“The Island of Lost Maps” is a story of one man’s obsession about another man’s obsession.
The author charts the course of Gilbert Bland: child of a b“The Island of Lost Maps” is a story of one man’s obsession about another man’s obsession.
The author charts the course of Gilbert Bland: child of a broken home, VietNam vet and map thief. In the 1990s, Bland cut a swathe across the libraries of North America, surreptitiously slicing pages from atlases and selling them to hungry cartophiles.
Unable to meet the incarcerated Bland himself, the author retraces his steps, encountering librarians, map dealers and a psychologist specialising in the mind of the collector.
It’s a good tale, well told, although his prose can get a bit purple. Harvey’s take on my own profession is of particular interest, although it doesn’t start altogether encouragingly:
“Librarian – that mouth-contorting , graceless grind of a word, that dry gulch in the dictionary between libido and licentious – it practically begs you to envision a stoop-shouldered loser, socks mismatched, eyes locked in a permanent squint from reading too much microfiche.”
But it gets better:
“If it were up to me, I would abolish the word entirely and turn back to the lexicological wisdom of the ancients, who saw librarians not as feeble sorters and shelvers but as heroic guardians. In Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian cultures alike, those who toiled at the shelves were often bestowed with a proud, even soldierly, title: Keeper of the Books.”
That’s more like it. Here I am, a heroic slayer of bibliocrooks, a defender of knowledge, a valiant standard-bearer for readers’ rights. (Now whose prose is turning purple?)
And, if you care to check, you’ll find my socks are perfectly matched. Today, at least....more
“Is the obsession with climate change turning out to be the most costly scientific delusion in history?”
That’s the big question at the heart of Christo“Is the obsession with climate change turning out to be the most costly scientific delusion in history?”
That’s the big question at the heart of Christopher Booker’s chronicle of climate change. For Booker, the real global warming disaster is a misreading of scientific evidence, combined with media scare stories. Imagined fears, he says, have bulldozed governments into disproportionate and potentially ruinous responses.
His scope is wide. From the Medieval Warming to the Little Ice Age, Kyoto to Copenhagen, Booker sets out to show that, when it comes to climate change, there’s nothing new under the sun. But he’s scathing in his contempt for scientists who attempt to airbrush earlier historical changes out of their analyses, just to convince their audience that today’s climate change is manmade.
He’s especially hard on Al Gore’s use of emotive language – “ticking time bomb” “catastrophe” “epic destruction”– and shoots down each of Gore’s “inconvenient truths”. He’s equally scornful of the Met Office forecast of a scorching 2008, just when the Northern Hemisphere was suffering the coldest start to a winter for decades.
But Booker’s fiercest fire is directed at the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of “zealots who have repeatedly rigged the evidence to support their theory.” Far from being a crosssection of scientific opinion, says Booker, the IPCC is committed to strengthening their case for an already firmly held view.
As for the vast sums of money being spent on alternative energy sources, the author demonstrates the inadequacy of their impact: the 10,000 turbines built in the entire United States generate no more than the output of large coal-fired power station, and they still need back-up from conventional power stations. Taken together, says Booker, renewables add up to “the most expensive economic suicide note ever written.”
Christopher Booker doesn’t deny the climate is changing. But he does see the need for a proper debate on why it’s changing. It should be possible, he suggests, to challenge the consensus without being branded insane. His is a persuasive and thoughtprovoking book that’s sure to unsettle many who thought the science of climate change was settled....more
A magnificent overview of Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy. The author employs all of his journalistics skills to the full, coveringA magnificent overview of Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy. The author employs all of his journalistics skills to the full, covering every aspect of modern life in Spain, from politics to prostitution, bullfighting to ballet. His chapters on the autonomous regions are particularly good, as is the chapter on the Spanish media. The perfect primer for anyone planning to live and work in Spain. For the rest of us, it's an eye-opening account of a country we thought we knew so well. ...more
If there's one thing Britain's inter-war years don't lack, it's history. From the General Strike to the abdication crisis, the rise of cinema to the cIf there's one thing Britain's inter-war years don't lack, it's history. From the General Strike to the abdication crisis, the rise of cinema to the collapse of the economy, it was a time of dizzying change. So Roy Hattersley has a rich seam to mine in his examination of the twenties and thirties.
Instead of telling the story as it happened, he uses a series of essays on selected themes. This compartmentalized telling of history may appeal to some, but others may find it too tidy a view that dilutes the chaotic reality of the times.
