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Book Review: by Lang Reid

The Story of Stuff

“Stuff” is something our household has in copious amounts.  “Where is the stuff we use to clean the fridge,” is a familiar call.  The location is given as, “In with the other stuff, where you left it last time.”  That’s the beauty of the English language.  It is so precise!

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard (ISBN 978-1-4516-1029-1, Free Press, 2011) attracted my eye on the Bookazine shelves in Big C Extra, being personally so conversant with the “stuff” at home.  I should have looked further or read the sub-title at least, “The impact of over-consumption on the planet, our communities, and our health - and how we can make it better.”

Annie Leonard, it turns out, is a professional “greenie”, having been an employee of Greenpeace before becoming one of Ralph Nader’s raiders, then a member of the Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives, Healthcare without harm and the Sustainability Funders.  This being the case, I began reading with some trepidation.

Right from the beginning of the Introduction it was obvious that Annie Leonard is an excellent writer, as the words flow smoothly, but also obvious that Ms Leonard bases part of her thrust in the trust that CO2 emissions must not go above 350 parts per million (ppm) because “leading scientists” have said so.  That’s my first stumbling block.  These “leading scientists” seem to be able to pull numbers out of a hat, or rather, out of the air.  With CO2 making up 0.03 percent of the earth’s atmosphere, so with 99.97 percent left, I wonder if Ms Leonard is taking us up a rather uncharted road?

Don’t go looking for solace in a cup of coffee, the book suggests that it takes 36 gallons of water to make one cup of coffee and 256 gallons to make a T-shirt.  I felt that I was about to be singled out as the producer of drought.

And, profligate that I am, I regularly drink water, adding to the six-fold increase in consumption in the last century, I am informed.  Mind you, how anyone can come up with figures for consumption 100 years ago, I do not know.  But then, I’m not green.

A Utopian future is suggested by us showing “status” by kindness, experience and wisdom, rather than a flashy car.  I doubt I will see that in my lifetime.

I am also sure that some of Ms. Leonard’s ideas are based on good science, but unfortunately not practical.

At the back of the book are several pages of acknowledgments including a group who had resisted oil and coal extraction throughout the world, this being a plus in Ms. Leonard’s eyes.  There is also a sample letter you can use and send to any manufacturer of PVC products, because of the toxicity involved.  I’m sorry, I am still happy to buy my sandwiches in film.

At B. 495 this book is exciting reading for the dedicated green people.  Last time I looked while in the shower, I remained a healthy pink color, despite my sandwiches.  I’m sorry, but The Story of Stuff failed to win a convert here.

Faking It in Bangkok

Another collection of essays this week from prolific author Christopher G Moore, called Faking It in Bangkok (ISBN 978-616-7503-13-4, Heaven Lake Press, 2012).  Moore is probably better known for his Vincent Calvino Private Eye series with 12 books published plus 11 other novels on the shelves such as Waiting for the Lady, and the Wisdom of Beer.

This is his second book of essays, the first being The Cultural Detective, and this one continues on in his incisive way of looking at life as did the first.

The book is divided into six sections, beginning with The Culture of Deception, followed by Crime, Class and Culpability.  Part III is Inside-Outside Thai perspectives, with Part IV Violence in the Age of Reason, Part V Information in the Digital Age and finally Part VI being Noir Tales.

Lady Gaga managed to get herself some adverse publicity this month, asking for a fake Rolex (pronounced “Lorex” of course) as Thailand puffed out its metaphorical chest and denied the very existence of such pirated goods.  However Christopher Moore speaks with the authority of one who has been there and seen it, writing, “Walk along Sukhumvit Road from Soi 3 to Soi 23 in the heart of Bangkok any night of the week and you will pass vendors hawking pirated DVDs, hookers hawking themselves and nighttime entertainment spots where the pimping and hawking happens inside.”  (Like fake watches, prostitution does not exist either.)

