Category Archives: Books

Books History

From Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places Ursula Le Guin (1989)

On how science fiction faces the issue of nuclear war

p. 102 “The Post-Holocaust story must be in part rehearsal, or acting out, variously motivated. One motivation is unmistakeably desire. Rage, frustration and infantile egoism play out the death wish: Let’s press that button and see what happens! Another motivation is fear, the obsessive anxiety that keeps the mind upon the worst that could happen, dwelling on it, in the not entirely superstitious hope that if we talk about it enough maybe it won’t happen. Rationally controlled, this fear motivates the cautionary tale: Look what would happen if -! So don’t! And the stories where people flee Earth altogether would seem to be pure wish fulfilment, escapism…. A great many have come from America and England … across the Iron Curtain writers seem not to write about World War III… perhaps … feel it ethically wrong to write about nuclear holocaust, because by doing so they would trivialize and familiarize the ultimate act of evil. … for the ultimate selling job on ultimate violence one must read those works of fiction issued by our government as manuals of civil defense in which, as a friend of mine puts it, you learn that there’s nothing to be afraid of if you’ve stockpiled lots of dried fruit.”

Books History Politics

Notes from Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America By Theodora Kroeber

A powerful read – and a reminder of the horrors our societies inflicted on others.

p. 5 “San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands of the Pacific Ocean some 70 miles offshore from Santa Barbara…. In 1835, the padres of Mission Santa Barbara transferred the San Nicholas Indians to the mainland. A few minutes after the boat had put off from the island, it was found that one baby had been left behind. It is not easy to land a boat on San Nicolas; the captain decided against returning for the baby; the baby’s mother jumped overboard, and was last seen swimming towards the island. Half-hearted efforts made to find her in subsequent weeks were unsuccessful. It was believed she had drowned in the rough surf. In 1853, 18 years later, seal hunters in the Channel waters reported seeing a woman on San Nicolas, and a boatload of men from Santa Barbara went in search of her. They found her, a last survivor of her tribe. Her baby, as well as all her people who had been removed to the Mission, had died. She lived only a few months after her “rescue” and died without anyone having been able to communicate with her, leaving to posterity this skeletal outline of her grim story, and four words which someone remembers from her lost language and recorded as she said them. It happens that these four words identify her language as having been Shochonean, related to the Indian languages of the Los Angeles area, not to those of Santa Barbara.”

p. 1 “The story of Ishi begins for us early in the morning of the 29th day of August in the year 1911 and in the corral of a slaughterhouse. It begins with the sharp barking of dogs which roused the sleeping butchers. In the dawn light they say a man at bay, crouching against the corral fence – Ishi.”

He was the last survivor of a group of Yahi who in c. 1870 p. 90 “retreated to the inner fastness of their own heartland … what A.L. Kroeber calls ‘the smallest free nation in the world, which by an unexampled fortitude and stubbornness of character succeeded in holding out … 25 years longer even than Geronimo’s famous band of Apaches’ … [initially probably 15/16, soon only “two men, two women, and a child.”

p. 94 know none of their names “not even Ishi’s, for Ishi is not a personal name, it means simply ‘man’.”

Books Environmental politics History

Notes from Of Farming and Classics: A Memoir by David Grene

p. 137 “This first farm of mine, the American one, was a splendid blend of mechanisation and old-time farming. I really cannot see why a version of this could not actually have survived. What happened is something like this: At the end of the war, the factories which had during the war exclusively been busy producing machines for the army turned back to producing tractors. They decided that the market to attack first was the area still occupied by small farms. … the farmers’ horses were in direct competition for the provision of power. So from about 1947 to 1955 advertisements and personal agents worked at selling the tractor-cum-horse farmers a little light tractor, to supplement his heavy one, to do the corn planting, corn cultivation and hay work instead of the last team These small tractors cost eight to ten times more than a team of horses and at least as much to keep up as a team…. The older horse machines were relatively cheap and simple … no tools left to use animal power.”