The curtain rises on the inter-war years with the Versailles peace conference. It's here, Hattersley argues, that the seeds were sown for World War II. In the face of a French President intent on revenge, David Lloyd George is shown to have a more far-sighted view. But his desire to transform Germany from vanquished enemy into partner for peace proved to be a quarter of a century ahead of its time.
The chapter on the General Strike is as even-handed as it's possible for a former Labour cabinet minister to be, although the firebrand at the head of the mineworkers' union appears uncannily familiar: the parallels between A J Cook and Arthur Scargill are too close for comfort. Meanwhile, Hattersley's treatment of the abdication crisis offers no new information, but portrays Edward and Mrs Simpson as two unlovable people with only each other to love.
Although politics dominates the book, Hattersley also looks at other aspects of inter-war life, notably the arts and sport. Unsurprisingly for a politician, he can appear to approach every subject with an open mouth. One moment he's grumbling about the convoluted language in Ulysses, the next he’s offering a critique of Henry Moore.
Hattersley conveys his love of sport with fulsome attention to football, rugby, golf, horse racing tennis and athletics. But the seven lines devoted to coarse fishing were, perhaps, seven lines too many. As for Hattersley’s examination of the Bodyline controversy, those baffled by cricket at the start of this chapter will finish it none the wiser.
The book is at its strongest when focusing on a particular theme or character. His portraits of the first BBC director general, John Reith, and of Edward Elgar are especially insightful. The section on newspaper barons throws an unforgiving searchlight on their influence, avarice and blatant anti-Semitism.
Unhappily, a book which promises "the story of Britain between the wars" turns out to be very Anglo-centric. There’s the occasional nod towards Scotland and, apart from Lloyd George, not much about Wales. An entire chapter is devoted to Ireland, but it appears the main contribution of the Irish to English history was their effort to escape from it
The final chapter on the drift to war makes up for any flaws in the rest of the book. It's as good an examination of the subject as any previously attempted. The rift between Neville Chamberlain and his Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, is played out like a poisonous melodrama. Even as Chamberlain is turning a blind eye to Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia, Eden is making a damning assessment of Mussolini: "…an absolute gangster. His pledged word means nothing." Winston Churchill, whose presence runs like a thread through the entire book, is portrayed as brooding and bad-tempered. But in excluding Churchill from his 1935 cabinet, the often unregarded Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin has a premonition: "We must keep him fresh to be our wartime prime minister."
Hatterlsey finishes, as he started: the peacemakers at Versailles fired the starting gun for the Second World War by botching the conclusion of the First. Had Lloyd George's proposed treaty been adopted, the course of history might have been very different, and Hattersley would have written a very different book....more
Slow to get into, but it was worth pressing on. Ultimately, Renee's story was moving, uplifting, sublime and sad. It made me homesick for Paris, evenSlow to get into, but it was worth pressing on. Ultimately, Renee's story was moving, uplifting, sublime and sad. It made me homesick for Paris, even though Paris has never been my home. Sometimes books can do that....more
Who would choose to be gay in Ireland? While it's not the life sentence (or, in some cases, the death sentence) it once was, homosexuality in the EmerWho would choose to be gay in Ireland? While it's not the life sentence (or, in some cases, the death sentence) it once was, homosexuality in the Emerald Isle is still a touchy subject. As elsewhere, the story of gay rights in Ireland is one of small steps forward against a backdrop of oppression, suppression and repression.
That's why "Coming Out" is such an important book. It's a chance to pause and draw breath; to look back on the achievements on the thorny road to equality and forward to the next set of hurdles. The testimonies of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, their families, friends and loved ones represent a snapshot of a small country at the crossroads.
Perhaps what's most impressive is the diversity of contributions. Certainly, there are tales of difficult admissions by gay people, both to themselves and to their families. But the voices of mothers, fathers, siblings, wives and children are also to be heard. Many of the stories are uplifting, but not all have happy endings. Especially affecting is the story of a gay man jeered at his own father's funeral.
But while there is real anguish, there's also room for humour:
"My mum found my LGB Rights Officer name card and came up to my room and asked "What's the LGB?" I remember her face - it was angry. I told her, "It's the Ladies and Gents Basketball!" She stopped for a moment - I was hopeful she had bought it. She then screamed, "You're too small to play basketball! Now you tell me now, are you lesbian, gay and bisexual?" "Not this again," I said. "I'm one of them." "Which one?" she asked. I said "I'm gay."And she said "Well, just as long as you're not bisexual," and walked out."
