4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

If you look back over the history of the earth, you would find that life ebbs and flows in cycles, life blooms and crashes depending on so many different factors that sometimes we can only see with the benefit of hindsight. In the Anthropocene though, we are the ones causing the most recent spate of extinction and it is not getting any better at the moment.

What prompted John Burnside to write about these morbid and depressing extinctions was his near-death experience of Covid. It was a severe case and he ended up in hospital. His wife was told to prepare for the worst. This very act of reaching the abyss and peering over the edge will remain with him forever, as will the taste of that tomato sandwich as his health improved. As he recovered it gave him time to think about the natural processes of death and extinction, renewal and continuity.

When a species becomes extinct, that form is gone: no echoes, no shadow, no living memory. More: it is gone, not only as itself, but as the part it played in the Overall

It is quite a disturbing book at times, he ventures back into history to discuss the Nazi attempts to regenerate the aurochs as they tried to recreate the history of the Song of the Nibelungs. This pursuit of recreating a creature for ideological purposes was doomed to failure, the original animals were driven to extinction in the late seventeenth century. One positive that came from it though is that the land that Goring had is now part of the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve which is now home to lots of endangered animals.

Similar ideologies are driving the elite billionaire class that we have in the world today. Their pursuit of money and power is pushing the planet to the ragged edge and it feels like when they have exhausted and polluted it completely, retired to their Bond-style lairs, we won’t have many pieces to pick up. He like many others are starting to do now looks at the politics and powers behind land ownership and how we need to start to reclaim it for all not the few.

Land that belongs to someone is no longer land where anyone can meaningfully belong

Six days after he was supposed to have died, he was collected from the hospital by his wife, he looked out the car windows on the way home realising that in the short time he was very ill, summer had arrived and his outlook on life had changed forever. It took me a little while to get into this collection of four essays. The subject matter is pretty heavy after all. But the book grew on me as I read through it. Burnside is equally concerned about why we are doing what we are, as much as what we are doing to our planet and he proposes ideas that could make a difference to our survival on this small blue dot.

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