p. 139 “In the modern climate of opinion, where there is a strong undercurrent asserting the dullness and monotony of agriculture, there are always many people who readily accept the industrial idea that the less help needed, the better… there are fewer and fewer farmers themselves, and those who are left are forced to farm at a speed and a tension which leaves any hardship of the past simply nowhere… There have been almost no forum in which abstract questions could be raised about the value of the farmer’s work to himself… There are very good reasons for a smaller size of farm and the deeper personal attitudes that it invites. We have also seen in the 1980s a fearful decimation of farms simply because the price of land suddenly declined; and so did the farmers’ security with banks, who promptly foreclosed on them for debts incurred in the expansion of acreage and machinery, which, now on the books, they were unable to pay when the security was called in.”

p. 146 “Still the rhetoric continues, enforcing the conviction, now almost always acquired at second hand, that oil has saved them from drudgery. As though driving work animals was drudgery and driving the tractor was not; and caring for animals after the workday was drudgery, but filling the tractor or repairing it was not. Hobbies, sport and pets are of course the preferred forms of spending one’s activity and gaining pleasure. The delight in plowing and the partnership with animals in it is as old as Hesoid as he gives direction for the strength of the tree-formed plow ready to resist the power of the oxen as they struggle with a hard spot in the furrow, or in Aeschylus’s Prometheus, who gave man work-animals to be his substitute in the heaviest toils. It is there in Brueghel’s picture of the fall of Icarus as the plowman follows his mule with the little wheel in the plow in front of him already invented to hold the plow effortlessly in place at the depth desired. .. I remember about 35 years ago in Normandy watching a boy plowing with his black Pecherons, and walking alongside the horses that did not even have a rein. They were tied from bit to bit with a loose rope on the inside trace horse, which was used only when the boy was going to lead them home. When they came to the end of the furrow, he would tip up the plow … shout firm commands to his team, and round the horses would go….The beauty of those days of plowing was startling. I am thinking now particularly of the Wicklow farm. Out plowing was usually done in March or April, though sometimes also in fall or late winter, when the ground was not hard hard frozen. In a typically early spring day, one walked just fast enough to keep warm, and the gulls and rooks followed in the furrow to pick up the worms., and the sun would come breaking up the little touch of hoarfrost. I can still relive it and delight sharply, almost with pain at its loss, for I will never enjoy it again.”

Books History Women's history

Notes from The Lives of Tudor Women by Elizabeth Norton

p. 97 “The London draper’s wife, Katherine Fenkyll, had her own views on the subordinate position of wives, which she made very plain. A few years after she was widowed, in 1499, her ‘familiar and old acquaintance’ Joanne Johnson, a wealthy widow, came to visit her on confidential business. It was, she admitted, a delicate matter, since she had agreed to marry a gentleman, Robert Long of Windridge, but there was the small matter of both her personal effects and her debts. She had, she believed, around £500 in goods, including furniture, plate, money and jewels, which Long was anxious to acquire as his own property on their wedding day. Nonetheless, the widow wanted to protect herself.  She agreed with Katherine, as well as two other friends, that they would hide away £300 of the goods, intending to ‘cloak and colour the same’ from her husband so that she ‘might give and have or otherwise bestow the same at her liberty and pleasure. Instead of acquiring his new wife’s fabulous jewels, Long therefore found himself liable for her existing debts of more than £200. This was a bad bargain, and he was furious, rushing to the courts … Joanna Johnson, however, as a wife, could not be sued in court independently of her husband.She got off scot free.”

p. 100 “At the end of the Tudor years, in 1604, the aristocratic Eleanor, Lady Fettiplace, compiled a book of more than 200 recipes, complete with her marginal notes and amendments indicating that she had tried and tasted them herself. Inexperienced housewives of sufficient means could also make use of published texts, with Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife being particularly influential in the early 17th century. He considered that the first step to gaining a profound understanding of cookery was to ‘have knowledge of all sorts of herbs belonging to the kitchen, whether they be for the pot, for salads, for sauces, for servings, or for any other seasonings, or adorning. This the young wife should learn through her own labour and experience. She must know what to sow in her garden, and when to sow it.”

p. 102 “In 1511, two years into the reign of King Henry VIII, the widow Dame Katherine Fenkyll arrived at the Guildhall in London, accompanied by a young man named Henry Lenton … she confirmed before witnesses that she had taken him on as an apprentice… Two years later, Katherine Fenkyll returned again to the Guildhall, this time with Raynold Love in tow, who had also come to learn a trade from her.”