This being Ireland, the Catholic Church is a looming presence. It's sad that an institution founded on the principle of love still finds it impossible to deal with vulnerable people in need. As a result, many Irish gay men and women have turned their backs on the established church. Some have found a spiritual home in other faith communities, while others have written religion out of their lives. But there are still priests courageous enough to minister to the gay community and to acknowledge their own sexuality as a gift from God.
The stories are as varied in size as in scope. Some occupy more than a dozen pages, others just a couple. For the most part, they are well written. It's a pity that the editorial process didn't pick up some of the annoying typos, particularly in the final testimony. A stream of consciousness can be invigorating, but for the reader to experience its full impact, every story requires proper punctuation.
It's especially pleasing to see the foreword written by Colm Toibin. One of Ireland's most successful writers offers a rallying call to all of us on the yellow brick road:
"It is essential to say what we are. Most people can define themselves without a thought. It is easy to say "I am Irish" or "I am a civil servant". In the future, following the example of the men and women who tell their stories in this book, it will, we hope, be just as easy to say: "I am gay" and "I am lesbian" and then, without difficulty, join the parade in Ireland and live and love in greater freedom."
On 30 June 1960, Belgium's King Baudouin arrived in Leopoldville to end eighty years of colonial rule in the Congo. In his speech, the king describedOn 30 June 1960, Belgium's King Baudouin arrived in Leopoldville to end eighty years of colonial rule in the Congo. In his speech, the king described the Congo's independence as "the crowning glory" of his ancestor , King Leopold II's work, and declared that Belgium's finest had delivered the land from slavery while creating a modern, civilised society.
Congolese listening to this might have had cause to wonder whether the king had lost his mind. For, as Adam Hochschild relates, the true story of Belgian rule in the Congo is one of deceit, greed and mass murder.
Hochschild charts the sorry history of colonialism in the Congo, starting in the 19th century with Leopold II's vainglorious campaign for a place in the sun. Using his legendary charm, Leopold persuaded the world that his intentions towards the vast area surrounding the mighty Congo river were purely philanthropic. A committee established to manage the colony was swiftly sidelined, and by claiming it in his own name, Leopold by-passed the Belgian parliament altogether. Once in control, the king was free to plunder the Congo's resources and enslave its people as he pleased.
All of this was done by proxy; Leopold never visited the domain that was 76 times the size of his own kingdom. He saw no need to set foot in a territory that was bringing forth precious goods, such as ivory and rubber, to finance his grand building projects at home. While his hand-picked officials were handsomely rewarded, the Congolese natives barely had enough to eat.
Dominant though his presence is, Leopold is not the only memorable figure in the Congo story. The book is enlivened by other characters, vividly portrayed by the author. Henry Morton Stanley, for example, (best known for his famous encounter with David Livingstone), is depicted as hot headed and frightened of intimacy. But the great explorer's loyalty to Leopold was a crucial component in the colonisation of the Congo. In contrast was Leopold's nemesis. A hurricane in human form, Edmund Morel unleashed a firestorm of opposition to the king's stewardship of his colony. With mounting horror, Morel uncovered the true nature of Leopold's place in the sun.
It's now thought that between eight and ten million people died during Leopold II's catastrophic stewardship of the Congo. Most were Congolese natives, many of them murdered as part of a sadistic programme of forced labour. Those unwilling to work in the rubber plantations were liable to be mutilated or beaten to death with a hippo-hide whip.
Morel's campaign against the atrocities spread far and wide. His cause was aided by a report from another fascinating character. Roger Casemount, an Irish official in the British consular service, journeyed to the region, and his first-hand account of the pitiful conditions and brutality inflicted on the people of the Congo turned public opinion against Leopold.
When he knew the game was up, Leopold made a desperate attempt to cover his tracks. It’s said the furnaces in Brussels burned for eight full days to destroy his Congo archives. But even in handing over his colony to the Belgian government, Leopold emerged a winner: for a handsome sum, he sold the Congo to his own country.
Occasionally, the author points to parallels between colonial rule in the the Congo and the tyrannical regimes of Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. But Hochschild steps back from describing Leopold's rule as genocide: for the colonialists, mass murder had more to do with personal enrichment than with ethnic cleansing. However, he isn't so reticent about pointing the finger at the track records of other colonial powers. The pitiful conditions in the Belgian Congo were replicated in colonies administered by the French, British, Germans and Americans.
After Leopold's death, and even post-independence, things got no better for the Congo. Hochschild chronicles the country's miserable record of corruption, coups d'etat, war and poverty. The region that has more hydroelectric potential than all the lakes and rivers of the United States and which produced the lion’s share of uranium for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs is as poor today as it was when Stanley first arrived.
