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HOW TO BE ANIMAL

A NEW HISTORY OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN

A welcome, well-considered contribution to ecological thought.

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. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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GREENLIGHTS

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

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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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CALL ME ANNE

A sweet final word from an actor who leaves a legacy of compassion and kindness.

The late actor offers a gentle guide for living with more purpose, love, and joy.

Mixing poetry, prescriptive challenges, and elements of memoir, Heche (1969-2022) delivers a narrative that is more encouraging workbook than life story. The author wants to share what she has discovered over the course of a life filled with abuse, advocacy, and uncanny turning points. Her greatest discovery? Love. “Open yourself up to love and transform kindness from a feeling you extend to those around you to actions that you perform for them,” she writes. “Only by caring can we open ourselves up to the universe, and only by opening up to the universe can we fully experience all the wonders that it holds, the greatest of which is love.” Throughout the occasionally overwrought text, Heche is heavy on the concept of care. She wants us to experience joy as she does, and she provides a road map for how to get there. Instead of slinking away from Hollywood and the ridicule that she endured there, Heche found the good and hung on, with Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford starring as particularly shining knights in her story. Some readers may dismiss this material as vapid Hollywood stuff, but Heche’s perspective is an empathetic blend of Buddhism (minimize suffering), dialectical behavioral therapy (tolerating distress), Christianity (do unto others), and pre-Socratic philosophy (sufficient reason). “You’re not out to change the whole world, but to increase the levels of love and kindness in the world, drop by drop,” she writes. “Over time, these actions wear away the coldness, hate, and indifference around us as surely as water slowly wearing away stone.” Readers grieving her loss will take solace knowing that she lived her love-filled life on her own terms. Heche’s business and podcast partner, Heather Duffy, writes the epilogue, closing the book on a life well lived.

A sweet final word from an actor who leaves a legacy of compassion and kindness.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 9781627783316

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Viva Editions

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2023

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