p. 103 “There was normally nothing in the way of legality to stop women taking the Freedom too – but very few did. One draper who, in 1570, arrived in the company’s hall with a female apprentice, seeking her Freedom, was turned away…This case caused much murmuring, since many in the company suspected that the woman did indeed have the right to be enrolled – but it was not a trend they wanted to encourage. Indeed, only 73 women are known to have been enrolled as apprentices in 16th-century London, among the many thousands of men… Girls could sometimes have their apprenticeships secured by charitable institutions: the destitute Margaret Gyllam, for example, who had been a patient at London St Thomas’s Hospital, was sent after her discharge to learn needlework and button-making with one John Delow and his wife in 1564.

p. 118 “Many of the more modest buildings occupied a small area of just one small room, before rising precariously high above the street. At ground level, there was usually a shop of some kind; on the floor above a hall, and then sleeping quarters higher still. Those people who were lucky enough to have a small yard squeezed into their property’s tiny footprint could keep the privy a reasonable distance from the main living quarters. For others, with no outside space, there was only the attic, leaving residents with a long trek upstairs to answer the call of nature. The inhabitants of these poorer dwellings though, did have one advnatge over the residences of their social superiors: the single chimney stack running up through the house, like a spine, allowed fireplaces in every room. .. a well in the yard behind the house meant that the well-to-do had a private water supply, rather than relying on the nearest street pump or conduit.”

p. 320 “The London hospitals not only took in women: they were staffed, in many respects, by women. Elizabeth Collston, possibly the wife of St Bartholomew’s hospital porter, was employed for more than 25 years as its matron, from 1597. She held a position of some authority, being in charge of all the women and children, as well as overseeing most of the female staff. The matron also took delivery of necessaries brought to the hospital, such as blankets and clothing for the inmates. The role of matron seems to have attracted capable, dedicated women. The first known matron was a widow named Rose Fisher, first appointed as a ‘sister’ of the hospital in 1551.. She was a no-nonsense woman, prepared to get her hands dirty. In 1552, for example, an order was given that all the ‘very feeble and sick’ inmates should eat in her presence, ensuring that she could monitor their sustenance. She also supervised the making of bed coverings for patients and the interrogating of pregnant inmates as to the father of their children, as well as being entrusted with money, collecting in bequests from charitable benefactors.”

p. 321 “Some forms of paid work could be a form of charity in themselves, and in this respect elderly women were often employed by their parishes to undertake work such as nursing care. One Mistress Peirson was paid by the parish of St Botolph’s in London to oversee the maid’s gallery in the church: she remained in office for at least 20 years and even after she had become blind… Older women, too, could find employment in the parish as ‘searchers,’ who were deputed by the parish clerk to view the bodies of the newly dead and make an appraisal of the cause … readily known to be susceptible to bribery and induced with ale, making their judgements hazy.”