In the book’s latest edition, a fascinating afterword recounts the extraordinary impact Hochschild’s story has had. Especially interesting was the reaction in Belgium. The country seemed to undergo a national re-examination of conscience, and at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Brussels, the first steps were made to give a more truthful version of the Congo’s history.
Hochschild doesn't hide his frustration that he was unable to unearth more testimonies from the Congolese natives. The accounts by Morel and Casemount go some way to uncovering the story, but there is no substitute for the personal stories of those on the receiving end of tyranny. Even those fighting in the natives' cause did not think their views worthy of record. However, Hochshcild’s afterword includes some hopeful instances of those wrongs being righted.
After King Baudouin had finished his patronising speech, at last an African voice was heard. The Congo's new prime minister Patrice Lumumba rose to respond,and began reeling off a list of humanitarian crimes committed under Belgian rule. Far from being gifted their freedom, Lumumba declared, the Congolese had won independence by fighting for it.
"We are proud of this struggle, amid tears, fire and blood, down to our very heart of hearts, for it was a noble and just struggle, an indispensible struggle if we were to put an end to the humiliating slavery that had been forced upon us."
As a rejoinder to King Leopold’s appalling regime, Lumumba’s eloquence has yet to be surpassed. But as a record of the lasting damage caused by colonialism, Hochschild’s book may well be seen as enduring and definitive....more
In December, delegates from across the world will gather in Denmark to attempt a global deal on climate change. But for anyone expecting a planet-savinIn December, delegates from across the world will gather in Denmark to attempt a global deal on climate change. But for anyone expecting a planet-saving breakthrough in Copenhagen, Anthony Giddens has some advice: “Don’t hold your breath”.
In The Politics of Climate Change, Giddens argues that bilateral agreements between countries doing the most damage to the environment – notably the United States and China – can deliver much more than treaties covering the entire international community.
Even if a deal is hammered out in Copenhagen, national governments will make or break its execution. Only governments, says Giddens, have access to a toolbox of powerful measures – from supporting green technologies to taxing the sources of pollution – that can make a difference on climate change. More importantly, governments can keep climate change at the top of the public agenda when other issues, such as economic recession, threaten to topple it.
The author can, at times, veer into Utopia. He suggests, for example, that life “beyond the car” might feature a digital system of vehicles controlled by robots. More helpful is his overview of environmental success stories. Giddens believes countries such as Sweden, Iceland and Costa Rica have achieved lower carbon emissions by helping their citizens to bridge the gap between everyday actions and climate chaos.
The Giddens blueprint brims over with bright ideas, from geoengineering to climate insurance, energy security to carbon capture and storage. But he acknowledges that even the most inventive of projects will fail without behavioural change:“One hundred books on one hundred ways to reduce your carbon footprint will have less effect than just one that is geared to what people are positively motivated to do.”
All eyes now turn to Copenhagen. But for Anthony Giddens, any agreement on climate change will need swift and sustained action from the planet’s biggest polluters. Otherwise, a treaty signed in the homeland of Hans Christian Andersen may come to be seen as little more than a fairy tale....more
The old yarn about travellers landing at Dublin Airport being advised to set their watches back three hundred years is, of course, a piece of Irish blThe old yarn about travellers landing at Dublin Airport being advised to set their watches back three hundred years is, of course, a piece of Irish blarney. But at times during Tim Pat Coogan's history of twentieth-century Ireland, the myth doesn't seem so fanciful.
It was only in 1958, for example that married women in the Irish Republic were allowed to become teachers. Until then, the prospect of a pregnant woman flaunting her bump in front of impressionable youngsters was too much for the Catholic clergy to contemplate.
Coogan mingles such oddities with the mightier matters of history to create a comprehensive work that comes close to being definitive. Its size – over 850 pages of densely-packed print - signal an exhausting read. But to wade through the eye-watering detail is to encounter some eye-opening revelations about a country we thought we knew pretty well.
The early part of the book is devoted to Ireland’s bloody path to independence and descent into civil war. Much of this is well-trodden, but given the Coogan treatment, the faded flags of rebellion flutter again to life. He's helped by the presence of big characters, such as Michael Collins, Winston Churchill and Eamon De Valera. These, and the dour politicians governing the six counties of Ulster, make for an arresting Irish stew.