Moore is willing to enter debates on many subjects, and the violent heritage of homo sapiens does not escape.  He mentions the “brass cow” an instrument of torture, in which people were roasted alive as a public spectacle.  “We come from this heritage.  Historically, our species killed each other on an epic level.  We watched and were entertained by the slow death of others.  Next time someone tells you they wish to return to the glorious past, mention the brass cow to them.”

Human trafficking becomes a point in question.  He opines that “The Thai government has acknowledged that a problem exists.  And, it has done what governments normally do when faced with a difficult problem: set up a commission to study the problem.”  Moore is not afraid to bring forth the obvious, which is supposed to remain hidden.

On the cover is a quote from Le Parisien, “Moore is an idealist and a lone warrior.”  I am afraid that I do not wholeheartedly agree.  An idealist he is, but not a lone warrior.  Moore could get an army behind him if he placed a “Positions vacant” advert in the Forces Gazette.

Christopher Moore puts forward very lucid arguments and it was hard not to applaud as a point was made (people tend to look warily at reviewers who become so involved with the story they become voluble)!

At B. 495, this collection of 50 essays is well worth your while investing in.  If you have any sense of what is right or wrong in the Thai society, you will not regret the purchase.  Moore has laid it all out for you in a very readable and logical format.


With Blue Sky Development company advertising heavily that they have ‘found’ Atlantis, to see a book on the subject on the Big C Extra Bookazine shelves was too great a temptation to pass up.  The Lost Empire of Atlantis has been written by Gavin Menzies (ISBN 987-0-857-82006-8, Orion Books 2011).  Despite the fact that the book’s Atlantis and that of the developers are obviously not the same, I am quite willing to accept a spotter’s fee following their next sale. ;-))

The book is divided into six smaller “books”, each with several chapters.  They cover the Minoan civilization, Voyages to the near East, Journeys West, Examining the heavens, the reaches of the empire and the Legacy.

Author Menzies describes in great detail their civilization, and it comes as a shock to find the Minoans had hot and cold running water, flush toilets, fountains and bath tubs.  They were also skilled traders and more importantly skilled seafarers, able to navigate through the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to the USA (waiting to be “discovered” by Christopher Columbus) and up through to Cornwall and Wales in the UK to bring back copper and tin.  They even sailed to Africa, and that was 4,000 years before Vasco da Gamma and the ‘Age of Discovery’.  How long have we been fooling ourselves?

To be able to sail around the world, the Minoans needed to be able to navigate expertly, and this they did with the aid of stone circles, such as the one at Stonehenge, but there are many more, including one in Egypt, as the Egyptians were also involved in sea trade.  To have the accuracy necessary for oceanic routes, they must have understood the coordinates in the night sky.  That is at 4,800 BC.  And what about Stonehenge which we were always told were used in religious practices by the druids?  Really?  That is not what Gavin Menzies found.

The author has stopped this becoming a dry and dreary dredge through the Bronze Age by writing in a down to earth conversational style.  Whilst he quotes freely from world experts in the various fields covered, you also get to know what he had for breakfast that morning.

He has proved his postulation, to my satisfaction at least, that the Minoans traversed the globe and even visited America 1,500 years BC.  Christopher Columbus may have “sailed the ocean blue in 14 hundred and 92”, but he was just a little late in his discovery.  The Minoans had been bringing back tobacco leaves (and a tobacco beetle or two) and copper from America 3,000 years before!

So were the Minoans and Atlantis one and the same?  Did a tsunami wipe out the Minoans?  Was the “sinking” of Atlantis allegorical?  Or did it never exist?

At the RRP of 685 THB, this is an absolutely fascinating, and easily read book.  Plenty of references after each major chapter, two sets of color plates and an excellent index.  A resource book, but written like a novel.  If you are at all interested in the history of the world, get this book.  You will be better informed afterwards.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

The Story of Stuff

Faking It in Bangkok