Books Environmental politics Politics

Notes from Edward Carpenter: a life of liberty and love by Sheila Rowbotham

p. 96 “Henry Salt was one of the first who tried to live out Carpenter’s ideas about the simple life. Inspired by Carpenter’s account of Millthorpe, he left his job at Eton and went with his wife Kate to live in the Surrey village of Tilford. Salt would later explain that to social movements had attracted those like himself who were breaking away from bourgeois backgrounds in the 1880s. “Socialism, the more equitable distribution of wealth, and simplification, the saner method of living.”… He had studied at Cambridge, where Jim Joynes had encouraged him to rebel against the inner sinews of class privilege. Salt, like Joynes, decided that it was wrong to live off the labour of others and to eat animals. Accordingly, in 1884 he went to the headmaster, Dr Edmund Warre, to hand in his resignation from Eton, declaring he was a vegetarian, had lost his faith in the public school system and had become socialist. Horrified by this roll call of apostasies, Warre exploded, “then blow us up, blow us up! There is nothing left for it but that.”… Salt was soon in conflict with the Socialist league newspaper, Commonweal, which declared vegetarianism was an employers’ plot to force workers to accept a lower standard of living…. Henry and Kate Salt’s move, accompanied by books and piano, to a labourer’s cottage at Tilford hardly seems remarkable today, but it caused a minor media stir in 1884, after Hyndman announced a public meeting that Salt had left Eton. Resolutely Salt cupped his academic down into strips of fastening creepers to walls and used his top hat the shading a young vegetable marrow.”
p. 111 “Carpenter and Hukin experienced the heady joy of working together filled with hope in a cause that seems indubitable. Through the summer and autumn of 1886 mounting unemployment and the acute distress it brought with it were gaining an audience for the socialists’ street meetings. Carpenter fulminated against landlords and railway shareholders (like himself) who collected millions to doing nothing. … They began to attract crowds of around 2 to 300 people, competing with the Salvation Army and barrel organ men at the corner of Fargate and Surrey Street. When the police tried to close them down, the excitement which ensued added to the audience. Jonathan Taylor, wily in local politics, began an outraged letter writing campaign presenting himself as a member of the public, upset at the curtailing of free speech. By September their listeners were reaching 4 to 500. Having your own premises signaled that you had arrived on the local political scene. In February 1887 when the new premises in Scotland Street formally opened as the Commonwealth cafe, the sympathetic Sheffield Weekly Echo reported that the Sheffield socialists, who, “some little time back… might have been counted on the fingers”, now not only had their own hall, but could filll it to overflowing, while the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent noted that there were even a few ladies in the audience, though it derided their shrill ‘hear hears’. The ethos was open and eclectic. The unemployed will welcome along with speakers of varying political hues: William Morris, Annie Besant and Havelock Ellis from the London socialist mileau, Peter Kropotkin and Charlotte Wilson from the anarchist.”
p. 112 “Socialism was not merely a movement for industrial emancipation, it “aimed at the entire regeneration of society in art, in science, in religion and literature and the building up of the new life in which industrial socialism was the foundation”. William Morris to concede Socialism is a new culture, worrying away over how the discontent of the unemployed could transmute into the birth of a new society, though Carpenter put greater stress on creating a new way of living and stimulating new desires.”
p. 135 “the new unions proved difficult to sustain institutionally, a weakness exacerbated in Sheffield by the anarchists’ resolve to form exclusively revolutionary unions. … Local labour conditions resulted in new Unionism being rather a damp squib. In the late 1880s the labour movement in Sheffield still consisted of the grinders, forges, hardeners and cutters of the metal trades, along with bricklayers, masons, tailors and printers. The small craft societies that represented them responded to threats of mechanisation not by creating a new trades unionism that by amalgamating…. It was not until the 1890s that the trades union movement established a permanent base in the large steel works then developing as arms producers.

p. 147 “the book… Undermined assumptions about science and indeed the very processes of knowing. Carpenter contested the negative view of health in Western medicine. Instead of a narrow definition of health is the absence of disease, he invoked old words which embraced body, mind and spirit; heal, hallow, hale, whole, wholesome, adding the Sanskrit ‘atman, breath or soul for good measure… Carpenter challenged sciences claims to be value-free. He was as interestingly in mathematics and the physical sciences as he had been when he was young, it was the overweening authority of science he disliked Carpenter argued that scientific work was framed by the assumptions of particular cultures and epochs and that the scientist did not stand outside the object of study in either the physical or the social sciences. Consequently “science” did not offer in itself proof, and the findings of scientists will always open to question.”
p. S63 1890 “the small band of anarchists hurtled through that summer and autumn in a flurry of defiance. In June, when the idolised explorer Henry Morton Stanley came to speak in Sheffield, Creaghe and John Bingham took gallery seats and sold a pamphlet … Documenting the Africans Stanley had killed in the course of his explorations. Commonweal frankly announced how Stanley’s exploits, or, civilising Africa had “sold like hot cakes” because the audience, not seeing the irony in the title, had believed it to be praising the explorer.”
p. 170 “Carpenter now had an established lecturing circuit, speaking not only in Sheffield, Rotherham and Chesterfield, that extending outwards to west Yorkshire and Lancashire, along with Nottingham and Derby. He was also frequently in Bristol and London and did tours of Scotland. Completely eclectic in accepting invitations, in 1893 he addressed the social Democratic Federation in London, as well as the Fabians and the Liberal club in Sheffield. Not only did he range widely, he could gather huge crowds of around 1000 people some of these meetings. Carpenter continued his university extension habit of having a basic stash of lectures which he recycled in differing places. In the first half of the 1890s these were: the future society, parties and the labour movement, the way out, the changed ideal society, the future of labour…. Carpenter really grappled in these lectures with how to reach the utopian future, searching for an alternative to both the state and the self-defeating defiance of the anarchists to he noted “tear their hair at one”.
p. 307 “he called the state ownership of the mines and the milk supply, approving public administration of gas, water and transport. But he remained uneasy about relying on state interference, voicing his fears in talks with the Fabians in Sheffield, the social Democrats in Chesterfield, and Didsbury Socialists society in Manchester over the course of 1908. … His political libertarianism led him to suspect the state as inherently coercive and he looked around for voluntary social alternative is which could foster opposing collective values to capitalism. Land nationalisation, labour colonies and cooperatives were all being mooted in the early 1900, while groups of unemployed men had resorted to direct action and were farming orchard land… Inspired by experimental projects in Europe, Carpenter proposed corporative smallholdings in property of agricultural associations … Carpenter envisaged the rural economy transformed by corporative banks, along with a network of corporative is that in collecting, the buying of foodstuffs and selling products. Though Carpenter accepted that land should be publicly owned, both nationally and by local authorities, he wanted state ownership to be combined with cooperative ventures and private smallholdings. This was partly because of his dislike state intervention and also because he was convinced, like Kropotkin, that smallholdings encouraged enterprise, attention to detail and all-round skills.

