else’s problem.

Continue reading

A quick catch-up on the reading front

As you know, I usually try to write a quick review of books I’ve enjoyed. On the grounds that, if you like reading my blog, you may well like to read the sort of things that I like to read, too. And also because people who write books (usually) put a lot of effort into what they do, so it seems only nice, if I’ve enjoyed their work, to tell other people about it. I’ve built up a bit of a backlog of books to review, though, so in an effort to clear the decks a little, here are some of the things that I’ve read recently. I really think you’d enjoy reading them, too.

Continue reading

The land under our feet (A book review)

There’s a bit in the film Crocodile Dundee when Paul Hogan says of the aboriginal peoples of Australia ‘they don’t own the land; they belong to it’. Uncomfortable colonialist thinking aside, there’s a strong moral argument than none of us can really own the land under our feet. It’s not even something that we can own collectively. Because it’s not really ours to own at all. Unfortunately, though, nobody told the economists.

Continue reading

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.