A welcome, well-considered contribution to ecological thought.

HOW TO BE ANIMAL

A NEW HISTORY OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN

A searching examination of our intellectual divorce from the natural world.

Humans, wrote scholar George Kateb, are “the only animal species that is not only animal, the only species that is partly not natural.” Challenger, a British environmental philosopher, takes the idea and runs with it, noting that we are now the world’s dominant animal species, but one that dismisses its animal-ness and regards its human status “as if it is a magical boundary.” Yet recognition of our roots in nature is essential to a healthful relationship with a world that we have treated poorly for most of our history. Much as we might wish to separate ourselves, writes the author, there are definite aspects of animal behavior at work among our kind. “That we give each other love and support is a condition not of our rationalising,” she writes, “but of our compulsions as animals.” Challenger’s book is full of asides that beg for development—her observation, for instance, that “culture’s achievement is to store information outside the body” and that, whereas ants, as ubiquitous as humans, have diversified into more than 14,000 species, our species has speciated through cultural means—but she is convincing in her argument that we suffer from our divorce from nature. “Many of the tensions we experience derive from the dissonance inherent in being a predator with a rich moral faculty,” she observes, wanton killers of nearly every other being on the planet while knowing that we are doing wrong. Challenger proposes ways to retool our thinking, including recognizing the emerging fact that animals possess consciousness (whales dream, wolves carry mental maps in their heads, and so forth) and acknowledging that human consciousness is just one aspect of “a spectacle of richness before us all the while.” Throughout the book, the author invites us to accept our animal nature and the responsibility toward the world that comes with it.

A welcome, well-considered contribution to ecological thought.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313435-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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