p. 311 “Carpenter’s life at Millthorpe had taught him that change had to be acceptable to local people and this meant it must grow out of existing roots…. He imagined afforestation schemes and proposed that the wild moors and mountains should be preserved by county councils or by the state is animal and bird sanctuaries, nature reserves where everyone could wander. His campaigns against Sheffield’s smoke pall had brought home damaging impact the city could have on the countryside and led him to think up positive ways in which people from the towns and cities could relate to the countryside. … Carpenter’s ideas resonated both among those concerned to conserve the countryside and those who wanted to foster a better relationship between town and country. However these diverging lobbies did not automatically recognise a common cause. Conservationists were not necessarily sympathetic to working class ramblers … Vegetarians were not all socialists and many socialists scoffed at them and at antivivisectionists.”

Books Environmental politics History Science

Notes from Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison

p. 32 “One reaons we know how much rain has fallen where, and when is the British Rainfall Organisation: A quintessentially eccentric body and one of the first examples of what we now call ‘citizen science’. George James Symons, who began his working life in the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade, set up the Association in the middle of the 19th century in response to public concern that rainfall was decreasing across the British Isles. He recruited a small network of initial observers, then wrote to The Times in 1853 listing the further locations he wanted, calling for observers ‘of both sexes and all ages’ and offering to subsidise the cost of instruments. By 1867 he had 1,300 observers, nad had to leave his post at the Board of Trade; by his death in 1900 there were 3,408, drawn from ‘nearly every social grade from peer to peasant’… In 1916 the BRO was called upon to determine whether the use of artillery on the Western Front was somehow responsible for one of the wettest winters on record… the opinion given … was that there was no connection. The following winter would prove less wet, despite the artillery barrage of the Somme, but bitterly cold .. continued to publish its records until 1991.”

p. 55 “The aptly named George Merryweather displayed his storm forecaster, the ‘Tempest Prognosticator’ at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Looking not unlike a miniature merry-go-round, it consisted of a circle of 12 pint bottles, each containing a little rainwater and a single leech. His idea was that, on sensing electrical activity in the atmosphere, the leeches would crawl to the top of the bottles, triggering whalebone levers connected to a bell on the topmost dome; the more times the bell rang, the greater the likelihood of an approaching storm. … believed that it could easily be connected to the telegraph network in a way that the bell in St Paul’s, London, could be rung to signal an approaching storm. But then, he also believed that arranging the bottles in a circle would allow the leeches to see one another and not become lonely.”

p. 62 “Because they need their food to be over 50% water, rabbits like to feed at dawn and dusk when the dew is down.”

p. 75 Dartmoor “became a vital source of sphagnum moss during the First World War when it was gathered in great quantities, dried and sent off to be used as wound dressings due to its abosrbency and healing properties; its been shown to slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. Twelves species are found on Dartmoor, and all can hold eight times their own weight in rain.”

p. 82 “A recent study by the Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, showed that one square metre of inrtensively improved grassland held just 47 litres of grassland compared to the 269 litres per square metre held by unimproved ‘rhos’ pasture with its naturally occurring purple moor grass and sharp.flowered rush.”