The new Irish Free State barely had a chance to draw breath before being plunged into new turmoil. Known in Eire with understated panic as "The Emergency", World War II made its mark on both sides of the Irish border. At the time, the Taoseach (Prime Minister) De Valera insisted Ireland could not fight alongside Britain while six Irish counties remained under occupation. But, as Coogan makes plain, Eire was totally unprepared for war. Defence spending was actually being cut when the war began, and neutrality was the only realistic option. This didn't stop Churchill and later Franklin D. Roosevelt putting extraordinary pressure on Eire to declare war on Germany. The Allies were further infuriated by De Valera's inexplicable visit to pay his respects to the German emissary in Dublin after the death of Hitler.
Ever-present throughout the book is the brooding presence of Mother Church, the power of which is best illustrated by Coogan's examination of the Mother and Child scheme. What began as a modest proposal to provide free health care for mothers and babies ended with the downfall of the governent, signalling just how close to a theocracy Ireland had become. Coogan depicts the scheme’s champion, health minister Noel Browne as the hero of the hour and Dublin's Archbishop John McQuaid as the villain of the piece. But, this being Ireland, things were not so black and white. For while Browne was trying to convince the hierarchy that his scheme was not the dawn of socialised medicine, his coalition partner, Irish Taoseach John Costello, was briefing the Archbishop behind his own minister’s back. The bad taste left by the strangled scheme heralded the beginning of the end for crozier-wielding bishops striking terror into ministers of the state.
Coogan paints Eamon De Valera as a ruthless and ambitious politician. But in the post-war years, "Dev" appeared content to let the world pass Ireland by. For 16 years, De Valera dominated his country's politics, promoting a romantic notion of Ireland as a rural backwater of "cosy homesteads" and "comely maidens". The result was a haemorrhaging of young Irish men and women from the Republic to America and Britain. By the time he was “parked” in the largely ceremonial role of President, De Valera was almost totally blind, perhaps symbolising his lack of vision for the nation he had fought to create.
Only when Sean Lemass assumed power did Ireland drag itself into the modern age. Television, sweeping reforms in education and health and the abandonment of protectionism in preparation for EEC membership were just some of the advances during the Lemass years. Yet even as a new day was dawning in the Republic, Northern Ireland was about to enter its darkest night.
It's impossible to be even-handed about Ulster, and Coogan plainly comes down on the side of the nationalists. He's at his strongest when describing the impact of partition on those who had to live with it. The Unionist stranglehold on power in Ulster is related with all its petty prejudices and naked bigotry. Such was the stranglehold of the Unionists, that the apartheid regime in South Africa could only look on enviously. But Coogan's criticism is not restricted to the Unionists. The IRA's murderous campaign, and the ineffectual responses of London and Dublin governments are subjected to the full beam of Coogan's searchlight.
The book contains some real howlers. Coogan gets into a terrible fankle over who succeeded Fine Gael leader John Bruton, while a Bishop Comiskey and a Bishop Cumiskey both appear in the text and the index, despite being one and the same person.
But Coogan wraps the book up with a strong showing on the cultural and social changes Ireland has seen in the past century. For women, politics has become less of a closed shop, but although the country has had two women presidents and one female deputy prime minister, representation in the Irish Parliament is still below the European average.
Coogan also relates the sorry saga of the the Church's decline. From guardian of the nation's morals, the Roman Catholic Church became a laughing stock when one of its most popular bishops was revealed to have fathered a son. Worse was to come, with the exposure of shocking abuse by clergy into whose hands parents had entrusted their children. Coogan concedes that while church attendance has gone into meltdown, the Irish still turn to their priests for high occasions, such as weddings and christenings. But he believes that Ireland, having cast off the burden of Mother England, can only be free of its colonial past by unshackling itself from the constraints of Mother Church.
Published before the sheen vanished from the Celtic Tiger's coat, the book concludes that while economic prosperity endowed its benefits on this small country, the same prosperity left the Republic open to greater opportunities for corruption. With each new financial scandal, public confidence in political and business leaders has evaporated.
Coogan brings clarity, authority, ability and knowledge to his subject, and only an author of his calibre could have had the panoramic vision to accomplish such a work. The substantial bibliography and two dozen pages of notes lend weight to the book. But it's not a dusty academic work. It sparkles with those most Irish of qualities: melancholy, humour and, above all, a the gift of the gab. There's little doubt that it could easily have spilled over into another volume. Because if there's one thing Ireland isn't short of, it's history....more
Modern life getting you down? Feel like getting away from it all? Perhaps a week as a Roman legionary will put the colour back in your cheeks. Or maybModern life getting you down? Feel like getting away from it all? Perhaps a week as a Roman legionary will put the colour back in your cheeks. Or maybe you'd prefer to pillage a village in the company of rampaging Vikings. Historical re-enactments may not be the most relaxing form of relaxation, but for many time travel beats Benidorm on all counts.
