True to his word, in We Do Things Differently he investigates a series of global challenges, ranging from the rise of drug resistant diseases to a declining faith in democracy, and introduces us to the unlikely figures – including an Austrian basketball player-turned-engineer and a Brazilian former guerrilla – who are building metaphorical windmills in order to solve these crucial problems, and consequently change the world for the better.
It has the language and tone of a science book but, if you consider the huge global challenges the people within set out to solve (or did so accidentally, as occurred a few times), it also contains a distinct geographical edge. From significantly improving rice yields in India despite minimal water or fertilisers, to creating ‘liquid air’ as a source of low-carbon refrigeration, to turning derelict housing into urban farms in the ‘food desert’ of Detroit, it’s a positive set of stories for anyone feeling particularly negative about humanity’s prospects in the coming years.
The book is in a way a victim of its own success; the large numbers of subjects contained within mean that it is necessary to skip quickly from one issue to the next, without the opportunity to delve into each one in as much detail as perhaps we might wish. It makes you wonder how much more to each story we could be missing out on.
Nevertheless, Stevenson’s ability to cover such a wide range of challenges should be applauded, and perhaps be seen as a starting point for independently researching the issues we each find most engaging. Combined with his engaging commentary, this certainly has the ability to restore your faith in human ingenuity in the face of adversity.