This is fertile ground for an author like Tim Moore. Previous books have seen him following the footsteps of the first Grand Tourist, the fortunes of Eurovision failures and the tyre tracks of the Tour de France. For Tim Moore, the world of re-enactments is a field just waiting to be harvested.
And what a strange world it is, where nothing is what it seems and everything is what it was. Enthusiasts drench their clothing in urine, mild-mannered coin collectors morph into bloodthirsty warriors, and everyone craves the magical fusion of past and present, a sensation known as "period rush".
Early on, Moore learns that authenticity is the Holy Grail of historical re-enactment. But authenticity, it seems, is an elastic concept. At one extreme, he shares supermarket burgers with an Iron Age blacksmith, at the other he spends time with an 18th-century retromaniac who extracts his own teeth.
Moore draws the line at home dentistry, but he does go to extraordinary lengths to recreate the past. During one memorable tableau, he's to be found coating his sandals with curried potato salad for that 'just back from ancient Rome' look. Unfortunately, his preparations have a 'just back from Wikipedia' feel about them. With one foot in the past and the other in his mouth, Moore blunders across the centuries like Mr Magoo on a skateboard.
Things start badly as he spends a solitary night in an Iron Age theme park with only a flock of savage sheep for company. Period rush is momentarily ignited with his first attempt at making fire from flint and straw. But his experiences among the Romans, Vikings, Tudors and American Civil War re-enactors only serve to confirm that Tim Moore's time is now.
As a newcomer, he's keen to discover why thousands of people regularly immerse themselves in the past. For many, it's an escape from the daily grind and a chance to rediscover the lost art of repairing things. It's hard to see the appeal of re-enactments for women. Mostly tagging along with their husbands, they're usually consigned to supporting roles as cooks or serving wenches. But for the men, the attractions are clearer. Re-enactments offer 21st-century boys the chance to jettison all pretence of political correctness and to wallow in fighting, filth and flatulence.
It's not long before Moore himself is seduced by this outpouring of testosterone. As a Roman soldier, he sets about kicking Gaulish ass. He joins a company of full contact Vikings whose battle cry is "we maim to please". Later, with whoops of boyish delight he fires Krakatoan volleys from a 15th-century canon in an Alsatian castle. He's discomfited, however, to find himself among American Civil War re-enactors, most of whom believe the wrong side won.
The shock and awe of battle is all very well, but the more mundane aspects of period life expose Moore's woefully inadequate preparations. His role as a chamberlain in a Tudor manor is seriously compromised by his inability to speak the Queen's English - as spoken by the first Queen Elizabeth. The situation is not helped by the presence of a word-perfect 12-year-old.
His immersion in all things yesteryear reaches its zenith in the wilds of Kentucky. Here he encounters Gerry Barker, a Vietnam veteran with both feet firmly planted in 1775. Among re-enactors, Barker is viewed as something of a legend, with a zero-tolerance approach to modernity epitomised by his preferred mode of transport: a covered wagon pulled by a team of oxen.
It's while trekking with Barker across the Daniel Boone National Forest (the size of one and a half Luxembourgs) that Moore has to accommodate his greatest fear: dying before he was born.
"'Good news,' said Gerry. 'Just seen an eight-foot black king snake back there, so I don't think we'll be bothered by much else.' This apparently took into account the thumb-sized ants I could see scuttling about on the nearby tarpaulin that would be my bed for the next four nights, if not the ground-hornet nest Gerry now located a few paces behind my haversack pillow. 'Watch for that if you need to visit the woods in the night,' he said, though I'd long since vowed to preclude any such excursion by the simple expedient of wetting myself."
Much of the book is humorous, but Moore does have some serious points to make, notably that just about every period in history prior to our own was nasty, brutish and shit. For this reason, he's happy to adopt the mantle of the reluctant re-enactor - the poor bloke in the Iron Age or the American Civil War who would quite happily have taken a period rush into the twenty-first century.
Even so, Moore concludes that re-enactors may be pioneers for the rest of us. As the earth's resources run dry and many more seek out simpler, more sustainable ways of life, they will look to those who have been there and done that. In their efforts to recreate the past, re-enactors may actually be ahead of their time. ...more